South East Asia

Lonely on the road, laughter meditation and Flash Dance in Chiang Mai Thailand.

 

I feel a little low suddenly. My time in Thailand has flown by and now my year of travelling is almost up. What to do? Aside from the fact that I have no return ticket to the UK – I refuse to go back and just get a job with another company. I intend to work for myself – and Asia is nice and cheap while I work out how to do that... But suddenly the reality of being far from home and in a new city where I don't know anyone sets in. Nico – the Argentinian guy I met in B.A has been a constant (albeit online) companion since I left South American in May – we had always made tentative plans to see each other again when my travelling was over – but I can't commit to when exactly that will be yet and so he tells me he has “lost the energy for waiting.” It's all so depressingly inevitable but i'm a hopeless romantic so...well...I hadn't lost the energy. It doesn't help my sad case of the blues. 

I decide the best thing for it is to get out there and meet some people! An Aussie 

 

girl my age called Deb who did the yoga at Agama in January with me is just finishing a teacher training course in Chiang Mai, so we meet for lunch at Blue Diamond – a lovely healthy veggie place in the Old town. Deb and some friends of hers from her course are going to a little music festival at the weekend so I join them on friday night. 

It has been organised by a short, dumpy, American guy with a pony tail and baseball cap who suprises the crowd later by taking to the mic and letting rip with a song in a gravelly, soulful voice reminiscent of Van Morrison. He's organised the whole thing impeccably. There are rows of tents serving Thai food – everything from deep fried crabs and mango and sticky rice to huge cauldrons of tom yum and lashings of Pad Thai. The programme over the weekend is mainly world music but tonight its focus on traditional Thai music and dancing. Although later in the evening there is a rather random belly dancer who thrusts some moves to some heavy metal. The Thai crowd are an impassive lot. They sit and eat dinner in companionable silence politely clapping at the end of each act – cleaners and bar maids regularly swoop the tables attentively. There is not a spot of rubbish to be seen and no one is drunk – even sharing the enormous giraffes of beer that they have. Glastonbury it ain't – its incredibly peaceful and civilised. The final act are The Gumbo brothers – a jazz/soul funk fusion band frm New Orleans. They try and whir the crowd into a frenzy but I wonder what they think of performing to such a polite and quiet group of people. 

Alice – a bright, bubbly Mancunian who looks like her namesake Alice in Wonderland with billows of long blonde hair and porcealin skin says: 

“We are going to Zoe's... its really horrible but you are welcome to join us!” 

I really feel like a G&T so Deb and I agree to join her, and the other two guys – on their course. Eli is a Jewish American frat boy with wide friendly smile and curly dark hair and Larry is a wry thirty year old New Yorker, with gray eyes, dry humour and a smile that seems to happen through clenched teeth. 

“That is NOT attractive” says Larry at the belly dancer up on stage. Its become his catchphrase – something he trots out when he's trawling the bars and clubs late night on the prowl and ends up with a woman he feels doesn't quite make the grade. The belly dancer has a belly (shock...horror.) 

Eli shrugs complacently: 

“I like her... oh and hey you know what they say – more cushion for the pushing..." 

“Do all men talk like that about women – or is it something they grow out of??” I interrogate Deb. 

I've dated some sleaze in my time and i'm always surprised and disappointed by the casual and vicious misogyny that is supposedly acceptable under the guise of “a laugh” But there are some men out there that don't find it a hilarious national pastime to bad mouth a woman for her appearance or size? Aren't there????????? 

Zoe's is backpacker central. A little courtyard with picnic tables and fairy lights and a selection of bars and dodgy night clubs set around it in a square. The place is rammed and heaving with young backpackers, young Thai girls and not so young at all Western man. Yup this place is catnip for the Sexpat. 

