Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Around the mail in 15 mails - No.10 (Laos)

Kommunist Beer's Oresome

Laos, April 17 2005.

Ok Gang, let's join our cyber hands together in Laos, England, Greece, Switzerland and the U.S of A and sing "Should old acquaintances be forgot, And never brought to mind? Should auld acquaintance be forgot, And auld lang syne?".

No, I'm not going mad - it's New Year here in South East Asia, to be specific, in Laos it's called Pii Mai (pronounced Pie My). It's the start of the lunar new year and the whole region goes bonkers for three days. Imagine Christmas, Thanks Giving and Oxi Day all rolled into one. Part of the 'fun' of it involves enormous water pistols, which everyone is armed to the teeth with. If you leave the confines of your guesthouse, you can expect to get wet, very wet indeed. The only sensible course of action is to arm yourself, stand firm and return fire. I've treated myself to a mini-arsenal, including a large pump action rifle with 3 litre water pack strapped to my back and two pistols. This gives me the advantage of being able to stand toe to toe with the 10 year old kids, let them discharge their entire rifle at me and then I draw my pistol and go in the for the kill - one close range head shot and they're running to their mothers (who by the way are more viscious than their children and prefer buckets of water to mere pistols) - ah I love the smell of water in the morning.

Today is day one and there are still three to go. A loose group of Mercenary tourists have formed a private army and we've taken to patrolling the streets and having mini battles with all-comers. It's quite extraordinary how we fight along stereotypical national lines. I know what I'm about to say may cause offence in some quarters and I'm acutely aware that one must never tar everybody with the same brush. Nevertheless, it was amusing to observe and worth sharing with you. Most fights followed the same pattern. The sole Englishman (yours truly) would invariably lead a charge at the beginning, get soaked and die a glorious but ultimately pointless death. The two Australians, would fight cannily alongside me, hardly ever get wet, wipe out half the opposition and wonder what all the fuss was about. The two French argued amongst themselves about who got the better gun and would, after five minutes drop out altogether and go and sulk in a cafe. The American (called Zak), was by far the coolest but alas, all he'd do was stay at the back and manically spray with his water pistol everywhere, normally hitting us in the back, rather than the locals in the front and saving the best till last, the one Italian, in the first sortie, got sprayed in the head, complained about messing his hair up, dropped out and was found later in the day, fighting for the other side!!!

Continuing the water theme - yesterday I went tubing. It was great fun. Basically, you hire a tractor tyre inner tube then get taken 5km's up river and dropped off. You sit in the tube and float down the river. Every 500 yards or so there is a man selling beer, so you stop, buy a beer and continue floating until the next beer point, where you exchange your empty for a full one and continue the journey. There are rapids in certain sections and it takes great skill to navigate your way through them without a) spilling your beer and b) getting your cigarette wet. All in all it was great fun although I admit the final kilometre went by in a bit of blur.

The beer in Laos is imaginatively called Beer Laos and it is generally recognised as being the best in South East Asia. I can confirm that it is. The hops are German, the yeast French and the water Laos. Carlsberg bought a share in the company and quickly dispatched it's experts to the country, to see how they could improve it. In every blind taste test Beer Laos won and Carlsberg grudgingly admitted that they couldn't improve it. So, when they advertise their own product "as probably the best lager in the world", they know full well that tucked away in the Communist controlled Peoples 'Democratic' Republic of Laos, there's a brewery knocking out a far superior product.

This is part two. Written a couple of days later.

I'm now in Luang Prabang, in Northern Laos. It's a lovely city (although city is a bit of a misnomer). A mixture of French colonial buildings and Buddhist temples, it has a very quiet feel to it and I'm looking forward to a few days rest and recuperation. The journey here was in yet another Toyota people carrier. The whole 6 hour trip was through hairpin bends on Route 13 (unlucky for some in a real way) - it's proper bandit country. It's a Hmong stronghold and it was the Hmong that sided with the American backed Democrats in the early 70's. Since the Communists claimed victory in the civil war in 1975, the two sides have waged a secret war with each other. Once in a while the Hmong get a trifle carried away and hold up cars and buses, in fact, last year couple of tourists got shot. You're warned about the risks before you travel, so it's up to you. I took the gamble on the basis that no rebel armed with a AK47 was going to mix it with a Englishman and his water pistol! It turned out that every mile or so there were armed rebels patrolling the road but in most cases, they just waved at us! The funniest bit was when we passed through a village and saw a boy raise his water pistol and fire at our people carrier and behind him was his Dad with his machine gun!

I'm going to draw to a close now (you lucky things). I had my first proper accident last night, involving a mosquito net, an ceiling fan and my right hand. Basically, I was standing on my bed trying to fix up the net. I momentarily forgot I was on the bed and when I shook the net, I heard this big crack/bang sound. A split second later, I realised it was my hand making contact with the fan. It took a few seconds for the old brain to figure out what happened and then the nauseating pain took over and a "Hells Teeth" or words to that effect was probably heard in Thailand. Fear not family, whilst the gash is deep, oozing, bruised and probably needs stitches it's all been fixed with a plaster and half a role of micropore. If my fingers keep swelling and the bleeding doesn't stop, I might go to a doctors! The waitresses took great pity on me this morning. When I explain what had happened they just laughed!

Lots of love to you all


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