I’m sat with a delicious Saturday morning coffee, in Naked Espresso, a funky cafe in the thick of the Vientiane backpacker area, having completed my daily ritual here of a brisk walk down the Mekong River nearby, which has presented me with picture perfect views this week of Thailand, just metres away over the water.
Since my last post about holidaying in Australia with Issy, I’ve traveled for work to Colombo, Bangkok, Singapore, and Seoul. Squeezing in a weekend of football in Manila along the way. I’m trying my best to be a good citizen of the world, but for sure I am going to carbon hell.
Vientiane represents my penultimate trip of 2015 and, fittingly, last night I kicked off the evening with some Kiwi friends, in a German owned bar, managed by a kind man called Kami from Tokyo, where we tucked into some Laotian pork rolls, washed down with a few drams of glorious Japanese whisky.
To top off that eclectic moment-in-time, Kami and his staff put on an impressive ice sculpting show, fashioning square blocks into mini snowballs with just a small screwdriver which, when twirled inside our glasses, provided the optimal whisky cooling spectacle.
I’m not sure I can now drink it any other way.
Vientiane is a quiet little city, and it has been interesting being here again, after my last short visit back in 2008.
Earlier in the week, I attended a conference five hours flight away, over in Seoul, a city fizzing with technology and orderliness, and brimming with expectation. Vientiane is a sleepy distant cousin in comparison. Perhaps not even a direct relative, the charm of this city is quite the opposite of what you feel when kicking about a place like Seoul.
However, for all the impressionable places I have visited this year, whatever their particular traits, it is always the people you meet along the way who bind the memories together and guarantee you some sense of “normal”, at times of reflecting on how hectic it has all been.
People living and working and loving and arguing and shaping their lives the world over, is never boring to watch, and seldom uneventful when you yourself step into someone else’s world – even just for a few minutes.
Yesterday, after attending a CARE event out of town, I spent ten minutes, with three people stopping to offer help, attempting to pass on my hotel address to a tuk-tuk driver.
For each new person who came to my aid in this road-side challenge, I had a heightened expectation we would crack the puzzle (that being mainly a puzzle of language).
A teenager first, then an older man, and finally a middle aged business-woman, who pulled over in her 4 x 4. Surely, my all knowing inner voice chimed, she will know the Laotian for “Ibis hotel”. Alas, she didn’t.
At which point, I begun to work out the correct face-saving manner in which I would have to address the tuk-tuk driver, to alert him to the reality that this particular deal would not be struck today.
Instead, he beat me to it, breaking into a warm smile and gesturing that I hop in the back anyway and, with a confident nod in the direction of approximately where I assumed we’d find a bunch of hotels, I shrugged in response, laughed and attempted an expression that invoked that time old (male) habit of taking the nonchalant “f**k it, let’s just go” approach, when presented with a situation such as this one.
Of course, for twenty minutes after, bumping along the road in the back of the tuk, I cursed myself, as I had no idea where we were heading or where my hotel was located.
However, it all worked itself out (Vientiane really is that small that even I can’t get lost here) and in one of those serendipitous moments we all have from time to time, the old man didn’t even fleece me on the final fare, and very warmly offered his hand and the perfect smile to close out my week.
We know that reassuring, brief interactions like this all have their corollaries: the angry taxi driver; the over priced fare; the exhausting grid-locked rides.
Both experiences are mutually reinforcing and I often think that, without these odd sparks of familiar connection that come from choosing to step into someone else’s world – to jump in the back of the tuk-tuk, and just see what happens – without these, we risk losing something very precious.
In other news: many congratulations to Dad for scoring a double six on his birthday yesterday. The Beatles happen to right now be playing the Sergeant Pepper album here in the cafe, in a strangely well timed hat-tip to one of Dad’s favourite pieces of music of all time. Rock on!
Better still, I also managed to arrange for this guy yesterday to offer up a birthday salute:
With the Christmas holidays approaching, Flo and Martha have been practicing looking demure and being well behaved, to ensure Santa delivers:
And, for posterity, and because I missed Halloween this year due to being in Sri Lanka, these were the choice outfits for 2015 (I was assured they tried to look scarier for the actual trick or treating expedition later that night) – I think you’ll agree, the girls have gone for the ‘weekend-vampire-casual’ look:
So, time now to head off in search of more tuk-tuk ‘moments’.
Happy weekend, and more news from Saigon soon, before the sun sets on 2015…