We join a table and one older gentleman takes great lengths to explain to Alice and I how he enjoys the fact that there are no layers or boundaries in Asian society. These are my friends – he says gesturing to two nubile young Thai twenty somethings next to him, my daughter back home would never be seen dead with her Dad dancing in a club, but here no one cares. I'm torn. On the one hand i'm 37 and enjoying being out and dancing with Alice – a 20 year old, am I being hypocritical for begrudging him the same thing. What about when i'm in my fifties if I still feel like dancing the night away? 

Then again as I say to Alice under my breath “Do you think he's justifying being a sexpat to us?” 

“Er yeah – I should say so” says Alice matter of factly. 

Deb bows out so its left to me, Larry and Alice to down the G&Ts and throw a few shapes on the dance floor. 

The next evening i meet up with a friend I made in Hanoi, Vietnam. Yoanne is a Parisian photographer. I go out for a BBQ with him and his Spanish friends - one of whom is celebrating a birthday and then we take to the moat for a drink. We prop ourselves up by the old wall next to the water where we are able to hear the strains of jazz funk from the bar opposite. Someone gets out a bottle of vodka and some ice so then we drink that...neat... 

My hang overs seem to be getting more common again in Chiang Mai! To take it easy i've found a lovely little guesthouse run by a Thai woman called Orr and a South African man. They have a huge TV that shows cable British and American shows and films (i don't watch a lot of TV but i have missed the odd night in in front of the box on my travels) and large comfy sofas. I go and join them and several other travellers who aren't even staying there, but like me, want to hang out. Orr's friend has brought some fresh oysters up from Koh Samui. They are large and plump and deliciously sweet - unlike any i've tasted before. 

Suddenly i'm not feeling so alone any more. 

I've found two yoga studios in Chiang Mai – Wild Rose studio is a lovely little hidden oasis near Chiang Mai Gate and The Yoga Tree Studio is another little place close by that is holding “The Small Dance Festival” over two days for an entry fee of just 400 baht. 

Deb takes a break from her studying to join me. The studio is set back off the main roads in a quiet enclave filled with trees. On the first morning we get a warm up yoga session followed by a Dance Mandala class. Dance Mandala is a moving meditation that the teacher – a long, willowy Thai woman with impeccable English – has invented herself. It often focuses on one element such as the physical body, the heart, emotions etc. and is done alone. 

Bio danza is another type of dance class that is done without speaking and consists of exercises done alone; in pairs or in groups. We are looking to experience “vivencia” - a feeling of aliveness in the present moment that supercedes the rational mind. When people go regularly to classes, a supportive tribe of the same people form that harks back to a time in our evolution where there was a community of people that we could go to for love and support – rather than the isolated individuals we've become today. 

The next day starts with Laughing Meditation. We are asked to squeeze imaginary "laughter cream" all over ourselves then flap around the room pretending to be birds who brush our wings against each other and burst into “bird laughter” By the end of the session we are lying in a circle with our heads touching, creating a “laughter waterfall” It sounds ridiculous and its supposed to be on the theory that life is supposed to be light and fun! Most of the room are genuinely cracking up and can't stop giggling away. Except me that is. I'm faking it the whole way through. I just assumed the whole “contagious effect” would work on me too but....alas no. Maybe i'm just too stuck in my blues this week. 

To change up the energy in the room again before the next series of classes the teacher says: 

“OK I'm going to put a track on now and I want you to just dance your heart out.... The music should help.” 

The opening chords come on and everyone squeals with delight and starts prancing manically. 

And so it is that I find myself; at 11am in the morning; stone cold sober; in a room full of women – hip wiggling, stag leaping and whirling to the theme tune from Flashdance. 

And that really does put a smile on my face.

Mongolian Vodka swilling, Monkey bottle swigging, Halong Bay - Vietnam

Halong Bay

As we know by now me and boats are not a marriage made in heaven so i'm somewhat relieved that our little tour of Halong Bay gets cancelled two days in a row thanks to an ENORMOUS TYPHOON. I'm happy to wait it out i'd much rather do kayaking and sunbathing in er sunshine! than be dragged round a grey swilling bay on a rocky boat with a bunch of green faced tourists. Finally on the tuesday the storm has passed and we take our bus transfer down to Halong City harbour and then our boat. Our guide on the bus takes care of formalities and asks who amongst us are “monks” 

“Yeeees!“ says a wiry 32 year old Thinh – our tour guide … 

“not eating the pork or the chicken..” 

