American Traveler

So far on this trip I have had yet to meet many Americans, especially in the backpacker’s districts of Khao San, or in the laid-back eco-tourism of Laos.
 
But in Vietnam, the American backpackers are proliferating in every city, hostel and “couchsurf”. In the dorm room I’m in, there are six beds, and each one is taken by an American traveling alone. I thought the way I traveled was unique and a bit haphazard, but every American backpacker I meet seems like an urban traveler, searching for the same thing I am–whatever that is.
 
On the bus I met two lone Americans, and for the first time, traveling with people wasn’t a burden. They actually wanted to do the exact same things I did–walk around aimlessly, every now and then hitting a cafe to read our pocketed books, taking all the side streets, walking through the schools and backyards, hitting the museums and art galleries, going to bars that had Locals, not just foreigners.
 
Apparently I’m not an urban traveler at all. Or an “ascetic” traveler, or a “localist” traveler, or a “hardcore” traveler. Just an American traveler.
 
Why Vietnam? The War, of course. The Americans I stay with are concerned with the similarities of the Iraq War with the Vietnam “police action”. Fact-checking, changing our perspectives and seeing ominous similarities everywhere, and discovering the hard kernels about what the American schools taught us. The hard-fact is this: There was no “Communist Threat” to America, they didn’t give a damn about us, unless we tried to get involved. The Gulf of Tonkin was a fabrication, and if we had let the Vietnamese deal with their own issues of Independence, they would have ended up Capitalist anyways–just a Capitalism “in the name of the people.”
 
Countries gaining Independence, historically, are susceptible to Communist Ideology, being a new country concerned primarily “with the people,” in fear of the petty Bourgeois that comes in capitalist third-worlds in Africa. But Communism is an irrational economic system, something that doesn’t take too long to figure out. The War was a meaningless atrocity. It was never about economics to the Vietnamese, it was about being a unified, independant nation, owned “by the people” (as in, by their own state). Americans should have known, from our own revolution, that such a war was impossible to win.
 
I need not go into great detail about the misinformation of American education with Vietnam. Vietnam has a capitalist economy, a destructive totalitarian government, and a people so nice, energetic and enthused that when they find seven Americans together, instead of berating us for the war, they barrage us with questions about America, while we do the same to them about Vietnam.
 
So the museums have been emotional. American dog-tags from soldiers KIA, letters from American POWs, stolen American armory, portrayals of the “solidarity” protests in America during the war…the prison where McCain and many others were kept during the war.  
 
 
It’s difficult coming to a country like this after living in Korea. The Korean war was a conflict so similar to Vietnam and Iraq, except that it was very short, and now considered successful. The difference is had to explain. It may have to do with the fact that the Americans wanted to get out of Korea asap. Unlike Iraq and Vietnam we let the Koreans do almost all of their own fighting, and we were urgent to end the war at the DMZ, letting the Korean government take over almost immediately afterwards. I don’t know what the difference was, the situation was almost identical. One was a vast success, the other an infamous error.
 
Also, in Korea, there was no “Gulf on Tonkin” or “Sept. 11” that turned soldiers into overzealous killing machines. We had come to assist, then leave–not for vengeance, racism or economic gain.
 
So many Americans, the ones concerned with the Iraq War, do what the Bush regime wouldn’t–they come to Vietnam, and try to figure out what went wrong, and how to avoid it. Personally, I’m amazed at how intelligent these Americans are, and how dedicated they are to knowing the hard truth beyond the “authorotative texts”. The journey so far has been emotional, and extremely depressing–not because the Vietnam War was so hazardous, but because it’s so clear now that all the mistakes from Vietnam have already been made in Iraq, as if we started caring five years too late.
 
For now, more Museums, more exploration, more unanswered questions. They call our war the “Anti-American War of Vietnamese Liberation.” I suppose it’s only fair. I don’t remember calling it anything as I was growing up but “the F*ck up.” 
 
One last part about McCain–I trust that nobody is fooled by his VP pick. He intends to steal the Hillary supporters by choosing a female, playing identity politics, selecting an unknown female to represent all women, as if such a thing is possible. She doesn’t represent “all women” any more than Obama represents “all blacks.” These candidates should be judged on their own merits, not their race or gender. Pick accordingly. 
 
