Gabriel Shaya
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Between the Sheets

November 25, 2009 @ 11:49 PM | Permalink

Relationship rules and cues in Laos are often baffling to me. There are a lot of practices that have taken some getting used to.

Girls have a very specific role that seems demeaning to me, but I don't think Lao people really see it that way. When out at a restaurant or bar, it's generally understood that girls at the table are to keep track of everyone having full glasses of beer. When boys are girls are dating, even in the very beginning stages, it's often expected that the girl will do the boy's laundry or clean his house as a way of showing her affection for him.

Monogamy is not particularly in vogue here. Many people, both men and women, have multiple partners, even after marriage. They often keep up some sort of facade that they are being faithful, but everyone knows that they are fooling around. Sometimes people get hurt in this process, and sometimes people just accept that's the norm here. Often people think that as long as you keep coming back to the same person, then the affairs are not terribly sinful. They have a word, "gik," which basically refers to the person you are fooling around with, but not the person you are committed to, which you may or may not also have. This practice is so prevalent that even older people have freely asked me how many giks I have.

Sex and money are inextricably tied. Most certainly in relationships between foreigners and Lao, but almost always between the Lao as well. And don't assume that it's always the man giving the woman money- sometimes it's the other way around. There is a common expectation that when sex is given, some kind of valued exchange is made. This not considered prostitution, but rather a relationship of give and take. Furthermore, both normally-heterosexual men and women are often flexible when it comes to engaging in same-sex relationships when there is an exchange provided. (And sometimes even when there isn't.) Ladyboys often pay a high price to be accompanied but young attractive men who later follow them home.

Flirting is rampant here, but often without the implied intentions. People throw compliments at each other left and right, but aren't necessarily pursuing the other person. It seems that many young Lao men have some kind of non-sexual attraction to foreign men. This results in what would come across as come-ons but really simply expresses some kind of admiration.

There are very strict cultural limits between young men and women in relationships, especially in the countryside. If it is even suspected that a couple is about to have sex, the woman's parents will serve the boy with marriage papers. The two are essentially forced to marry, even if that was never the intention. This often results in many unhappy marriages and messy divorces (which are not terribly common). Even more ghastly is in the case of rape, where I have heard of circumstances where a woman is forced to marry her rapist because he has deflowered her. This is largely due to the fact that the more old-fashioned think that a woman will not be able to find a husband after losing her virginity. Should a man refuse to marry his sexual partner, in the case of consensual or non-consensual sex, he must often pay a fee for the virginity he took.

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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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