Oh he means vegetarian! ...I quite like the term “monks” though! 

“My name is Thin but I say it short for “DestTINhy - because a snake bit me once but I survived." He explains. I wonder how many times he's made that comment to his groups... 

When we arrive at the harbour we are divided into groups and some stay with Thinh but we are given Binh a chubby faced chap with dimples and short spiky hair. 

He leans forward conspiratorially and raises his hands - pausing for dramatic effect. We crowd in, in anticipation– then he says: 

“We are getting boat, we are checking , we are lunching, we kayaking.” 

Oh. 

“I would have rather a tour guide that can speak English!" says Christine. 

All the brochures show off the Halong Bay cruise ships as great mahogany varnished sailing junks with bright yellow sails traversing the emerald seas. Someone has taken the unilateral decision to paint them all white. They don't look nearly as pretty. Never mind - they have been “decked” out (sorry) with pot plants and the rooms are lovely. The beds are close together but the walls inside are a deep rich varnished wood with pristine cream sheets and maroon silk throw overs. There are loungers on the top deck and a restaurant and bar area below. 

We have a welcome lunch of king prawns, squid in spicy sauce, deep fried pork, and various vegetable platters. The group consist of two tanned very good looking Italian boys from the Dolomites, a couple of English girls who speak in hushed and giggly northern accents and a Mongolian family - a husband and wife in their early thirties who have a 2 year old son who is very very cute and a great ice breaker.

Halong Bay
Floating Market Stalls, Halong Bay

 

No one has touched the plate of prawns – and although i've generally given seafood a miss on my travels I say i'll have one. Everyone watches me expectantly... 

“they are prawns I think” says the Mongolian - “but I don't know how you undo them...” 

Oh I see. Its funny the thinks you take for granted coming from a comfortable middle class background in London. Why should they know how to peel a prawn ?– surrounded by all those mountains in the middle of a desert. So it is left to me to demonstrate -ripping the head and the tail off then peeling back the shell that covers its body.

“I can't believe you are English Dominique” says Christine “You know how to peel a prawn...!” 

Well I think food, ingredients and awareness of both has come a long way in Britain since the 1980s but the French never miss an opportunity to berate us on our terrible cooking. Having said that I did actually learn how to peel a prawn sitting on my nan's lap at my parents' flat in the South of France! 

We are kayaking first – which fills me a little bit with dread. I sympathise with Helen from Doncaster – who is also nervous and wants to try and avoid doing it. 

“Oh don't worry” I say, “ you'll probably just see me paddling around in a great big circle!” 

We go in twos - so Christine and I share a boat – which is just as well because even though I and several of the others are complete beginniners we have been given absolutely no instruction on how to row the bloody thing. 

I am in front (yes – clearly a mistake) and we are pushed out into the water. Christine instructs me in in school mistressy turns – paddle left, push forward, paddle right and eventually I begin to get the hang of it. 

“I should have gone in front “ says Christine

“Its ok you can be my Cox and should instructions from the back” I say over my shoulder. The bay is filled with hundreds of boats and as we veer towards one I am shrieked at again: 

“NO!" Says Christine exasperated. “Can you just stop paddling as its undoing the work i'm doing. Its easier if I just do it on my own..” 

“ Or you could just explain to me what i'm doing wrong and tell me what I need to do “ I say. 

 

Halong Bay



I think its fair to say the old Entente Cordiale is becoming less well...cordial... the more days we spend together. 

So she explains how I need to hold the oar near to the paddle and scoop under the water deep and pushing it out and eventurally we fall into some kind of rhthym. 

Once I can relax into a bit, I begin to realise that kayaking is a beautiful way to see the landscape. 