 
 

Hanoi, Vietnam

Hanoi, Vietnam

 

Good Morning! This ain’t Vietnam–oh yes it is!

Hanoi! The commie capital, the heart of “Charlie,” the hive of the Viet Cong, the place of the “POW Hilton”! It’s so good to be here!

Fresh from a 33 hour bus ride from Luang Prabang, then to Vientiane, and finally to Hanoi! Some highlights from the trip:

1.  Watching an old Lao man vomit all over a younger Lao guy’s face in the middle of the bus ride.

2. Watching the Lao men trying to “cross streams” while pissing on the side of the road.

3. TWO DAYS WITH NO SLEEP

4. My last memory of Laos, a cute 9 year-old Lao girl selling balloons, who I had taught English too, finding me on the last day, saying: “Hey, you want Pepsi baby?”

Me: “Pepsi baby? What is that? Pepsi…peep…peep show baby?”

girl: “Yes. Peep show. You want peep show baby?”

Me: “Oh. That figures.” I bought a balloon.

 

But it doesn’t matter, you know, cuz I’m in Hanoi! The place of the communist star, and Ho Chinh Minh (Uncle “Ho”), the “Mao” of Vietnam.

The drive here was gorgeous. Unlike Lao people, the Vietnamese have learned to cut down their jungles. That’s right—SCREW THOSE JUNGLES. Vietnam used to be a place of mass starvation, one of the biggest importers of rice in the world. Now it’s a rising wealthy nation, and one of the biggest EXPORTERS of rice in the world, all because they CUT DOWN THOSE JUNGLES. Oh yes, and because of their repudiation of communist economics.

“The North and South Vietnamese have a history of racism and hatred, but since the fall of the Soviet Union, the North and South have overcome their differences for business and fast-paced construction, and now carry no such enmity.” – Lonely Planet

Is there a more beautiful sentence in the English language? “overcome their differences for business”! Stunning, ethereal–bleed those words! I know I will.

Being in Hanoi, it’s all quite true. Hanoi must be one of the busiest cities in the world, every Vietnamese is always in a rush, and every other store specializes in construction materials. This is a city very much on the rise, though it’s already pretty advanced. It’s very similar to what Korea was like in the 80s, or so people tell me.

Actually, it’s so busy here it’s scary. People will run into you without thinking about it, the motorbikes will line up and completely ignore anyone crossing the street like Roman legions charging at you:

Scariness. Actually, it gets pretty exciting crossing the street at times, the adrenaline hits you like a hammer, and all you can think is “Oh my god I’m going to die”. But you just take it easy, they will navigate against you.

The leitmotif so far has been “Water”. It’s everywhere. In the typhoons, in the thousands of rice fields, and even in Hanoi, every district is circled around a lake, and on almost every street I find myself walking over a bridge, after a block or two. The big traditional show here is “Water puppets,” which is pretty much like it sounds, and even funner when under some influence.

The police smoke marijuana on the streets here. Some friends and I stopped to watch, and they joined in, saying: “There are no cops around, right?”

This place is totally awesome, it’s everything an urban traveler needs–except the curfew. Yes, it’s officially still “conservative,” though it’s changing fast, and the curfew is midnight. Even though I was out until 1am tonight. The more popular dance bars have a lock-in until 5am, which must get pretty exhausting.

Tomorrow I go to see the War Museum, which is full of American stolen goods, as well as dog-tags of the deceased. Pretty disturbing.

Food in Bangkok and Laos

Bangkok food!

Every morning in Bangkok I would wake up and walk to the nearest temple, before 11am. Why? Free food! And lots of it! They had about every mixture of Thai I can think of, and I tried all of it. Funny how only Thailand, the only non-communist country I went to, was the only country where I saw free hand-outs of food.

The Street food in Thailand is something else. After getting food poisoning twice from street food in Korea, I never thought I’d be eating it for every single meal, like in Bangkok.

..

As you can see, there are tanks and bowls of curry everywhere. You basically get a bowl full of rice then point to whatever curry or noodle sauce you so desire. I made it a point to try from every bowl, so I probably ate some dog at some point.

The curry in Thailand and Lao isn’t like the curry in the states. It’s more of a soup here, but still as sweet as ever. All the ingredients are fresh. I have yet to see any frozen foods. They also package them nicely for you, if you’re on the go.

