Southern Laos by Motorbike
It had only been a few weeks prior in Indonesia that I had ridden my first motorbike, a 125cc Honda with a surfboard mount tacked onto its side. Now I was in southern Laos, renting my second bike for a week.
“You have driven motorbike before, yes?” The guy working at the travel agency was young, friendly, and nervous.
“Oh yeah,” I said. “Plenty.” I kickstarted the bike and it lurched forward.
“Oh!” the guy exclaimed. “You are in gear!”
“Ah, yeah, couldn’t see that…the sun, you know.”
I got it started and waved goodbye, wobbling off the sidewalk and swerving to miss the pancake vendor. I wondered if he often watched Westerners depart thinking he’d have to wash their smashed brain and organs off his boss’s motorbike when it was found in a ditch somewhere.
The motorbike was a 125cc blue Honda Wave with a yellow helmet too small for me. The headlight sometimes worked and the gears sometimes didn’t stick. It was mine for a week. I couldn’t possibly describe to you what happened during that week. Instead, I’ll just tell you what I saw.
A kid waving at me, then pretending to shoot me. A blood splatter in the corner of my bungalow. Many waterfalls, brown and white and power. Many children looking very surprised to see me, mouth and eyes wide open. Guys washing their motorbikes off in the floodwaters where a street had been last week. An australian couple scared to death of That Muslim Indonesia. A guy easily kickstart my bike after I’d been struggling with it for four minutes. A mom and toddler holding hands coming back from a bath in the river, the toddler with no clothes and a shiny butt. A guy laughing at me when I sounded my horn: pitiful, strangled. Deep muddy trails my bike slipped and skidded around in. A waiter come up to me after I order and say, “riiiiiii?!” That means, “Do you want rice with that?” Thousands of coffee trees. A rat, after squealing above my ceiling in my bungalow, crawling through one of the holes in my bamboo thatched walls and scurrying across the floor. A woman who tried to tell me the price of her noodle soup but spoke no English. Instead she showed me five with one hand, another number with the other hand (I couldn’t make it out) and then smashed them together, symbolizing addition. A guy throwing a 15 foot bamboo pole like a spear at one of his 10 cows. I think he was just frustrated: when he saw me he stopped and grinned sheepishly. A daughter jumping onto her father’s back and then waving at me after a long day harvesting rice. A monk ignoring me after I said hello in Lao and the name of his temple, which I was trying to find. He looked alarmed, then jumped on his bicycle and peddled away quickly. Many goats and cows and water buffalo and dogs and cats that didn’t seem to notice that vehicles were hurtling toward them. A family intently watching the World Wrestling Federation. A 10 year old puffing a cigarette. Many primary schools, only one secondary school, and no high schools. A little girl in a beautiful bright blue dress swinging a meat cleaver around her body with a blade as big as her head.
That’s the Southern Laos that I saw.