The Lao and The Falang


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July 20th 2011
Published: July 21st 2011
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Special BondSpecial BondSpecial Bond

Hungarian, Lao in Laos
And now for another round of my cathartic text babble.

All around the world, the white man is a special beast that has its own special name. Some polite, some less so, but whatever they are it’s evidence of the obvious divide that is felt between the two half populations of the world. A handful I can think of are Gringo(Mexico), Mzungu(East Africa), Waiguoren(China) and here in Laos it’s Falang. It directly translates as French, due to its colonial past, and it stuck for all of us non-Asian rich types. You see the reality is that instead of choosing to classify us all together, we are simply the same to them! We come, we spend, we leave, sometimes we smile and other times we shout, but at the end of the day we are gone and replaced by a similar creature that looks and acts the same... or are we?

This blog was about to be published when I met Saytha, a young man in some distress on the banks of the Mekong. It was a typical Tim cynical blog about lost connections and how both Laotian and Westerner treat each other with a service only smile due to
PictogramsPictogramsPictograms

Cambodian, British in Cambodia
lack of care/understanding. Instead I bring you this chance encounter.

In Savannakhet, the sun is setting behind the Mekong, yet it is too cloudy to see it only the warmth and light are setting. The air is chilly because the monsoon rain hasn't given way to sunshine today. In the background the heavily segregated concrete pier with its long spindly stilts echos with chatter and break dancing music as the local lads practice their moves, regularly collecting the mop to avoid a rather large impending puddle to cause some sort of fatal accident.

Saytha sat at the low plastic table next to mine. I met him by chance as my plastic chair slowly gave way to failure on the loose gravel below, almost plummeting me off the rather steep incline toward a decidedly sharp looking long tail engine! Instead I landed somewhat on Saytha. I picked myself up, apologized and sat back down to eat the last of my cabbage and chewy beef kebab.
Saytha, who was at that very time consuming a very similar meal, tapped me on the shoulder. At first I presumed he was coveting my tomato that I had almost had to trade
Couchsurfing friendsCouchsurfing friendsCouchsurfing friends

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my left leg for but eventually paid 1000kip. Of course this was not the case and he was simply wondering where I came from. I said Pakse, the last town but then realised the answer he was looking for was England (on a side note, I would prefer to say Britain but alas nobody has a clue where that is anymore!)
He spoke timidly unlike the other men who had invited me to have a beer Lao with them who had seemed a touch more raucous. Especially the one who had plummeted toward the decidedly sharp looking long tail engine moments after having offered me a seat.

At first he spoke of those things that all travellers are asked, where you from? and what is it like there? do you like my country? etc. Then a rather different course of conversation occurred one that is less found in the descriptions of Laotians in the LP.
As it turns out he, a relatively quiet man had recently popped up to Vang Vieng to see his friend. Where he had been exposed to the full force of the Falang spirit, a long way divergent from the travellers who stopped in Sleepy
Excitable locals at lunchExcitable locals at lunchExcitable locals at lunch

Vietnamese, German, British in Vietnam
Savanakhet to sketch the old colonial buildings.
I asked him if he had enjoyed himself and he said he had. He told me you could get in a tyre and float on a river and people gave you alcohol for free. He met a lovely English girl there, she was very white and very attractive. He said his friend was much blacker than him, he was only a bit brown! His friend got more attention.
The first night he had gone to a bar with Hannah, the pale English girl, and then she had asked whether he knew where the sunset was good to watch. He took her there and chatted late before showing her back to her guesthouse. He said the next day his head hurt a little (presumably because of the whiskey rather than the conversation although I could sympathize with both) but he was quite happy.
He met her again that night and this time he went with her to the guesthouse and then he paused, looked up at me and then back down. We both had mutual understandings of the err... ins and outs but his modest nature had stopped him mid-sentence.
I said how wonderful
Old FriendsOld FriendsOld Friends

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will you see her again. He looked up his mouth had lost its smile he said she hasn't replied to my calls or responded to my friend request on facebook. Only then did I realise that it was sadness not timidness that had made him look quiet in the beginning.
He asked me how come he loved her so very much and thought of her alot and if I thought that she loved me. I said she probably loved you then but maybe its a different love. (Tactful I would class that response as!) He said he was thinking about where she was now. He wanted me to explain what it was like in England and why we(the westerners) act the way we do, like this. His example was that the water at Vang Vieng is not so nice and yet we all take half our clothes off and swim! A good point, and before outlining the full idiosyncrasies and contradictions of modern western society (like I do with everyone else) I decide to let it rest and tell him that life and the falang are oddities that everyone has to put up with.
The conversation moved away from this
Swing Dancing FriendsSwing Dancing FriendsSwing Dancing Friends

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topic and lightened. We exchanged email addresses and bid farewell and good luck.
I wonder back through the empty streets chopping on a couple of fertilized eggs (that is eggs with a little chick inside- "uurgggh!" said the reader, "Actually, they are nicer than you think, at least once you start thinking of it as chicken in an egg and not embryo!"), so anyway, wandering through the streets pondering the conversation and it hit me all at once - I am going to have to re-write the bloody blog! You see I had written about how there seems to be a relatively segregated society of traveller and local, but of course this is really on the decline, as the new generation of Laotians (born when the traveller already roamed here!) are intrigued by the people younger or the same age as them also mooching around. Most are on the way to learning some level of English making communication less of an issue, and here a huge wash of cultural transfer occurs. West to East.

All the doors and windows have been flung open and the wind of possibility is blowing in. There is a fun liberal lifestyle never experienced
Special RelationshipSpecial RelationshipSpecial Relationship

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before on their doorsteps but with that fun there is a new set of rules of which they know none. Saytha has had his first exposure and come away with his heart temporarily broken. He cannot comprehend how this girl loved so much and walked away. Hannah's holiday romance has ruptured the recipient. Perhaps this awakening will make Saytha more globally aware and foster excitement and adventure in the world that is coming to Laos or perhaps he will be lost in the glare of millions of neon lights and glow sticks unable to comprehend his motherland that he thought he knew so well.
Another step in world globalisation for better or worse!



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22nd July 2011

What's this? A positive blog!? Cheat!
And here I was expecting another cynical blog and what do you do! Well, it was nicely written anyway. Though I don't see what the Laotian is complaining about, he got laid right and no string attached either. What more could he want ;)
26th July 2011

Pretty cool blog. I've had my fair share of gripes about Laos, but there are certainly some positive memories as well. It's great to see all those pictures of locals and travellers you took along the way. Too bad you didn't specify on all those Americans. Where were they from? El Salvador? Paraguay? French Guiana? Trinidad? Maybe Canada? Cheers, Jens
26th July 2011

Americans - a naughty mistake
Firstly sorry Jens and anyone else who was peeved by my term Americans, no offence or internation incident was intended. It would in this case refer to anyone from canada and the USA.
27th July 2011

Haha don't worry Tim I wasn't offended, just stirring up shit, mate. :D I just like to point it out every now and then, being the nitpicking Yuropean that I am, especially when people from the US (Usonians?) refer to themselves, and only to themselves, as 'Americans'. I don't think they realize that it really offends Latin Americans, hence the prevalent gringo-hating in those countries (and for myriads other reasons, of course). Keep the good blogs comin', I'll be readin'! :) Cheers, Jens
30th July 2011

The Quiet Englishman
Just to test your literary knowledge. Which novelist ? How about a trip to Cuba? Not Hemingway but your travels are somewhat similar. Have you read any Somerset Maugham?

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