In Chinatown of Bangkok, the food was better than when I was in China.

Pho is the basic poor-man’s dish here, and while a meal of curry runs from sometimes free to about 80 cents, Pho will drain you for a max of fifty-cents, if you buy it on the streets. Street food also depends on where you buy it. If you’re in a Tourist spot, chances are it will be overprices and disgusting.

Laos

Laos food is something of a fusion of Thai and Vietnamese, though there are definately dishes here that are Lao only. The key is resourcefulness. Ever eaten a meal of pure bamboo shoots?

Apparently with a poor country like Laos, they’ve learned to eat everything! I’ve DEFINATELY eaten dog at some point without knowing it.

I don’t know what to call Lao food because there are no Lao restaurants in the states, so think of different variations of Pho, which all taste incredibly different, coming out of giant vats like this:

The best tasting Lao food I’ve had is Lao Beef with noodles (Kao Xio), which tastes almost like chili but with the sweetness of curry.

I haven’t wanted to pray for a long time, but with this bowl of ethereal wonderment, one is suddenly happy to be alive, one feels an exuberant joy at the spiced smell, a befitting grin at the sight of sizzling beef upon a mound of golden streams, the uberyummy taste that bites at you as if from some guilt for an original sin, that demands you put down your chopsticks because you are not worthy! Then you must have the power to say: “No! The world is mine as is this dish! I break free from my culinary Western prison!” etc. and all that.

They also have nice vegetarian buffets for about half a dollar:

Last but not least, is Lao alcohol. The national beer, “Laobeer” is about as crappy as Budweiser, but just as smooth and easy to drink. The horrendous drink is “LaoLao,” the national alcohol, which is like Vodka if Vodka tasted like stomach acid. The Lao people sit in circles and pass this crap around, and boy is it strong! It’s the worst kind of “drunk” one can feel–but it’s also the cheapest alcohol I’ve ever had, at about fifty cents for a bottle (it’s a rice-wine). Now I can see why so many Lao people seem drunk all the time, with such cheap means to do it.

Luang Prabang II

Today I had to find a sign of civilization.

I don’t mean to put Lao down, but after a week without seeing anything worth feeling prideful for being a part of the human race, I craved something innovative, something industrial, technological, anything! I’ve walked absolutely everywhere in this city, and there’s a temple about every block, which is…kind of industrial, kind of impressive.

I walked five kilometers to the airport, and got to see big planes landing! Yeah! That was cool! Humanity–hellz yeah! Then I had to walk another three kilometers to find the first bridge that wasn’t made out of wood and rope! It was made of stone and reinforced by steel! Sweet steel bent into hollow tubes, so beautiful!

I went to a Lao theater and watched some of their traditional dancing and “acting”. Man oh man, what the hell was that? They glorified the trickster myth, the monkey who goes wrecking havoc on any form of greatness that humanity achieves. Really? This is the “idol” that this country needs right now?

Otherwise, as for urban exploration, this city was determined before I got here. It’s a tourist city.

There are direct flights to Luang Prabang from Australia and New Zealand. It’s a UNESCO world heritage city–not site, city–and there’s an “elephant sanctuary” just within city limits, and there are hordes of tour agencies on every city street. I wish I loved trekking, jumping in waterfalls and riding elephants, I wish I was just out of college, living off of my parents money like most of the tourists here.

I got so sick of the tourists today that I had to cross the bridge into unknown territory, which is off the tourist map. There I found schools, technical colleges and the like. That was very heartwarming, to see the Lao people excited about secondary education. There were no tourists on that side of the bridge, and the kindness of the Lao people was relaxing in itself. It was odd though just how many nude children were running about without anyone watching them, pissing in the street and running away from the roosters and cows, which were also free to do what they wanted.

Then I had to come back to the tourist spots. It might seem like I’m exaggerating, but I was proved the essence of this place in a social experiment–sitting in a bar alone. This is not a bad way to meet people. In Vientiane, Bangkok, Beijing, and most every city I travel to, I find cool people in the first ten minutes. The theory goes like this: Whenever I’m with a group of people, preferably drinking, and I see someone young and a bit unattached sitting alone at the bar, I ALWAYS go and talk to them. I usually discover that this person is traveling, or sick of their usual group of friends, or is so into their own work and other passions that they don’t usually go to bars enough to have “a group”. In other words, they’re always people worth knowing. By reversal, I find that if there are cool people to be found in the nightlife scene, the best way to meet them is to sit at a bar alone, and almost always someone interesting–not like the usual crowd, someone who DOES NOT find safety in numbers–will come up and chat. This almost always works, in every city.

