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!!

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