One Guy by Sammi Law

Friendship Bridge_
I had been calling my round trip visa renewal run – the Lao U-turn. This time I met a younger more hip fellow traveler and he used the term, “Bounce”. I like it. I’ll keep it. This story is not about him.

A substantial difference between East and West; and yes, I brazenly bridge the abyss of assumption … a contrast between the cultures is displayed within the physical friendliness between men. (In all fairness, I don’t know anything about Europe.) Initially I was surprised, but quickly observed that contact is a form of acceptance, perhaps even reverence and most assuredly respect.

Anyways … when I am out and about by myself, I tend to be exuberant and flamboyantly American. Which is to say loud and a bit aggressively pretentious. I boldly engage verbally at any opportunity and stay away from using English.

While boarding the bus from the Lao side of The Friendship Bridge and elderly man surrounded by young girls made eye contact and asked, “Parlez vous francais.” I responded – “Mai” He appologized. I blurted – Mai pen rai na krb. He laughed and the girls giggled because, “Farang poot Thai.”

I was fortunate to find a seat.

As we unloaded on the Thai side, as younger man (later discovered to be 58) initiated interaction. I responded. He reached back back and firmly grabbed my forearm. I clamped on his and we walked of the bus together.

For a couple of reasons, I think he was a high ranking military or police official. Part of that is based on the crowds deferential reaction and the Thai boarder guards reaction. There were maybe 50 people already in front of the window. An officer approached me and waved me over to an empty window. That was very helpful, Particularly since my passport is such a mess. (I had a pile of pages added and everything is out of order.)

I had a nice visit with a lovely immigration officer. I headed for the bus and queried the driver – Maw lep-loy mai; Is the dog finished? (Can’t get back on until the bus has been searched.)

As I headed down the isle my new friend was suggesting spots for me to sit. I made my own choice. He came and joined me. We struck up a conversation. I asked – Tahm arai nung chi What’s up little brother? I feel good about understanding about half of what he said. I didn’t get why he and his family were going to Mukdahan (the town on the west side of Mekong.) I did pick up on the fact that he was from Savanakeht (east side) and that his grandfather was French; so that was his father with the girls and the girls were his daughters and their friends.

So … it is here that I could go on and on about corruption and the relativity of exploitation, for it seems to me that people with a lot of money have utilized some degree of those methods to rise so far above their fellow countrymen. But, what’s the point. Life goes on. Wolves will always eat sheep, if given the opportunity.

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