In Luang Prabang and Viane Viang? I sit alone for an hour, then leave.

One reason is the French people here don’t speak much English, so I don’t really “chat” with them at the bar, we drink together and dare each other to try the LaoLao alcohol. The second reason is, again, the gigantic groups of Australian and New Zealanders who take their summer vacations here, with hardly any interest in meeting anyone apart from the group that they came with (especially a southeast-Asian, or anyone who looks like one). The other reason is my attitude. The Australians annoy the hell out of me because they think it’s so cool to be drunk and stupid, and they continually remind me of my race. So I act like a dick to them.

The rays of light are the people from the U.K. Maybe it’s because we share an imperial past, maybe because the rest of the world doesn’t seem to like either Americans or the British, or maybe because both of our countries are becoming overwhelmingly multi-cultural, but the Brits are incredibly friendly people and so much fun to hang out with–as well as the French, the ones who can speak English at least.

The nightlife in Luang Prabang is almost non-existent anyway. The only bars around here close at 11:30, and I have yet to walk into a bar and see both Lao and foreigners hanging out together. That’s what you get in tourist cities–it’s incredibly hard meeting a Lao person who doesn’t immediately want your cash, because thats what they expect and the tourists rarely want to meet the locals anyway. I went to maybe four bars last night, and the only Lao people I saw were the ones working there. It was very, very sad. I never see the white people treating the Lao like human beings. They treat them like a spectacle, like props for their cameras, like objects of ridicule. I highly doubt I can penetrate any groups of young Lao people, when there’s an unsaid antipathy between them and the tourists.

I keep bringing up the nightlife because it’s incredibly hot during the day-times here, and I’ve become somewhat nocturnal. God, I want to go to Hanoi already! Where’s my Visa!!

Luang Prabang

Hi there.

I spent perhaps too many days partying in Vientiane, and by the time I pulled into Vang Viang, I was coasting off of two sleepless nights, very little food and a bumpy, long bus-ride.

I spent the next two days sleeping with a horrendous fever that ached every muscle and gave me silly hallucinations, there was a point where I was convinced my teeth were falling out. I hadn’t had a fever like that since I was a child.

At any rate, I’m here in Luang Prabang, unsure of why I came here. Lots of drunk Aussies and Kiwis told me to go to Luang Prabang and Vang Vieng, now that I’m here I just find cities full of drunk Aussies and Kiwis.

I’ll never take their advice again. This place is great for things like trekking, riding on elephants and kayaking, but for urban exploration, they’re just dull tourist cities. I freaking grew up in a tourist city, I really would like to avoid them.

On the other hand tourism is probably the only industry with any potential in Laos. Laos is a communist country, it’s symbol is still the hammer and sickle. And boy, what a country! Everyone is poor as hell, and most are so inept and stupid that they need a calculator to figure out any damn equation I give them (someone just busted one out for 100 – 45).

Most of the Laos in the service industry are unbelievably incompetent. I was ordering a bus ticket, and the guy said “ok,” busted out his receipt book, then stared at me blankly. He then proceeded to press buttons on his cell-phone and look at me awkwardly, wondering why I was there. Then he looked at the receipt book and went: “öh!” Most every transaction is similar to this.

Did I say “ïnept” and “stupid”? Sorry, I meant: “they come from a different system of logic than our own.” Somehow, the only times I can get simple calculations done without a calculator, in when an older Lao woman does it.

Hanging out and partying with the Laotians was pretty interesting as well. They seem very easily amused, and once they get the Western concept of clinking glasses together, they want to do it every two seconds. The night-life Laotians are pretty heavy drug users as well. Marijuana is extremely common here, more common than anywhere in the states, in Amsterdam, etc. I’ve been told it’s the best marijuana in the world, by a man who seemed pretty damn experienced in the subject. That still didn’t persuade me to try it. I may just be the squarest person in SE Asia right now.

