post #8 from SE Asia, "These are our children…"

Hello from Luang Prabang, Laos, January 30th, 2010

Post #8

“These are our children…”

I spent a 1/3 day climbing around 3000 feet. I had to walk my bicycle a lot of the way. I simply am not able to pedal for any amount of time up a 10% slope. On the way I met a Korean man my age, Kang, going the opposite direction, pedaling from the Himalayas to Singapore. He too was walking his bicycle. And he walked it 100% up slopes. He was doing his trek 100% by muscle power, however long it took him. We talked of life. It was like we had already known each other.

I get to the top of the ridge. I know that I have a quick 2000 foot descent. 10%+ down in places. So I do the mandatory brake check. Each wheel alone must be able to stop the bike. In 3 weeks I have gone thru 4 brake pads. Everything checks ok, and I let her fly. I don’t let the speed get over 25mph. Wowwwwww, this is fun. In 15 minutes I am at the bottom, 12 km ahead. 4 hours up, 15 minutes down. That is ok. But I know that I have another climb right ahead of me. And that does wear on me mentally. I do like riding the flats and rolling hills much more. I guess it is just the mid-westerner in me, and my age.

While I am rolling downhill I coast into a small town. They are having some kind of carnival with a wonderfully primitive, homemade carousel. I stop, and then I see it. The ice cream man on his motor scooter. I check, and he has the ‘other white ice cream’, coconut. I tell you, the homemade, straight-from-the-shell coconut ice cream here is as good as it gets, better than any vanilla. They will sprinkle cashews on it if you want. And it is much better to a hot hungry cyclist. So I order one. I get a mid-sized cup. Simply delicious, at a price of 12 cents. Ahhh. 

I notice a lovely little waif girl staring at me. She says nothing. How can I do this in front of her, at 12 cents a pop? So I hand the ice cream man a large bill, by Laos standards. He quickly begins filling the cups. I hand the girl and her friends next to her cups of ice cream. They all bow to me in the cutest way. More children gather, of course. Eventually about fifty kids come by. We empty the ice cream man’s canister. When the children realized that a few will not get any ice cream, they immediately begin sharing with those without. Mothers stand around smiling approvingly. While this is going on, I eat THREE more cups of ice cream for myself. I rationalize that I need the energy and to cool down. And I really do. Never once during this whole process did any of the children get pushy or complain. They were well-behaved country kids. You find fine sweet rural kids like this the world over, and this definitely includes the USA. They all say their thanks, bow, and then eat their ice cream very slowly. And they stare at me. I imagine that I, with my bright cycling clothes and helmet, must look closer to an alien to them than anything they have seen.

And then I hop on my bike and continue to the next grind. This would have been just another anonymous act of kindness, except that I just wrote it down.

College Spring Break on the Mekong:

Van Vieng Laos is a simply stunning town in south central Laos. A clean river cuts thru it. It has rapids, caves, waterfalls, mountains, great scenery, and excellent hiking. A tourism industry has exploded around it recently, catering to the young back-packing crowd. But this is different than the backpacking that I have did in my youth. On any day there may be a thousand young people from around the world, mostly Europe but increasingly the US. The routine of the day is to go tubing down the river. Caravans of trucks take them many miles upriver and launch them. They then float down the river to the numerous floating bars. I think a drink or two may be included in the ticket price. By the time they get back to Van Vieng, they ARE VERY VERY DRUNK. If they have a ‘happy meal’, they are more than drunk. These are not McDonalds happy meals. These are sometimes tasty local food laced with marijuana, or so the lore goes. Others have confirmed that they will make their own ‘happy meals i’f there is not one to be purchased. So in the afternoon everyday in Van Vieng, you have literally many hundreds of very drunk stoned people stumbling out of the river into the city. Think invasion.  Vomiting guys and topless, or near topless girls struggling, falling over, shouting, whooping it up. Spring break in Florida, except 10,000 miles away.

What is most obvious to me is the clash of cultures. The modest Buddhists watch, accommodate them, and make lots of money off of them. But you can see the silent disapproval from their women. Culturally, they simply cannot understand this. Most of the older traveler folks like myself stay on the west side of the river, a kilometer away from this ‘action’. We can still hear the noise at night, but it is not nearly so loud.

But here is the thing that gets me. And if I sound like a grumpy old man, then so be it. What is a major activity in the evening? I counted at least 12 packed ‘TV bars’ where they all sit facing one-way silently watching reruns of FRIENDS. Now, I have never seen FRIENDS, so who am I to criticize it. But I do have some feelings about traveling 10,000 miles TO WATCH RERUNS! I find myself shaking my head, like the older European travelers. Or as one German woman my age said to me, “These are our children. We made them this.”

My next blurb will be on Luang Prabang, Laos. It is one of the most beautiful big towns I have been to. And a spectacular place to shop for silks, cottons, weavings, and garments from any of the 50+ indigenous ethnic groups of Laos.

4 Responses to post #8 from SE Asia, "These are our children…"

  1. question my brother, why didn’t you ride your cycle?you are wearing me out climbing these mountains pushing your bike. lets talk more about eating and bull jivin with the folk.these people are really neat.i am glad to know you are a good ambassador for humanity and not some jackass gringo.suerte!

  2. Dwight, my brother told me of your travels in Asia and I am now following your trip with great admiration for you and your courage at such an undertaking! I am loving the stories of snakes, fellow cyclists and National Parks. Great pictures, too! Be well and safe travels! M

  3. I didn’t pedal my bicycle all the way because I simply couldn’t. I didn’t have it in me. Too much weight on the bike, the 20″ wheels are bad for climbing, and I just may not be strong enough to do it by pedaling. But if I get there by muscle power, it counts for me.

  4. BELINDA

    Dwight
    Wow a beautiful country you are traveling in. I have been inspired by the beauty of the country. Think of me as are photography the landscape.

    Belinda

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Worker is a former professor at Indiana University, where he created the Information Security program for the Kelley School of Business before retiring in 2008 to farm, write, and travel.….READ MORE