Thoughts on Meung Seung

Today we leave Luang Nam Tha and head to the commercial and political hub of northern Laos, Udomxai. We'll spend a night there and make our way to the lovely environs of Luang Prabang tomorrow.

Yesterday was spent on motorbikes. We cruised from here to the town of Mueng Seung, through the Nam Tha Protected Area - a swath of moutains and virgin jungle. It was some of the cooleset country I've biked through, with fast flowing rivers and traditional villages perched on muddy hillsides. At one point we were stopped on the side of the road and were approached by some local hill women. One of them held out her hand and asked Sir David for money. He obliges by giving her a 1,000 Korean won note. Cruelty? Novelty? She was utter befuddled, and for a moment it looked like her head may indeed explode.

Mueng Seung was an interesting town, a true backwater, sleepy and slow. It's located on a large flood plain near the border with China, and host to a myriad of different ethnic groups, who you can evidently tell apart by their various "uniforms." We stopped for lunch and were immediately swarmed by about 7 Akka hill tribeswomen, with teeth in various states of decay. They hawked bracelets and bags and cloths, as well as opium, which they'd flash to you discreetly while pushing a necklace made of beads and polished beans. These women were unfuckoffable, and shadowed our every step in that rotting little town. They stood at the perimeter of the open fronted restaurant and jingle there goods and waved for out attention. Every once and a while one of these grannies would make a break for it and approach our table, only to be halfheartedly shooed away by the son of the restaurant owner. We enjoyed our three dollar meal and engaged these desperate but sweet old women, which only served to encourage them. I eventually bought a bracelet, which just made things worse. It was like pouring chum into shark-infested waters, and before I knew it I was enveloped by hill women, who grabbed my arms and attempted to forcibly tie on spangly bracelets and thrust awful "travellers bags" in my face. I'm sorry, but I'm not buying an ethnic-decorated "murse." I have no desire to look like a European traveler attempting to go native.

At one point yesterday we drove up a dirt track to the top of a mountain, on which was a golden stupa (kind of a Buddhist tower/pagoda thingie). A lone monk emerged from a nearby structure and engaged us in English. Apparantly the stupa was 1500 years old and contained a "neckbone of the Buddha." Kind of reminds you of all of the churches in Europe that safeguard "a fingernail of The Savior." He was a kind and spritely man (he spoke good English), with firey eyes that one only sees in true believers. He seemed to be some sort of evangelical Buddhist, and before we knew it we were in his little house, where he gave us a lenghty sermon on some of the finer points of Buddhism. Evidently, when we break down the human body, we can learn the following.

The eyes are the snake.

The ears are the crocodile.

The nose is the bird.

The tongue is the dog.

The body is the wolf.

And the heart is the monkey.

He had some justification for all of this, but it escapes me now, other than that he talked about how loathesome the body was to begin with, and looked forward to when he could once and forever escape the cycle of death and rebirth.

This is just a sketch of some of yesterday, and now it's time I got along with making today's blog in real-life time.