Luang Nam Tha, Luang Prabang Again, And Throwing in the Lao Towel

But it was a long few days in Luang Nam Tha. Actually, just outside Luang Nam Tha. Sneezing. Coughing. Wondering, is this what malaria is like? Except I knew it was just a damned cold. And still is. Ugh. But the food? Some of the best I’ve ever had, at this pricey little village place called The Boat Landing. Have the Lemon Mint Fruit Shake. And the Pumpkin Soup, which isn’t really pumpkin but instead is zucchini. The Black Tai Stew. Oh, good grief, go for a week and eat everything. Then take a bus to Huay Xai and fly away. Don’t take the (10-hour? if you’re lucky, pal) bus to Luang Prabang. No, don’t do that!

Laos is wild. I try to avoid analogies like “ten years behind” or “in the 1950s” like so many people apply to Korea and their home countries, but traveling in Laos, you see very clearly how this society is just so totally preindustrial-era. I think your average Briton circa 1720 would think Laos is an excellent place to live — a major step up. Probaby your average Okie sharecropper during the Depression, even. (Yes, I’m reading The Grapes of Wrath. And liking it.) But to someone like me, from where I’m from, I feel continually confronted by absolute dysfunction. By, to use a term I came up with talking with a co-worker and her husband a week ago, “Systems that just don’t function.”

Not that my experience has been all negative. Just… straining. It took me half an hour and four tries to get even a horrible-connection phone call home. I tell the guy, “No sound. This computer has NO sound! I can’t hear!”

“Okay, you pay,” he say. Big smile. Though he knows I’m trying to use Skype. Things like that.

This is a rant. Lots of cool things too, here. But I get the impression it’s like traveling in Thailand circa 1900, plus internet, and tuk-tuks, and very little else. The people seem happy: seen rocking parties with loud music and beer and dancing. They’re nice folks, smiling and carefree. I don’t think it’s right to say the things I’ve heard older Koreans say after returning from the Phillippines or Indonesia: “They’re lazy, those people.” It’s more about, well, that most people seem relatively content. Like, really content, the contentment that maybe people just adopt when other options are just impossible. And I like Lao people. But infrastructure — the infrastructure (aside from the Internet, somehow) drives me nuts.

In Cambodia, all the intellectuals and elite were killed off. The Laotian expat community’s reaction to the transfer of dictatorial power makes me think that all the Lao intellectuals and elite just left the country to the military’s devices. And what you get is essentially the kind of place I’ve writing about in A Killing in Burma: a semi-Medieval island in an ocean of ultramodernity, but also, more importantly, a group of people whose grasp on technology and industrial infrastructure is so alien to the developed world that it’s fascinating, bizarre, and… well, interesting things could come of it, if, as in my story, you inject the right tech, and of course the political situation shifted suddenly. Could. But it’d be a few  individuals pushing the change. The masses would not rise up, and to imagine they would is idealistic to the level of fairy tales. Something to think about as I turn to that novel.

Anyway. I’m mostly over my cold, got a major redraft/expansion of “Winter Wheat” done, as well as much of my Nemonymous submission story, and some work on a new piece called “Defect.” I was horrifically productive, when cut off from the net. Some nice pictures, too, but everything’s in RAW format and I’m too tired to post anything. (I rode the bus 10 hours today, remember?)

Thinking of heading to Bangkok, briefly, and then quickly on to Ryleh. Yes, you Lovecraft-reading geeks, a place in Thailand called Ryleh, mainly run by Muslim hoteliers, with what some organization has called the second-most-beautiful beach on Earth.

You just know I’ll be writing from Cthulhu-Mythos stuff set there, right? Muhahaha.

5 thoughts on “Luang Nam Tha, Luang Prabang Again, And Throwing in the Lao Towel

  1. It’s hard enough to get my WiFi and POP mail working in DC, let alone a place like Laos. You must be a technical genius – look out Steve Jobs and Bill Gates!

  2. I always reading your mini-travelogues, Gord, though it’s been too long since I’ve stopped by here again. The link to your Fantasy interview directs right back to this page, btw.

    Now I get why you dropped off of Facebook so quickly: this blog already does everything a facebook page should do!

  3. Mark,

    Yeah, but overkill can sometimes work — tons of natural systems rely on it. Hell, out penchant for pattern-recognition (even when they don’t exist) is a great example of overkill that works good enough to get done what it’s for. (ie. You’re right, they were wanton, but I get the impression that they did take out most of the intellectual types they were after.)

    As for wireless, it should be easy on Windows or Mac — what’s messing it up? On Linux, I rely on an app called “wicd” — much better than any other wireless network manager I’ve tried.

    Tristan,

    Thanks. The above rant feels a little harsh. I certainly feel a little better after a good night’s rest. Well, a so-so night’s rest. Being woken by yelling and singing of guesthouse staff precludes anything better than “okay”.

    Thanks for reminding me to check facebook – I need to see whether a friend is coming to Korea! But yeah, this site does most of what my facebook does, without the awkward rejections of people who think they’re my friend but whom I always hated for being dickheads in elementary/middle/high school or college, and sans the bloody zombie/vampire/medieval knight bites/invites. :) Though the sociality… it’s missing that. Hmm… makes me think a WordPress sociality plugin is called for.

  4. I’m not sure what your point is, I guess all I was trying to say is that in Cambodia, they had a very loose (and fatal) definition of an intellectual.

    I always have problems setting up the pop mail, usually it has something to do with my internet service provider – things are slightly complicated by the fact that I have to piggy back my domain name e-mail on my internet service provider’s e-mail service.

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