More and more I have been contemplating, and even occasionally sensing, non-linear time, the oneness of everything physical. There are moments when I am working out in my concrete house in Thailand and I am simultaneously in my attic in Maine. I can't tell whether it is me in Maine in the past and a memory or me in the future after I write this and I am back home. In fact if I just let the right presence work (flow?), past. present, future commingle. For a flash I am me walking on a red dirt Lao road and I am also Jacques working in a hot, sepia toned Lao classroom. Not an imagined projection but a compression and dissolving. A blur and a clarity.
I didn't know that I could have, for the past two months, gone directly across the river in NKP and gotten a Lao visa on arrival, but going two hours south was part of my plan since it involved a visit to Rambo.
Rambo took me to a lovely restaurant at the base of the bridge to Lao, and we drank a bottle of Lao whiskey as a proper send off. He regaled me WIth stories of his latest big bust, a gang of Moped thieves who were stealing huge numbers and shipping them to Lao. Of course, Rambo would not let me pay for anything, and we also ended up visiting a very odd new cowboy bar (which could have been transplanted directly from Wyoming), an indie music bar, and a bumping night club. This time I was described as an FBI agent doing some work. Last time I was a very rich computer engineer. In that Rambo reminds me of my deceased friend Drew Griffith, who once took me on patrol and told the local sheriffs deputies (as we, well he, was making an arrest) that I was undercover DEA. In Thailand, when you become close to someone, they will often 'adopt' you into their family, and Rambo and I have been brothers since we sang Unchained Melody to each other back in October.
The next morning I was on a bus, finally crossing the Mekong after 10 months of looking at it.
As I read up on Lao, two astonishing figures clubbed me over the head. One: Thailand has 66 million people. Vietnam as 90 million people. Lao has 6.6. Six point six million? That is roughly the same as Massachusetts, but Lao is 237,000 Square Kilometers and MA is a paltry 20,000! The other figure is unfortunately attached to my home country. Lao holds the horrible distinction of being the most bombed country in the world, ever. Bombed continuously by the USA, a great many sorties originating in NKP where I live. 580,000 missions carried out, which works out to one planeload of bombs every 8 minutes, 24 hours a day, for nine years. Over 2 million tons of bombs. More than all of WWII together. Of the 80 million cluster bomblets dropped in Lao, some 10 percent did not explode, and still cause deaths to this day. It was all part of the "Domino Theory". If Vietnam went, so would all of SE Asia. We befriended one side, the Vietnamese the other, and poor Lao did not stand a chance. It makes my guts ache to contemplate; when I put my passport on the immigration officer's desk I half expected him to begin screaming in my face. He didn't. The Lao people I met were poor, curious, gentle, and generous. They were not quite as quick to smile as the Thais in Isaan, but most all returned mine when flashed. Not poor on the level of the Cambodia I saw, but again the step down in economics from Thailand was evident- How could it not be after such a devastating recent history? Naturally once all the major player's ambitions were satisfied in the Capitalists versus Commies game, no one gave much of a shit about what happened to the people of Lao. I am sure I could ask every single student at my high school to point to Lao on a map and none would be able to, much less tell me about its importance in the preservation of democracy in the world today. Yet a goodly sum of their grandparents taxes and blood went into what politicians and generals propounded as essential and necessary. Now of course it is Afghanistan and terrorism. New places and catchphrases of fear. Same old bullshit. I saw a lot of charcoal being moved about- demonstrating a lack of electricity, no doubt.
It was hard to get a line on if I was overpaying once I got to Ta Khek and I wrangled for quite some time with the tuk tuk driver over his 80 baht fee to town, since in NKP I typically pay only 20-30. It turns out it was the going rate and food too was about equal or more than in Thailand, since a good portion of it actually is bought there! I used the Lonely Planet guide and treated myself to a nice place for once- here a nice place means paying right around Motel 6 prices. There is a bit of left over French influence in Lao, and my hotel had high ceilings, shutters on the windows, and super coffee and French bread for breakfast.
In the morning I rented a Chinese-made (i.e. dogshit quality) moped (350 baht -had to love the no paperwork, no signing anything, no helmets big enough for a white head) and headed out for my first destination, the so-called Buddha Cave.
Then it was back out on the road. No lunch places in sight anywhere- very unlike Thailand in that sense. I did stop at one roadside stand for an iced tea, where they were selling these water buffalo strips for eating.
Still, there it was- Nakhon Phanom at night- a nice image reversal seen from the banks I had so often gazed upon at a distance. A sweet little jewel there. In the morning, after a great breakfast I was on a mission- to beat the heat and to see those dang Buddhas. They had been discovered some years earlier by a villager and were dated back some 600 years, hundreds of Buddhas in a small cave. I crossed my fingers and said a little multi-religious prayer and lo! the bridge was done.
They use these ingenious nets in Thailand as well, simply placing them on the bottom for a few minutes and lifting them straight up, forming a catchall with the bending bamboo.
One wrong turn led to this happy crew diving off the culvert into the current.
Then finally it was the Buddha Cave where due to the water level the only access was by boat, making it even more sacred, quiet, and mystical.