“And we’ll all float on ok, and we’ll all float on away” – Modest Mouse
I couldn’t help but play the song “Float On” by Modest Mouse during my 2 days down the Mekong River. While day 1 was interesting day 2 was much more entertaining. There were more locals on our boat this day. We sailed down by the river and at times we would hear someone shouting and waving a handkerchief in the air. This was their signal to our captain that he should stop and pick them up. One of the first places we stopped was about an hour into our journey. Practically the entire village had come down to the waterfront to say goodbye to the man that was leaving. The man was 60-70 years and he was bringing a goat with him on board. Once his belongings were on board he turned to say goodbye to the village. Children, old women and his wife were all hugging him and crying uncontrollably. It felt so imposing to be watching from the window. We docked for 30 minutes and waited until he had finish saying goodbye to everyone, it was sad to watch. I wonder what the story behind it was? Later in the day I asked a local man on the boat why everyone was crying and he said that the man was probably going to another village to look for work and they didn’t know when he would be back. A 70 year-ish old going to look for work so he could bring food back to his village? And we get annoyed if we are on the “retirement track” to finish at the age of 60-65?
Most of the locals that got on the boat would sit at the front on benches as us tourists took up the “comfy” mini-van seats in the back (they are anything but comfy and I’m wondering if that’s why the locals opt for the bench. One Laos boy around 20 years old started drinking around 11AM…..it was probably 5 o’clock somewhere right? He wanted to share the beer with his friend but they didn’t have an extra glass. So he turned to the stranger next to him and asked a question, of which I obviously didn’t understand. Two seconds later his neighbor had taken a machete out of his bag. What the heck was going on? He gave it to the boy, who had a used coca-cola can in his hand and he proceeded to cut it in half and fold the top over to make a cup. Wow, this was the true local experience!! In Laos (as well as the Philippines) people usually share a glass when drinking. Why dirty more dishes or cut more cans in half when you don’t have to? The boy filled the coke can with beer and gave it to his neighbor and new friend. When he was finished he handed it to the neighbor on his otherside. This continued with the 3 other perfect strangers sitting around him. This was the literal translation for “sharing a drink”.
As the hours went on, the locals continued to sip on the LaoBeer….you may think you know where this is heading but I assure you, you will never guess what happened next! For some very odd reason, the man with the machete also had a kareoke machine on him and the young boy convinced him to take it out of the box. Within 5 minutes we were listening to the locals belting out full-blown Lao songs accompanied by music and a mic. As I mentioned in a previous post, I love watching people sing songs passionately in their local tongue and this time was no different. They even went so far as to accompany the singing with traditional dancing at times (I’m sure the beer helped with that). I was hysterically laughing for 2 hours, I couldn’t get enough. Finally the British girl sitting in front of me turned around and said, just be glad they aren’t speaking english because I’m sure if you understood what they were saying, you would find them super annoying. She was probably right, if these were Americans drunkenly singing kareoke on a boat I would probably be seething but this was great entertainment!
We stopped about a dozen times that day for locals to get on. We saw more children cry as they waived goodbye to their dads. Sometimes it took forever before we started to move again, the captain gave them all the time they needed. At times it felt like we would never get there. But as the saying goes…….”it’s about the journey, not the destination”.
Float On song by Modest Mouse