Today, I finally feel like I’m on vacation. It’s been a whirlwind of packing, tying up loose ends, visiting family in Taiwan and now, finally, today, I feel like I’ve made it to that point where I feel
I’m sitting on a second floor veranda overlooking a pool. It is about 85 degrees. Tropical plants are swaying, dogs are barking, insects are buzzing and I am in Laos. I almost can’t believe I made it.
When I first landed, the plane pulled up right in front of the airport, like a taxi. You know you’re in an undeveloped country when that happens. The view on landing is probably my second-most favorite ever:
Being undeveloped, with little infrastructure, Laos is pure green with ribbons of silver running through. It is pristine, but we all know that’s because the jungle is impenetrable, littered with millions of bombs dropped by Americans during the Vietnam war.
I’ve watched Tony Bourdain’s shows on Laos and it is that silence from the people, that look, that I find so heart-breaking. I cannot imagine how these people must feel about what has been done to them, to their country. I get the sense they don’t talk about it much, just as my grandparents don’t talk about the Vietnam war. I must admit, it makes me glad my family is on the right side of history, being here.
My second day, I hiked up into the hills with a group of backpackers and two guides to see some of the jungle and to stay with some villagers. It was a shock to the system, to say the least. Between the heat and being somewhat out of shape, I struggled to keep up with the rest of the group and to keep from fainting. It was a struggle and when we got to the village, having to cope with the living conditions, was absolute misery.
I have never done this before, as traveled as I have been. Sure, I’ve been camping. But, you can drive to a cute little general store and pick up whatever you need. Up in the hills, it takes a day’s worth of hiking to get to any kind of modern convenience and people live with this, every day.
It is the irony of American life that makes me view junk food costing more than organically cooked food as being weird. Yet, junk food is scarce in these villages. As is privacy. The walls of huts are made of thin strips of bamboo – hardly adequate for keeping out your neighbor’s business. There is one pipe running clean water from the spring which everyone uses to wash – and men and women bathe simultaneously. It is almost comedic, upholding a standard of false modesty where women and men are forced to shower in their clothes, but are basically naked.
I have not even discussed the practice of slaughtering a cow if someone becomes ill, with the belief that their soul will carry away your illness.
The group of backpackers I joined discussed whether we could live in these conditions and I thought no, I don’t think I could adjust. I mean, I probably could, but it would be miserable the whole way. Growing up in it though, would be different, I think. The children looked happy and, short of getting ill, safe. But, they are poor and that cannot be ignored. I would not want my children growing up like this, idyllic as it looks in Instagram pictures.
Today’s bliss is in part hard-earned relief from the strenuous hike, but also a feeling of privilege and gratitude for what I have. I don’t think I’m alone in romanticizing rural life, but the reality of it, having to live it day after day is, really hard.