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Published: April 29th 2010
Walking down my street the other day, I came upon a parked motorbike. Strapped to this motorbike were all sorts of small bamboo cages, each one with an animal inside. Most of the cages contained chickens and ducks but one small cage contained a dog. The cage was too small for the dog, and completely immobilized him. The bamboo opening at one end allowed his head to be free, but held tightly against his neck. It was a one-hundred degree day and I feared that dog was dehydrated. It was panting heavily and gasping to breath.
Surely, this dog was on his way to be sold to a BBQ restaurant, along with the ducks and chickens. It was a terrible scene to witness but what could I do? Pay the owner to buy the dog? If I just paid to let the dog go, the owner would just wait a few minutes until I left to recapture it. Or if I held the dog inside for a few hours, then let it go, somebody else would probably capture it and sell it to the dog BBQ. I’d have to find someone to adopt the dog which isn’t likely as there
are dogs everywhere here. No one has their dogs sterilized, and most dogs have a lot of freedom to roam the neighborhoods. So puppies are a constant sight.
Sadly, dogs here are not held in high esteem the way our dogs are in America. They are appreciated as guard dogs, and some types, as food. But most Lao people do not respect their animals. They kick and hit their dogs without a second thought. Kids learn to throw things at dogs to get them to move. That said, some dogs are well loved here. I know a few dogs that live at a temple with about thirty novice monks, and these dogs are incredibly sweet and loving. I am even starting to see people carry around little toy dogs, in their purses, sitting on their laps in restaurants, just as some people do in the west. It’s a stark contrast. An omelette stand near my house has just adopted a tiny puppy as a pet and they treat the dog sweetly. When I asked the dog’s name, they said, “Puppy”. I’ve heard people often use that name for dogs here. I tried to explain that wasn’t a name, it
Behind her is the soy milk woman - there are no dairy cows here so people drink soy milk. I try to drink it every day. Made fresh daily and 70 cents for a liter. The good sellers always run out.
was just what we call baby dogs. But I guess it could be a name too. Why not?
In the dry season, a mile long by half mile wide sandbar appears in the Mekong River, just across from town. I’ve found that visiting this island feels like leaving town for a beach vacation. Sort of. First you hike down a trash-strewn hill from town. Then you make your way across some sludgy water. Then you walk for what feels like miles across the Sahara Desert. 100 degrees, no shade, no wind, humid. You feel like an explorer. Like your all alone out in the wild. Which is a fun feeling, after being in town so long. Then you arrive at the ‘beach’. You pull out your shovel to do some digging, as this as the floor of the Mekong, not exposed for fifty years. Who knows what treasures it holds. A few minutes of digging in the heat exhausts you. So you decide to go for a swim. But the entire shore, every way you look, is covered in washed up garbage. Sad. Such a beautiful river, but people don’t take care of it. So you step over the
This dog looks well loved
litter, get your feet wet.
But the oily swirls in the water remind you that everything goes on in this river. Sewers go in this river, waste goes in to this river, people wash everything in this river, animals swim in this river. The list goes on. So you just get your feet wet, then lay back on the ‘beach’. It does feel peaceful. Not a sound but the river running by. Peaceful. Such a fun change from the constant noise of town, and only seconds away. You could be in a different country its so different. You bake in the sun, as you haven’t been out in it for months. Lao people stay out of the sun, and so you do to. You watch a fisherman, pantless, in a t-shirt and underwear, his wife sitting under an umbrella in his small wooden boat, his brown children baking in the sun, scrambling about the boat. The fisherman leads the boat around the shallows, throwing his large net in to different areas while his family waits aside him in their boat. An hour on the beach is about all you can take in this heat, so you trudge back across
the desert, feeling windswept and tanned, like you’ve just spent a day by the real ocean.
Lao people are incredible clean. If you tell a Lao person you haven’t showered today, they will be appalled. Lao people shower once or twice a day, no matter where they are, or how poor their access to water. Not having running or hot water is never an excuse for a Lao person to skip a shower. You shower in the river or you find a bucket of water somewhere and you shower with that. A friend who just came from living in Japan told me that Japanese people are even cleaner, and get offended by the smell of foreigners who wash only once a day or every other day. They can smell these foreigners and they stink. Japanese go to saunas, sometimes once a day, to scrub their skin for hours to ensure they are clean. They must have super strong noses.
In Luang Prabang there are no police ‘cruisers’ . Instead the cops drive pimped-out motorbikes, meaning really gorgeous, top-of-the line motorbikes. But they ride two to a motorbike. That impressive bike looks less impressive when you see two grown
men in uniforms riding atop it, squished together. They look like school buddies instead of authorities.
It’s corn season. Women and kids walk in from the countryside carrying back-bending baskets of steamed corn to sit on the sidewalk until all their corn is sold, or until it gets dark. The sellers sit about every ten feet down one main street. The women look different than the women who live in town. Their faces are different. Very beautiful. Their clothes are worn. They shade themselves from the hot, baking sun with umbrellas. They don’t do anything to keep busy or entertain themselves. Their corn is small, about four inches long, and too soft for my liking. It must be hard to control the steaming when steaming two hundred corns at a time in one big bag. The corn is very cheap. The locals really like it and stop to buy it, leaning down quickly from their motorbikes, bicycles or cars, and buying it by the dozen.
Last week, four monks were killed while collecting their morning alms by a speeding truck. The truck was being pursued by police or the driver fell asleep, depending on which version of the
story you hear. Either way, the truck plowed in to the line of monks giving their blessing to local people who had just given them alms. The monks never saw the truck coming. Two abbots, elderly men who were the heads of their temple, died on impact, and five novice monks were hospitalized. Two of the novices have since died. It’s terribly sad. Nobody remembers an accident at morning alms ever happening before. The accident happened on a busy road with a lot of traffic. But it happened around six in the morning, when the traffic is very light.
Two days earlier, a twenty-year old young man died when his motorbike was hit by a minibus. He died late one night and was cremated the next afternoon, probably before his death even seemed real. Usually the wake lasts for a few days before the cremation. Sadly, accidents are extremely common here. Few safety regulations are in place. Kids swimming in the river get surprised by the current and drown. Surprisingly, few Lao know how to swim. There is no local newspaper so these accidents are spread by word of mouth, and occasionally are printed in the national newspaper.
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