I didn’t learn as much as I’d like about the Lao lifestyle, and all that I did learn were from the women. I hung out mostly with prostitutes and fishermen (like Jesus!), and since I’m brown I was treated like one of them, not a “customer” in any sense, since I wouldn’t buy anyway. Some of the things I learned were fascinating.

Many of the prostitutes sincerely loved their customers, indeed, one even showed me a picture of her “boyfriend” and began to cry horribly before burning a pill and inhaling the fumes. Apparently he had died recently. I never met a prostitute who didn’t have at least one child. One of the first things I was introduced to was the many many baby pictures. They all traveled quite a bit, some were Thai, some from Burma. Everything they did was for their family back home, they were self-sacrificing single mothers with the only job available in SE Asia that could offer them the most money for their children.

It was hard to be around them sometimes though, they would constantly try to hook up with any Aussies or Kiwis that walked by (yes I will keep slamming on these people, they annoy me and I find it funny). Sometimes they were successful, but when they weren’t, it went terribly for them. Most were looking for a husband, and strangely enough, many prostitutes had found husbands this way. I wondered, “if you marry a ‘çlient,’ do you then become ‘full time prostitutes’ or just ‘housewives?'” Is there really a difference?

I’ll take this chance to say that I found no better company the company in Lao, whether they were whores or not–for better a worse, they were chill, honest, full of energy and humorous, with no illusions about their lives or their eventful life-stories. Of course, they were also highly non-elitist. And musicians too!

As for the Communism in Lao, it’s just as much of a joke here as it is in writing. Unlike Vietnam or Thailand, Lao has yet to grow at all, though they have successfully stayed Communist. Their greatest forms of “relief” efforts come from Western, capitalist countries through aid efforts by the UN (There are UN stations all over the main city) and their greatest growing industry is tourism–money coming in from capitalist countries. The Lao industry has been unable to produce anything worth a damn, and has yet to embrace any western technology, except of course for the medicine which is given to them by the UN. But at least THERE’S NOT A MCDONALDS!

One last thing about Aussies. I feel like when I talk to them they can’t seem to look past my brown-skin. Maybe it’s just me, but I can usually tell when something is lurking like that, since I’m able to be comfortable with every other race I meet while traveling. I was confused the first many times, but looking at the ways the Aboriginies have been treated in Australia, I suppose maybe it really is the whole race thing. I suppose I could say it’s just my personality, or maybe the different English dialects.

The Kiwis are ok, fun people. I just think it’s funny to rag on them.

Random things in Lao

There are no set opening and closing times in Lao. Businesses are only open when the owners feel like being there. As a result, you get four pharmacies right next to each other. At least one will probably be opened.

Animals walk the streets like people. They have complete freedom, living off scraps and other animals. Mostly dogs and cats, but roosters and chickens as well. These animals have adapted to the urban environment, I have yet to see an animal run out into the street, like any “pet” would.

Being brown among other brown people has great potential. I can walk into big tourist sites without having to pay, people assume I’m a local. When I tell someone I’m Filipino, I get the best deals, since they assume I’m poor. When I tell a local I’m American, they all think I’m a liar. Even my passport doesn’t convince them.

Almost all the foreigners I’ve met in Lao, like me, only intended to stay a couple of days, but now can’t imagine leaving. Some of them quit their jobs to stay. Some call their work and tell some bullshit story about how the Lao government won’t let them leave. Many people who come here on their way to Thailand, China or Vietnam, end up staying at least a month.

My bullshit story: “Sorry, can’t go back to grad-school, helping set up orphanage in Lao.” Altruism is never questioned in academic circles.

Malaria is a common fear here. I finally got some anti-malaria pills, though now I feel empty inside. The thought of being in mortal danger all the time was cool as hell. Also, the only thing that actually keeps the mosquitoes away is drinking. I keep forgetting that alcohol is considered a toxin. 

On a side note, the malaria drug I use, Chloroquine Phosphate, has adverse effects on 100% of tested African Americans, and almost no adverse effects on any other race. Thanks to “colorblind” policies in some European countries, this fact is never stated even in pharmacies, since race is seen as “merely a social phenomenon.” What a nice way to say “HEY BLACK PEOPLE, HAVE SOME MALARIA!” Thank you, academia.

I’m not taking any pictures while I’m here. I really hate taking pictures while traveling. That’s what this blog is for.

