Gabriel Shaya
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One BeerLao, Please. With Ice.

August 30, 2009 @ 11:02 PM | Permalink

Two years ago, when planning a 9-week trip to Southeast Asia, Luang Prabang was not much more than a circled name in my Lonely Planet guidebook. 

In early 2008, after traveling for a month in Thailand, I entered Laos for the first time.  I spent a few days in the capital of Vientiane, and expected to stay the same amount of time in Luang Prabang, a small town 8 hours north of it.  On my first night there, I met up with Suzy, a friend of a family friend- an American-born Australian citizen, living in Luang Prabang teaching English in various capacities.  After dinner, as we nearly pecked each other's cheeks goodbye, she got a call from one of her two Lao sons- grown boys who she had taken in, a mutually beneficial situation.  The one calling, Sommay, had been given to Suzy by his mother on her deathbed, despite his age and enormous capabilities.  Suzy loved the boy and his family dearly, and didn't blink an eye- even when he said that if he goes, his friend Joy, the other son, goes too. 

When Sommay called it was to report that it was his girlfriend's birthday, they were celebrating at Muang Swa, one of the two nightclubs in town, and Suzy was to come immediately.  Though we had essentially said our goodbyes, she invited me to come along to the festivities.  Eager to explore this unplanned experience, I agreed, and together we hopped in a tuk-tuk.  Once there, I was thrust into a situation where I quickly learned a great deal about Lao traditions and customs that I had not expected.  Lao people drink beer with ice.  (I was dumbfounded then, and I can't imagine beer without it now.)  On a birthday, friends in attendance often have the cake smeared on their faces.  (Don't refuse, and don't wipe it off.)  Lao people line dance.  (It's like the electric slide, but much more confusing.) Traditional Lao dance involves more hand movement than leg and body.  (I've since forgotten how to dance without twirling my hands as they do.)  It was all very baffling, and yet, thrilling. 

Just three days later, I went with Suzy to a village two hours outside of Luang Prabang, by minivan and by boat, to the wedding of one of her other more-"peripheral" sons.  There were three of us Falang (literally "French" but used, without derogatory connotations, to mean "foreigner"), and the village just assumed that us white folks were a family.  The party was held on the night previous to the wedding, and so we had a great time dancing and drinking on that evening.  The Falang retired early, and even through my earplugs, I heard the villagers partying until the sun peeked over the mountains.  In the morning, we received the news that there was to be no wedding on that day.  During the night, the family of an ailing man brought him home from the hospital to die in his village, and that he did.  Once a death occurs, it negates the auspiciousness once bestowed on that day, and chosen for that reason, and thus celebrations like weddings cannot take place.  As the village women washed the dishes from the party, and men continued to drink last night's beer, we packed up our belongings and left. 

These two experiences were just the beginning.  Suzy lassoed me into Lao life by introducing me to hers, and I am forever grateful to her for that.  The three days I expected to stay in Luang Prabang turned into three weeks, and those three weeks turned into three months.  I felt myself unable to leave.  When I finally left Southeast Asia, I had been there for almost 6 months.  Upon returning to the States, I packed up my stuff, got rid of my apartment in Brooklyn, put my career in film and television on hold, and half a year later, I moved to Luang Prabang indefinitely, without a job or a place to live.  I knew it was exactly where I wanted to be, and that's all that mattered.  

Comments

Posted on 9/02/2009 by

Mafalda Marrocco

Mafalda Marrocco

Gabe, When I see you next, can we drink beer with ice, and can we line dance, the whole time twirling our hands? I miss you very much. Love, Mafalda

Posted on 9/04/2009 by

Julie Nguyen

Julie Nguyen

This is so cool. You are the greatest. Keep up the good work . The world needs more people like you. Enjoy your journey. Julie Nguyen, Potomac, MD

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Gabe, When I see you next, can we drink beer with ice, and can we line dance, the whole time twirling our hands? I miss you very much. Love, Mafalda

Mafalda Marrocco on One BeerLao, Please. With Ice. 2009-09-02

This is so cool. You are the greatest. Keep up the good work . The world needs more people like you. Enjoy your journey. Julie Nguyen, Potomac, MD

Julie Nguyen on One BeerLao, Please. With Ice. 2009-09-04
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