I'm so delighted we've waited for the sun to come out – there is nothing more dreary than a beach in the rain. And now that its shining its really gorgeous. The sea is heavy in salt and a deep milky green color. The strange lumpen shapes of the rocks that give Halong Bay its distinctive sky line rise up out of the water like so many jagged teeth and are bleached with white stripes from the limestone and chalk that typifies Karst formations. We follow our guide Binh who has jumped into a kayak along side us. One of the great karsts has eroded away leaving a little cave of light between its undercarriage and the water – so we can kayak through it into another secluded little bay. We come to a beach front where some boats have stopped and float silently up. Little brown monkeys with scrunched up red faces and bottoms sit tamely on the rocks, one nurses a baby. 



We go back to the boat for our next stop on an island. 

A walk around a cave followed by a swim and a climb. 

After the beautiful natural phenomenon of the jewel cave in Western Australia this is a tad of a let down. It looks like they've concreted over most of the ceiling - as it hangs down in great puttyish dollops. Nevermind. By the time we get to the shoreline again the its 5pm and the sun is setting. 

“Why are we going for a swim at night?” ask the Italians bemused. 

All of the other boats have stopped here and everyone is cramming themselves into the sea. I decide not to join them. 

Christine and the Mongolian vodka



Back on the boat and we have another good dinner and everyone makes for the top deck for a night cap. The big hazy moon is ringed with an amber halo and the Italian boys have bought a bottle of Vietnamese vodka for 140,000 dong ( around 4 quid) from a woman in a boat who has hauled it up to them in a fishing net. However the Mongolian has trumped that by bringing his own bottle of Mongolian vodka and insists that we all share it with him. He grabs a set of little green tea sized china cups and starts to pour a round. We are all given a shot each – Chingis (after Genghis) Khan vodka is an uber premium brand that uses wheat from the Mongolian steppes. I'm no vodka conoisser – I've always been slightly suspicious of clear liquids- but this one tastes like fire water , it punches the back of the throat and leaves me gasping. But it's also smooth and doesn't have that chemically after taste that cheaper spirits have. It is, shall we say, slightly better than the Vietnamese vodka that even when mixed with coke has a weird slightly malty sour aftertaste. The bottle goes around again for another shot and then we leave the couples to it. 



The next day we visit Monkey Island for a swim. Unlike the previous stops this one is blissfully free of any other tour groups and we have the pale gold sands to ourselves. We swim in shallow sea water that is deliciously warm until monkeys are spotted running onto the beach. One of the girls rushes out of the water to guard our bags – they've been known to thieve. 

They are incredibly tame. One strolls nonchalantly along beside me before stopping to sit on a rock, looking for all the world like a chav with an asbo. He picks up a plastic bottle, chews the top off and then spits it out fixing me with an insolent glare before sloping off no doubt to see if there are any handbags to snatch further down the beach. 

Next stop is Cat Ba Island where we will be staying overnight. Cat Ba is Unesco protected site and has a national park that plays home to a huge number of different species including the Golden Headed Langur which is native to the park. The island is flanked by wooded limestone hills and the harbour is filled with fishermen casting nets for pearls and for shrimp. They jostle side by side with the cruise ship sailing junks on 2 and 3 day excursions like the one i'm on and next to single women on floating market stalls selling travellers essentials such as bottled water and packets of oreos. 

The harbour shore line is built up - and the Vietnamese seem to be constantly building more of their stange and thin tall storeyed hotels. Seafood is popular here as a result - the squid and shrimp are fresh and a local speciality is the Sea Mantis -a rather sinister crab with a dark curved helmet shaped shell. 

We go for a trek into the National Park; climbing the 200m to the top of the hill for views over the wooded limestone hills that rise in regular trangular peaks . Its incredibly peaceful – amazing how a beautiful natural view has the power to silence a group of people. That is - until a group of girls behind me decide to strike upa conversation about Holly oaks. Ah well. 

Binh stops to explain some interesting details about the species we can see here: 

"This is called Happy garden where there are many trees...” 

“Did he say Cheese!!!???” exclaims a baffled woman from Croydon to my right. 

“er no I think he probalby meant “trees” ' I say. 

“Oh YES! Of course hahahahha!” 

Binh has already confided in us: 

“Please i'm sorry..but I would like to be a tour guide...you help me practise? I am still learning English...” 

Well he's very sweet but call me picky I quite like my tour guides to already speak good English when I pay for them. As a result not many details about the island are imparted and when they are the entire group turns to me for a translation as I seem to have the dubious talent of being the only one that can deciphher his thick Vietnamese accent. 

“You shecking, you come for luncshink, you schimming shoot” 

“we have to go and check into our room, then come back for lunch and then change into our swim suit” - I translate for the group. 

"ooooooh" says everyone. 

What kind of one or two night experience you get on a boat on Halong Bay very much depends on how much you pay and what company you go with even though on the surface - it seems as if everyone is offering the same thing. Here the Pan Asian expression "same! same! but - different!" really comes into its own. Our guide has a a tenuous grasp of the English language at best- and there have been a couple of annoying moments - such as being asked to go for a swim at 5pm and having another group come onto our boat and take all our sun loungers for the morning journey to Catba. However i have heard a lot worse from other travellers - including rooms filled with engine fuel, boats only making swim stops at 8pm at night or 5am in the morning and even a demented kitchen chef threatening travellers with a butcher's knife when they dared to complain. On the whole our boat and the food was excellent. So make sure you book with a reputable company or via a good hotel - like the one we did - Little Hanoi Hostel. 

Tomorrow the group head back to Hanoi but i remain on Catba island. I am getting up close and personal with this fantastic scenery and trying something i've never done before....rock climbing!

Mr Mung, Slow Boats and School children in Nong Khiaw - Laos.

Boats on the Mekong

I get a cramped and hot minivan up to Nong Khiaw which takes 3 hours. I wanted to get the boat – as the boat ride on the Nam Ou river is supposed to be much more beautiful than the ones on the Mekong – but unfortunately the boats will only go with a minimum of 8 or 9 people and so far i'm the only one that is interested. The minivans are cheaper and cost around 70,000 kip which is a fiver. I arrive into Nong Kiau which is a tiny little village set around the Nam Ou River. 

The minibus arrives in and everyone staggers off it and into a tuk tuk. But its says its only a 2k walk so I heave “The Bastard” onto my back and set off. The heat feels somehow even hotter and more intesne than in China. I stop at the first guesthouse I see and a short Lao man with stout calves and cheeky smile comes over. 

“You want to see guesthouse – very quiet very tranquil. You walk 5 mins into town and see the guest houses 100,000 kip this you get views overlooking the river, you can drink take it easy in our hammock swim in the river with the locals– only 60,000!” 

“For 50,000 and a room upstairs overlooking the river – i'm sold!” I say. 

“Ok I do special discount for you!” 

I have met the irrepresible Mr Mung. 

I go upstairs – its a double bed with ensuite bathroom and hot water for 50,000 (about 3 pounds fifty.) 

There is a little writing table and chair outside my room and gorgeous views over a the Nam Ou river and tall pale green hilly Karst mountains. Once the heat of the day has burned off I take a little walk into Nong Kiau central. Its a 10 minute walk down the same street lined with little shops selling car parts and barbequeing chicken feet. There is a bridge that crosses the river and most of the restaurants and guesthouses are on the other side. 

I stroll over and have a coconut shake overlooking the river as the sun begins to set. Its truly beautiful here – the mountains rise on both sides of the river – and its so peaceful. Down below on the river bank a villager is burning his crops to clear his fields and the smoke rises in lazy curls to mix with the dark clouds coming in for sunset. 