There are bars full of young men and older women, the young men being bought to take them out for a romantic night. The “patroness” style of prostitution is well alive and accepted here. Of course, it is everywhere, but here it has some integrity.

I should stop using words like prostitution to describe these things. It seems totally inaccurate. Also, I’ve given the misconception that foreign men are part of the reason prostitution is so prevalent. Nearly all of prostitution in Asia is sustained by the locals, and are in the local communities, not tourist districts.

Random conversation:

From a Filipino I met on the bus, after I told him that my grandfather refused to pass on the Filipino heritage to the rest of my family: “I bet all the American-Flips get mad about that. Don’t blame your grandfather, he may be one of the smartest people. I would do the same. Anyone with a good heart would have done the same.”

From an American foreigner: “In China, me and my friend were walking the street and saw a Chinaman crouching down, and my friend said to me, in these exact words—no joke—’I know what you’re thinking, Chinaman are probably the race most close to animals.’ Can you believe that? In broad daylight, on the street, to say something that racist, that terrible.”

Me: “How long had he been in China?”

Guy: “About nine years. He can speak Chinese fluently, and he worked in some aid projects too.”

Me, after a moment: “Maybe he was right. Maybe that was what you were thinking.”

A young Polish, after spending a week straight in intense meditation: “I feel great.”

Turkish guy: “What did you get out of it?”

Polish kid: “Nothing, really. I feel a lot happier.”

Silence from the bar-mates.

Ben the American: “Everywhere I go, people scream at me: ‘Hey ladyboy! What’s you’re name?’ All because I walk around in a dress.”

Me: “Why do you wear a dress?”

Ben: “It fits into my backpack easier.”

Guy from Liverpool: “Buddhism is great here. It’s not really a religion, is it? More like a philosophy, or a way of life.”

Me: “How is it not like a religion? It has an afterlife, it has dieties, it has graven images and sacred texts, it has rituals, beliefs and faith. It’s adopted by the state, so that people are forced to serve as mandatory Buddhist monks when they’re growing up. It’s worse than religion, it’s Medieval.”

Guy: “Then why is it everyone I meet in the West says it’s not a religion?”

Me: “Because Buddhists can do drugs and have promiscuous sex.”

Guy: “Exactly! So it’s not really a religion then, is it?”

Vientiane Night

The streets in Vientiane are very dark at night, there are very few streetlights, so I was a bit frightened last night to find myself lost in a city of darkness, feeling the eyes of the locals scanning me. I had walked too far again.

Finally I found neon signs, the sounds of U.K. accents and boiling laughter. After four flights of stairs, on the roof overlooking the Mekong, I found a large bar filled with aged white men, clutching their Lao women.

I had a beer and tried to talk to some of the foreigners, but I couldn’t get interested in them anymore than they could in me. Most were aging hippies who had come for “spiritual guidance.” They told me this as they hunted for women, and one even claimed that he was “from Lao,” and “doing nothing” there. I went outside and was approached by teenage Lao girls who all called me “honey.”

No. Lao is such a comfortable, friendly country with children eager to learn and a rising potential, why did I have to encounter this again, here? Logically I have nothing against it, I don’t see how I could. And yet it disgusts me tremendously.

I was hailed by a ladyboy sitting with a group of young foreigners. “Hey, you come talk to us!” the ladyboy said. He was not like the other ladyboys I had met, (s)he looked older and had no surgical alterations. I went to share some beers with the group at the small outdoor bar.

“You’re from Seattle,” said a young American decorated in tatoos and wood ear-rings.

I wanted to punch him in the face. “No,” I said. “I just live there for now. How the hell did you know?”

“I’m from Eugene, Oregon. You’re also half Phillipino, right?”

I don’t see why he needed my confirmation, he seemed as certain of it as a mathematical equation. Most urban explorers begin traveling as a means to lose their identity, to free themselves from the binds of self-consistency that are put on them by their friends, family and culture. But this guy was bringing it all back to me. His name was Ben, and he lived in India as a musician.

I met the group. All of them were urban travelers like myself, all of them were traveling alone, like myself, and all of them were in their twenties. There was a man from the Czech Republic, one from Frankfurt, a girl from Slovenia, a guy from France, Ben, me, the ladyboy (Jimmy) and his cousin, who didn’t know a word of English. There were others who I can barely recall.

