Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Happy New Year

At 5:00 sharp we met up at the Hound and the Hare bar and restaurant to take part in our first Hash House Harriers run. Started in Malaysia by expats the run now has local chapters in most major cities around the world. Routes are marked with shredded paper and chalk piles and include multiple places where the route will branch and only one will be correct. To find out which one is right you have to keep going until it stops, then double back and try a new one. This keeps the faster people together with the slower people, who are usually arriving at the intersection as the fast people are returning to it. There is no winning, and trying to win is punished by sitting bare assed in ice and drinking a stein of beer, which must then be tipped over ones head to prove it has been emptied. Every chugging is accompanied by chanting from those not being punished at the time. Other punishable offences can include spitting, not wearing a sanctioned shirt, stretching beforehand, listening to a Walkman etc. The drinking is also accompanied by snacks. Delicious. After a number of runs the Hashers all receive Hash Names which they go by during the runs. HapPenis, Closet Screamer, Mount Pussy (A real mountain). The most shocking thing about this is that all these crazy frat types average over 60 years in age. The rest of the week they own businesses, work in embassies and globe trot.
Second half of new years eve... After a drawn out separation due to a husband and wife who had no desire to see each other, Charlie and I were able to hunt down Mia and Rebecca and we all rendezvoused at the home of a young woman Charlie had recently befriended because she looked Japanese. (Charlie loves Japan and all things Japanese. If you want to know why, you can ask him). Turns out she and her family were Lao, but that didn't stop them from inviting us into their home for drinks, eats, and dancing in celebration of the new year. The whole family was there, spanning 4 generations of people. They served us whole grilled fish, steamed clams, roasted crickets, and so much more, all prepared to a level that can only be described as gourmet. After the clock struck 12, all the children rushed out into the streets with Roman candles that were taller than they were to rain glittering fire onto the rooftops of their neighbors. Then, when we had had enough and we were ready to go home, we did. The preceding sentence may seem silly, but it wont after you hear the next story.
We woke up early to meet our new friends Jame (like Fame) and Noy at the fountain at 10am. (Early for Mia and I, as Charlie and Rebecca have ALWAYS been up for hours no matter what time the two of us roll out of bed). Jame and Noy had befriended us on the streets of Veintiane in front of the presidential palace the day before and had invited us to spend New Years Day with them in their home. It would be an honor, they had said. All their friends and relatives would be there. They would send a car to meet us in the morning. The first sign that something was strange is that the two of them (three if you count their baby daughter Pinky) arrived on a motorbike. They insisted a taxi would be too expensive and Jame headed home on the scooter to make last minute preparations while Noy led us on foot to the bus terminal. The whole time we were with her on the journey she never put down her daughter and never took off her motorcycle helmet. The second fact led to some whispered speculation over whether or not she had some horrible head deformity or a missing piece of skull which needed concealing. Our short walk took a detour to a market to replace Noy's broken high heel which came apart half way to the station. After a good hour wait we boarded a bus which was already over-packed. Standing room only would be a good way of describing it, except for the fact that the ceiling was about 6 inches shorter than I was and had been affixed with an assortment of sharp and dull objects whose only purpose seemed to be causing head and neck injuries. After about 2 minutes I opted for squatting in the aisle and trying to focus on the passing scenery to take my mind off the worst two deadlegs of my life.
A good 45 minutes after boarding, we climbed off in a dusty little town and started walking. Mia mentioned a need to pee and Noy directed us to a convenience store where the shopkeeper directed here to a little bathroom in the back portion (which was his home), and ousted the woman taking a shower. The rest of us stood around awkwardly and smile-nodded at the woman who was wrapped in a towel and had shampoo in her hair. At the time this seemed like just good service but what it really meant was, "We are a LONG way from the next bathroom." We started walking. We kept walking. We crossed old bridges, huts on stilts, the whole time yelling, "Sai Baa Dee PEE MAI!" (Happy new years!) to everyone we passed to keep the mood jovial. Noy eventually flagged down a tractor and we all piled on. The ensuing tractor ride then led to more whispers of, "We were supposed to WALK all this way?" By the time we arrived at their home (an abandoned government Hydrology plant, or rather the back stoop of one) it was almost two o'clock. Nobody was there but Jame, a quiet young woman, and a man who had very good posture and looked a bit like a Lao model for Rolex or cargo jackets. A few plates of food lay scattered about but all had either been picked through or had never been too full in the first place. Then, Noy and the young woman left to get us some food.