I decide to have a massage – this time I have Khamu massage – a technique from the Khmu tribe in Laos that involves lots of pushing and pressing with the palm of the hand. I lie down on the mattress and a 17 year old boy comes in (my masseur!) he lights a mosquito coil and puts on a fan to keep the little biters at bay and a chicken comes to roost in one of the beams over head – and to watch over proceedings. Its nice and relaxing and I feel more comfortable with him than I have done with other male masseurs where you can sense their tension at having to massage a woman. This guy doesn't seem to mind. 

I have dinner in the adjoining restaurant afterwards – for 25,000 kip (about one pound fifty) I get the special of the day – grilled Tilapia river fish with sticky rice and peanut sauce. Delicious. 

 



The next day I come down to the little verandah overlooking the river and find a book to read and get comfortable. Its “Awakening the Buddhist heart.” Coincidentally (there are NO coincidences said Buddha...) well he didn't but you know...I've been thinking a lot recently about how to get out of the negative spirals of my mind. Although I couldn't call myself a Buddhist I do meditate every day and my spiritual views are most closely alinged with Buddhism. I believe (and have done since university) that at our core we are essentially good. That we are here in life to learn and that often it is our pain and suffering that provides us with the most material for self reflection and improvement to become better people if we are awake to the lessons.

The Dalai Lama says that he is in the religion of Loving Kindness. The first step towards being compassionate and loving with others is to love yourself and forgive and love those closest to you. We need to move away from Ego where our feelings of confidence and self approval are decided by external things – money, success, career, fame etc and have an inner strength and self love that doesn't waver in the face of flattery or criticism. It allows us to see “what really is” rather than colouring everything with our own unique self perception and so that we can control our thoughts rather than allow them to control us. 

Or as Maggie Thatcher says in the film The Iron Lady: 

Thoughts become words become actions become habits become characer become destiny. What you think you become. 

Mr Mung and Family




Karma isn't just about the life we create in the next incarnation but also the life we create for ourselves in this lifetime due to our thoughts that become actions. 

The recent mostly American driven awareness into Metaphysics around the Law of Attraction in books such as The Secret all mostly hark back to and repeat principles found in Buddhism. 

Its one of the goals for the inner journey. The book has been dropped into my lap at an almost perfect time. 

Jan – Mr Mung's wife – a pretty Lao woman in her early twenties ask If I want to check out. I had thought to get a guesthouse closer to town but now I can't really see the benefit of being somewhere more crammed. Here I have an unspoiled view, its cheap and I take the book as a sign I must stay! 



I'm joined by an Australian in his late forties – Matt and a French Woman from Cannes - Christine. I want to buy the book but Mr Mung says its been given to him in a book exchange. Christine gives me a book of hers to replace so that I can keep it. That's good karma right there 😊 

We decide to do a trek with Mr Mung the next day. The day starts by taking a slow boat up the Nam Ou River. Its a very comfortable long wooden boat with engine and car seats shoved in it for extra comfort. I stand up with my head through the slats to admire the view and then join Christine on the back seat. After about 10mins I start to feel queasy. Oh here we go again. Me and boats! 

Nevertheless it is beautiful. We have bought exercise books, pencils and rulers for the local children and stop off at two villages to meet them. At the first one school isn't happening today because the teacher hasn't turned up. We watch the villagers stripping bamboo to make baskets and drying out chillis. Its nice being with Mr Mung – who used to be a Tiger Trail guide – as he knows the villagers and talks amicably to them. There are the traditional Khmau and Lao huts raised on stilts with the kitchen on the ground floor and the second floor used as the sleeping area. 



We walk to the waterfall. It can't really be called a hike – as its fairly relaxing and only takes 45 mins but it is beautiful although again the midday weather is scorching. Hot hot sun and a cloudless blue sky. We walk through the lime green paddy fields of sticky rice grain. Huge bright butterflies skip across our path. As we enter the jungle it gets more shady. 

“We are about to enter Leech Village” says Mr Mung. 

“WHAT DID HE SAY???” I scream. Christine – a tanned lady in her early forties with frizzy hair and sensible travel skirt on – looks bemused. 