“It’s disgusting, it’s not right, I can’t stand it,” the girl from Slovenia was in an outrage about the prostitution in Lao. So it was with all of us.

“But you must understand these girls,” said Ben, calmly. “Go home with one of these girls, go to the village where they live. Meet their parents, eat dog with them, drink Lao-Lao (Lao alcohol) with them, spend all night slapping malaria-ridden mosquitos, see the expression on her little brother’s face when she arrives from the city bearing food for them, and you will understand why they come out to the street and beg for an older man.” 

“These girls are so poor,” Jimmy added. “They have no choice, they can work maybe selling coconuts for thirty cents an hour, but you wouldn’t do that, I wouldn’t do that, nobody would do that. All of us would rather love someone for one night and live off of that for a month.” Jimmy’s Lao accent made the words strike even harder, it was a man faking a women’s voice, in a Lao-English lisp. Everyone at the table knew that Jimmy had lived a life we could never concieve of.

“Well, the girls are one thing,” the Slovenian said, “but who are these men who come here just to buy prositutes? That is disgusting, if you are sixty years old, do not sleep with your grand-daughter.”

“They have a penis,” Ben said.

“But it is disgusting!”

“I’m not attracted to a sixty-year old women now,” I said. “I doubt I will be when I’m sixty. My taste in women hasn’t changed since I was twelve.”

“They cannot get women in their own country,” said a man with black hair and a sly grin. I have no idea what country he came from. “So they must come here because they’re so ugly.”

That made me rancorous. “Can’t get women in their own country? They spend their lives making money, devoting themselves to a family, a job, whatever. Do you know how much effort it takes for some people to sleep with a terribly beautiful woman? Haven’t you ever read a novel before? Think how much easier it would be to buy a plane ticket and sleep with a different beautiful girl every single night, and the money that they spend means nothing to them. Only people like P. Diddy can do that without paying for it, and look how much he spends on women anyway! How many novels, how many love stories appear idiotic to men like that?” I was defending the sexpats. Even though they disgusted the hell out of me, I wasn’t going to let people get away with deeming them monstrous. “Sexpats are the easiest people in the world to understand,” I said. “They are men with money who like sex.”

Nobody would argue against that because they knew it was true. They knew that even this group of young travelers would some day be in the positions of those men, and at that point, would we have the morality–the will, to condemn the practice?

Jimmy said something similar, about how he was in love with a “client,” and became the foreign man’s boyfriend for five years and that’s how he learned English. He said that the prostitutes usually have several boyfriends sending them money every month, sometimes they fall in love. The ones who are not poor will sometimes sleep with men just to enjoy it, but if they’re poor, they’ll always ask for money. Poor like Jimmy’s cousin, who was a gorgeous Lao girl sitting next to me, a prostitute in training. 

When Jimmy was talking it was difficult not to listen, but I suddenly felt something wet on my cheek. It was a quick kiss by a very thin smiling Lao girl that couldn’t have been more than fifteen years old. She was taking turns sitting next to people, holding their hands, kissing their cheeks playfully. She was also drinking and chainsmoking.

Her name was Lin, she spoke no English. Ben bought her a beer and gave her another cigarette. “I got to tell you about this girl,” Ben said. “This girl is so young, she’s mentally retarded, so these disgusting assholes, they take her and they make her love them. She doesn’t know any better. I see her on the streets, crouching down, smiling, she doesn’t know any better. So every night we buy her beers, we give her cigarettes, and she fucking chainsmokes man, and she drinks everything we give her, but never acts any different. Now this girl, we love this girl man, we protect this girl. If we don’t drink with her you know what happens? She gets bored, she goes on the street and goes to that fucking bar down the road that you came from.”

“Yes yes I understand,” nodding. He didn’t have to explain it any further, he could see that I understood what I was getting into.

I can’t remember how many of us there were, but when that small outdoor bar closed, we all walked together in a dazed, Dionysian procession down the streets of Viantiane, calling anyone we saw to join us in our debaucherous parade. Jimmy took us to a big bar, where he trained his little cousin how to approach foreigner men. I met some people from South Africa and New Zealand.

“It’s not the American people that we got problems with,” the Kiwi said. “It’s the American government. Who will you go to war with next?”