We all lay there on the concrete porch, not much wanting to touch the food which I guessed had been prepared by Jame. It wasn't that he may or may not have been a good cook, it was just that every time I saw him from behind he was up to his elbow in his own butt hole. It was like there was a stack of scratchers lottery tickets hidden in there and he knew one of them had the jackpot on it. It was also like he needed that money in a bad way. Scratch scratch scratch. The intermittent silences were broken by explanations of where his family was (not there) and gropes of Charlie's beard. Every chance he got Jame would lean over the lounging Charlie and squeeze his arms and then stroke his beard until Charlie would get uncomfortable and move to a new spot on the porch. Jame used that same hand... scratch scratch scratch.
After what seemed like an eternity the ladies arrived with some beers and some food, which Jame prepared fresh for us on outdoor clay pot grills. In the meantime I was able to learn a bit about motherhood. Noy released Pinkey and instantly the girl was an unstoppable blur. One of my lingering questions had been, "How do the kids not wear diapers here? Are they potty trained from an early age?" Pinkey answered this in three stages. First she peed down her mothers leg as we walked to the bus stop earlier that day. The pee soaked into the pink denim and eventually evaporated, leaving only a ghost of it's presence in the form of a dirt silhouette. The second time she depantsed, crouched and peed on the concrete right next to our porch mat we were laying on. Then she pulled up her pants, ran one way, came back the other way and slipped in it, sprawling out flat on her back. Her mother picked her up and cradled her little sopping wet body while she cried. She did not wash her hands. She did not mop up the pee, which eventually disappeared onto the bottoms of James feet and into the mat on which we continued to sit. Then, Pinkey pooped in her pants, and walked around with it swinging there, occasionally reaching back and fiddling with it, as though she had hidden a winning lottery ticket in her pants and was checking, just to make sure it was still there.
Jame finished cooking and brought a number of dishes over to the mat. The night before it had been hard to force ourselves to STOP eating. This day it was hard to START. Though the raw fish ceviche was delicious, we barely touched any of the food, prompting confused questions from our hosts who knew we hadn't eaten in many, many hours. We fake ate and focused on how we were going to get home. The sun was casting those slanty shadows that meant night was coming. On a positive note, our hosts initiated us into a tradition where the centerpiece (which was beautiful and hand crafted by Jame himself) is taken apart and each of the white strings are tied around the guests wrists with the hosts saying a blessing of good luck for the receiver of the bracelet in the new year. At the end everyone had 10 strings on their wrists which are left until they fall off.
Jame kept insisting that his brother would be there soon with the car to give us a ride back, but we were getting skeptical. As the rice whiskey and beer were consumed we struggled for time-passing conversation and settled on the exchange of songs and dances. This was fun for a little while but soon we realised that our hosts had no interest in ceasing their singing and dancing, and they pranced around the porch wildly, lost in a trance of their own voices. Time continued to pass. Charlie headed out with Jame in search of the missing brother with a car and when this brother couldn't be found, Charlie insisted on being taken to a taxi driver. When he arrived back at the Hydrology Plant the sun was down and the sky was turning a pinkish purple that called to mind hand towels often seen in the bathrooms of elderly women. The taxi driver wanted $40. Forty American dollars. In USD cash. Jame pleaded with us to stay, insisting that this was too much to pay but we hopped in. We didn't want to be there after dark, listening to the eerie rustle of the wind in the rubber trees and that Scratch Scratch Scactch that seemed to be getting closer. "Scratch screatch scratch, wheeeeere's my loootery tiiiicket... scratch scratch scratch, nooow you have eeeeeee-coooooOOOOoliiiii, scratch scratch scratch...." Thats what happens in a horror story. We wanted none of it.

No comments: