I spent all day vagabonding around Luang Prabang on foot. It was only $1 to hire a hideous looking rusty French bicycle but I decided the town wasnt really THAT big and I needed some exercise.
I hit a couple wats then ran into Monique on the street and we grabbed some lunch. I splurged and ate at a nice French bakery – $3 for my lunch. It was so delicous though. I left her and started my wandering. I ended up hiking up steps on a big hill here that overlooks the city. There is a wat on top and at the bottom some old women were selling 2 tiny caged birds in thin bamboo cages. The Buddhist believe that it is good luck to release them up at the temple. I haggled them down to $2 and bought a couple birds that I wanted to set free. They were hopping around nervously and squeaking inside the cage as I climbed the 210 stone steps, sweatting to the top of this hill. On the way I passed a guy that chastised me for buying the birds. He said that by giving the money I was supporting the future effort to capture more birds. Here, I thought I was on my way to becomming a local bird hero for setting my 2 friends free and after passing one tree-hugger now I felt like the evil tourist. I weighed my options – 1) take the birds in the cage back to my room and smuggle rice to them for days. 2) Take them to a noodle kitchen and flop down some Kip to see what Pad Wren with noodles tasted like. 3) Hurl them over the cliff in the cage at the tree hugger. or 4) release them anyway. The birds caught me on a soft day so when I reached the temple, I ripped open the cage and off they went with a “thank you” squeak. I didnt feel so lucky standing there $2 more broke with Wren crap on my hands from the cage, but maybe Buddha works in mysterious ways.
Some more wandering landed me into a park with a nice pond to sit beside. I bought a big chunk of watermellon and was sitting there with juice running down my chin and elbows when 3 young Laos girls approached and sat on my bench. They were all smiles and wanted to practice English.
Unlike all the other school girls that seem to end up huddled around me on this trip, these were 21 and in college instead of 13. Nice change. They showed me their college English workbooks and after reading through them I could barely hold back a grin. The English in them including the lessons and instructions was as broken and bad as they spoke on the street. No wonder! We sat and they ended up teaching me more Lao, but it was good because they got English practice as well.
As things go sometime in SE Asia, our quiet cultural interaction was interrupted abruptly by another “near” death experience. We all heard the distinct breaking sound of something heavy coming out of a tree…the girls screamed and my 8 years of Kung Fu and 6 years of ARMY training paid off – I cowered with my hands above me just like them. No combat roll out of harms way. No heroic dive to save them and cover them with my own body. I never moved an inch, paralized with fear and the 1 second reaction time I have been given. A huge branch laden with about a dozen coconuts swooshed through the air and landed at our feet. I could stretch my legs out and just touch it with my big toe – thats how close it was! The branch was as thick as my arm and came from a very high mature tree. Our English lesson almost went from “Please pour the tea” to “I’ll never get this American’s brain matter out of my skirt!”.
I put the near death from above behind me and celebrated with another yummy bowl of noodles from the night market for .50 cents. I am alive. I have a full stomach. Like usual, life is good.