“I don’t hate the government,” I said immediately. “Our constitution is fine. I have a problem with the American people, they’re the ones who voted for Bush twice. Don’t feel bad if you don’t like the American people, or feel disgusted at them, maybe you should.”

My comments staggered everyone in the bar and they didn’t know what to say. They all thought the same thing, but had been too nice to say it, so that the American must be the first. I became popular fast, and as a result, drank much more than I should have while moving from groups of people trying to find my footing and hopefully steal somebody’s hat (I must wear a ridiculous hat sometimes). I bought a bottle of green tea to lighten myself up. I checked to make sure that Lin was not selling herself to anyone.

Lin was overjoyed to see me. Out of all the foreigners, for some reason she took a great liking to me more than the rest. She tried to hold my hand wherever we went, she looked to me as if I was an older brother, though I’m not going to totally count out the possibility that she was looking for a hand-out. No, I will count that out, actually, there was a sincerity in her and that was what we were trying to protect.

Jimmy looked upon his cousin with some success as she walked away with a middle-aged white man.

When the bar closed we knew we couldn’t call it a night, because of Lin. So we stumbled through the streets in our procession, which had now dwindled to maybe six people.

Ben walked us to a bowling alley, filled with the city’s youth. I was dizzy as hell. I drank more green tea, trying to get my bearings. I hadn’t felt this drunk in a long time. I hadn’t eaten that day.

We made no effort to bowl, all of us too far gone to responsibly hold heavy objects. I stayed with the group but couldn’t help wandering around the place. I found an empty massage parlor and tried to fall asleep in the massage chair. No! We had to stay up, we couldn’t let Lin get bored. When I stood up from the massage chair I was even dizier. I drank the rest of the green tea.

We tried playing pool, and couldn’t hold the sticks right. The sun would come up soon, and Lin would be ok, but right now we had to make her happy. See Lin? Your innocent kisses and cheery composure won’t be laid out for some rich guy looking to bone a young girl. They will never have the chance to laugh when they realize that you’re mentally disabled, we won’t give them that. We will stumble, and drink, and chainsmoke, and laugh ourselves to death before we let that happen.

Some of the foreigners had left, and it was just me, the French guy and two Brits we had just met. They were all getting tired, and Lin seemed bored, her eyes kept moving to the group of older white men at one of the alleys, who were looking back at her. I was too drunk to do anything about it. I found a chair and slammed my head into the cushion, desperately, horrendously drunk. Suddenly, I wanted to cry. I had ruined myself. I remembered what I had done. I had bought that bottle of green tea, poured it all out, then replaced it with whisky, so the people in the bar wouldn’t get mad for bringing in outside alcohol. I had done that, and had completely forgotten about it, too drunk to even notice the change in taste.

I was wasted, the levys in my blood-brain barrier broke, and I breathed only in forced fits and vomitted all over the floor.

Luckily no one saw me do any of those things, I was in the empty massage parlor when I did them. I couldn’t walk down the stairway to the bowling alley so I stayed up there, I couldn’t help Lin anymore, I couldn’t do anything but try to vomit the alcohol out. I hadn’t vomitted since I was six. I wanted to cry for fear of what could have happened if the others had let her down, as I did. I wanted to go into the street and catch those men walking with her to their hotels, so I could tear out their adam’s apple.

Hours passed, but the sun still wasn’t up. After a while I was able to walk down the steps, and I saw Lin sitting in a booth with the man from France. Viva La France! He was the last one. He turned and smiled to me and I knew it was alright. I went outside and the sun was coming up. On the long walk home I thought that soon we would all be waking up with light hangovers, but knowing that we had at least done something to combat the disgust we felt.

 

When I woke up this morning I tried to remember last night as plainly as possible, but there was one thing that kept popping up. At the big bar, I had asked Ben: “What about when we leave? Lin will just go right back to that bar, back to the streets.”

“When we leave?” he said, “Hopefully there will be people like us, who will see this girl and drink with her and offer her cigarettes.”

I don’t want to tolerate this anymore. I don’t feel like I can afford to tolerate this anymore. Lin comes from a family in the village. Everything we did last night may have kept her family hungry, it may have kept them from getting the medicine they need, and yet we couldn’t have done anything different. Adolescent prostitution is the easiest thing in the world to understand.