Monday, August 22, 2016

A Foxtrot lesson by the flight home

A break to stretch my legs on the flight back to Laos turned into an introductory lesson to the Foxtrot next to the lavatory with 86-year-old Tom who confessed that in the mornings, while making porridge, he likes to shimmy his hips in time to his favourite songs.
"My wife died 10 months ago. We were married 64 years and I miss her terribly - but in life, we have choices - and I decided, six months after she passed away, that I didn't want to become one of those miserably oldbuggers who sits around waiting to die. No, not me. I decided I was going to be 'the happy man'. So now I start my day by dancing around the kitchen. And I go to the RSL club where people my age are sitting around sad and lonely...and I make them smile. And if they are really down in the dumps, I'll Cha Cha for them. Life should be a dance, dear...a joyful dance," he said as he shuffled his feet rhythmically in front of me.
Tom met Vida in England when they were in their early twenties. They both had a passion for ballroom dancing. The became partners on the dance floor, and in life - waltzing through six decades of marriage together until last year when, on a cruise from Australia to Noumea, Vida got out of bed in the middle of the night and somehow tripped - slamming her head onto the side table.
"That blow to the head - it killed her - but not instantly. She held on for eight days. It was a horrible way for her to die. But I'll tell you something, on the day I met Vida I thought to myself 'Now that's the most beautiful woman I've ever seen' and that beauty remained until she took her last breath".

Friday, June 10, 2016

Joni and Jaco...singing in BKK

I'm still struggling to find words to explain what happened at last night's Jaco Pastorius tribute so I thought I'd share this, written by the manager of the venue. My heart is full!

"I was particularly moved when during the second set, a lady stepped on stage and sang two of Joni Mitchell's songs from her Jaco Pastorius years. Her name was Angie and she is an aussie living in Laos. When she saw the Facebook event page she emailed the band and asked to join the tribute concert. It was a beautiful moment of poetry when she sang. Few people knew in the audience Joni was Jaco's biggest supporter. 
This was purely magic. Thank you Angie." 

- Sanya Souvanna Phouma, 
Concert Producer, Maggie Choo's Jazz Bar, BKK

Monday, May 30, 2016

Madam Money and Mr Gold

This is the love story of Madam Money and Mr Gold who tied the knot today in a muddy garden in Luang Prabang. Her real name is Ngern but, when we first met, she told me it was too hard for foreigners to say so, "You just call me Madam Money, okay? Easier for you. My name meaning in Lao is money!"

For the past few months I have been renting a small home in Madam Money's compound where she lives with her two sons, mother and father. Her first husband died from diabetes. She said that she cried too much, every day, until her house cleaner gave her the number of a man who had also lost his partner. The man's name was Kham, which means gold in Lao. He lives in Xiangkhouang Province, eight hours away. His wife died trying to birth their second child.

Madam Money and Mr Gold spoke many times on the phone and then he travelled to Luang Prabang to meet her. They fell in love and he asked her to marry him. You could always tell when Mr Gold was coming to visit Madam Money because she would sit on her front porch and sing, for hours, waiting for him. This singing would continue while he was in town and stop when he departed. Then she'd look sad and talk about missing him. But today they got married...which means there will be a lot more love songs sung outside my window. But first I must survive the wedding party karaoke that's blaring into my home and will no doubt be blasted by the doof doof loudspeakers for many hours to come.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Wrinkled hands and happy pants

If palm readers study the lines on palms to predict the future...what do you call a person who studies the tops of hands to understand a life that has already been lived? I discovered these two sets of wise hands on my way back from Muang Nan...and two sets of feet that, no doubt, have walked many miles...and two pairs of happy pants.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Lao Rocket Festival

Each year in the dry season during the month of May the men in the villages of Muang Nan gather to make rockets for the annual Bun Bang Fai festival. The aim - to create a rocket that goes the highest, bangs the loudest, creates the biggest cloud of smoke. To the beat of the temple drum, trucks drove to the launch site - each carrying a rocket or two, often adorned with red and yellow flowers. The rockets are made from long pieces of bamboo (some up to nine metres in length) and blue PVC piping that has been pounded full of black powder. These homemade rockets are then hoisted up some bamboo scaffolding and, without a countdown or warning, launched into the sky.

There are a few myths surrounding this awe-inspiring/pants-shitting festival. Some say the rockets shoot holes in the clouds to release rain. Some say they are to wake up the Rain God. There's also a connection to fertility, with many festival-goers running around holding penis impregnate the land perhaps? Whatever the case, it's truly the most thrilling festival I've ever witnessed.

"Tonight we just make small rocket party in temple. Tomorrow we put big rockets to the sky"....the words of the local tourism official when I asked him about his village's festival schedule. The 'small rocket party' involved young boys carrying ornate offerings through the temple courtyard. At the centre of these offerings - a large bamboo bong stuffed with black pounded powder that, once lit, shoots a pillar of fire into the night sky...

A few metres from the pillars of fire, two monks sat with their fortune telling bamboo sticks. Locals lined up to put a few thousand kip in the bowl and pick a stick. On the stick - a number correlating with a piece of paper which was then handed to them by one of the monks. I got 21. In the words of my workmate who so kindly translated my little scrap of paper: "This one meaning is that the people who hate you now love you and also you will have a son or a daughter”.