Saturday, February 26, 2011

Monks Just Wanna Have Fun

Check it out, a monk on a swing!”
Even though Lorenzo is about to exit stage west and we have a few kilometers of mountain roads ahead, we turn our bikes around.  This might be It.

Monk on a Swing

The veil of fog has not yet lifted from the mountains of Northern Laos.  We head to the motorcycle rental place at 7:00 AM before all the other farang show up and take the best bikes.  The Lao-speaking Spaniard was already there, on his bike, bundled up, and ready to go.  The Catalan chick and me get there, asking for two automatics.  MK, the Korean guy, is back at the guesthouse getting ready.  So is Biker Bebita, who is putting on all the clothes that she can find.  It is quite cold.  Lorenzo has yet to rise.

There are two automatics. 
One pink, one black.
I say, “Pink is all yours.”
“You would look lovely in pink” she replies.
We laugh.
Pink is ready to go, but Black needs new breaks. 
 The old man says he’ll go get new brakes and be back in 10 minutes.
I wait.

45 minutes later it dawns on me that “10 minutes” is the Lao equivalent to “5 minutitos” in Puerto Rico.  A loosely defined period of time, which should not be too long, but invariably it is.    
The lady from the shop next door, who speaks a bit of English, notices that I have been standing there for all this time.  She comes over and asks if there is a problem.  I explain.  She calls the disappeared storeowner to assess his whereabouts.  After a brief exchange she hangs up and tells me that he’ll be back in 10 minutes
I gleefully giggle.  I see the writing on the wall.
I tell her that I’m going to have some breakfast and I’ll be back in an hour to pick up the bike. 
 I need some coffee.

Read the Pali on the Wall

A steady climb through postcard scenes unfold in front of The Black Automatic.  The forty-five kilometer ride from Luang Nam Tha to Muang Sing is breathtaking.  Rolling hills and textured plains, the tranquil waters of the Nam Tha River crisscross the terrain.  Small villages are scattered along the way, every passing one accentuated with the screams of “Sabadee!”   We decide to stop in a village, but we instantly feel that we are intruding.  The kids are happy with our presence but the adults are indifferent.  Hellos are followed by good-byes and we are on the road again.
We reach Muang Sing in the early afternoon looking for a place to eat.  We stop at a nondescript place full of men drinking beer and watching Korean soap operas dubbed in Mandarin.  The soaps are funny.  Badly acted, cheesy love story with kung-fu fights and some supernatural hoo-hah I can’t describe.  The dudes drinking beer are really into it.  That’s even funnier.  China is merely 10 km. away.  This is my closest encounter with “real” Chinese food and it was quite tasty. 
Inspired by that we decide to make a run for the border.  The road to the border cuts through golden fields of wheat that gleam in the midday sun.  I snap pictures in my mind as I go by, imagining a beautiful blue sky.  In reality, the day is hazy and the sky is white.  The camera has been hibernating all day.  We make it to the border and get a peek at the Big Red Dragon lurking on the other side.  One day I will go explore its depths, hopefully with My Main Man Tastic on my side. 
We explore the area a bit more, ride by some more villages and experience the day as it goes.  The camera has not seen the sun yet.  The 45 km. ride back will be a good two hours and we don’t want to do it in the dark.  Before we head back to Luang Nam Tha, we notice a monastery at the edge of town.

The sun is low and the light is soft. 
“Check it out, a monk on a swing!”
Even though Lorenzo is about to exit stage west and we have a few kilometers of mountain roads ahead, we turn our bikes around.  This might be It.

With the bikes left on the side of the road, we walk into the monastery and are greeted by a gang of little orange robes.  We go inside to see the temple, expecting an adult to appear at some point in time.  A mini Buddha shows us around, as the rest follow and smile.  The adult never materializes and the kids’ energy is on the rise.  In a matter of seconds the solemn austerity is left out to dry and the kids start running around and asking the girls to show them how to dance.  Reluctant at first, we pretend to be respectable, but they insist.  Next thing we know, all the monks are dancing.  They display their dance moves and show us some kung-fu.  I show them the fist-bump and some handshakes made up on the fly. I stop by the swing but the little one is shy.  His friend, on the other hand, loves to smile.  He sits on the swing, directly opposite the setting sun.  The camera finally comes out of the bag.  It is time to have fun. 

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