Matt – an Australian with large blue eyes and gentle manner smiles. 

“Its ok they are only little you can pick them off.” 

I whimper. I HATE leeches why must they be everywhere in this goddamn country

“Oh they are very clean creatures - leeches” says Matt trying to console me.

“My sister puts one her top lip every time she gets a cold sore to suck the infection out.” 

“...” 

“well she is quite alternative...” he concedes.... 

I manage to hike up the muddy slopes of the waterfall without being attacked. Suddenly Christine screams and falls over landing on her bum. 

“Did you see that creature?? - it was like a leech but long and black and white” 

I scream and help her up. I'm glad its not just me that is being a total girl about things. 

When we get to the top of the waterfall we strip off for a swim. I have managed to leave my bikini on the boat so Matt has lent me his board shorts – its not a particularly sexy look but hey its only us and the leeches for company. No other tour party are here at the “hundred waterfalls” each guide has their own section. 

We are able to bathe in the bright foaming turquoise water of the waterfall and look back down at the view of it cascading over the rocks overhung with huge tropical leaves, vines and flowers. Its very pretty. 

Mung lays out banana leaves for dinner and serves up rice and buffalo with a vegetable dish. Its great although not quite up to the standard of my previous jungle trek with the Khamu guides. 



We make our way back to the village and word is out that the Falangs have been here with gifts. The children are on a break and soon rush over to gather round. We hand out our gifts and they put their hands together bow and say Kop Jai (thank you.) 

They are very sweet. One little boy with blackened teeth and medallion sees us taking a photo and thrusts his hands out in a V sign – I don't think he knows it means Fuck Off in english but its very funny. They run behind us down to the water's edge to wave us goodbye as we get into the boat and head off back to the guesthouse just in time to see the sun setting over the river. 

 



Back at the guesthouse we strip off again for a sunset swim in the river. Its empty at this end of the village apart from some more inquisitive little locals who come and join us to play in the water. 



That evening we drink beer with Mung and he tells us about his life. Matt is trying to get out of Mung whether or not he's faithful to his wife. I can tell them he is not – he has been giving me looks all day and asks if he can share a room with me when we get into Luang Prabang. I don't think its appropriate in my cutlure to share a room with a married man so I can hardly believe its acceptable in his! I refuse. 

The after dinner entertainment



Then he tells us how Lao women are treated in society. Women are basically second class citizens. Every family must have at least one boy to be considered successfull in their village. The boy can then look after the family – if a family has all girls then they are vulnerable and unprotected from other men taking them, having sex with them dishonoruing them. He has one son – a very cute chubby 2 year old called 'Tino after Valetino Rossi. He talks about the day he was delivered. The doctor had got it wrong and told him he was going to have a girl. He says he was crushed...devastated. When he found out it “had a dick” he shouted out “three boxes of Beer Lao!!!” Now he would like a girl – because his family are ok – they have the boy. He is also looking after his mother who has difficutly breathing – Matt who has trained as a nurse leaves some chest medicine and inhalers for her and teaches Mung how to use them. I hope they help although I cant help worry about what she will do if it does work and then it runs out in a few months time. Mung tells us how he was in love with another girl before he married Jan. He proposed but she said that she didn't want to get married straight away and they should wait awhile – he says that she said this because she wanted to look around and see if she could find a better prospect. He was sooo upset but when he talked to his mother about what she should do she said “go with someone that makes you happy."

 His cousin introduced him to Jan a few months later who is from a different village – which makes it difficult because his parents don't like her they like the ex who came from he same village as them. It is the unknown and they mistrust her as a result. Just before he married Jan his ex came back to him and asked if he could go back out with her. Jan knew about it and was in tears. Mung didnt know what to do but he knew that the ex had disrespected him and not loved him enough in the first place to stay with him and accept him. She was back because she hadn't found anything better. So he stayed with Jan and married her. I can't help feel he's still a little heart brokenthough. It doesn't matter where you live or what your life is like some things are always the same – affairs of the broken heart.