the case of the travelling hammock salesman

Vientiane, Laos

Wed, 12 Dec 2001 11:18:17 +0000 (GMT)

I know I said it'd be ages before I mailed again but I actually have some news!

First of all, Laos is very nice and not quite as hot as BK. It was 26 deg when I landed at 9:30 but I don't think it got a whole lot hotter after.

I also got bitten to pieces last night, including one really scary one that looks like it might burst open and spew forth aliens in the not too distant future!

After surviving the hustle and bustle of Bangkok, well known for it's con artists and dodgy dealing, who would have thought that in sleepy Vientiane, the capital of the beautiful and tranquil Loas (assuming you dodge all the left over mines, cluster bombs and grenades), I'd get my first real taste of South East Asian scumbaggery!

It was a slightly embarassing incident involving an overfriendly older woman (anyone who's been to Knightsbridge knows what I'm talking about!) and some incredibly spicy chicken. I'll present all the evidence and you can decide who dunnit.

I went for lunch just up the road from my guest house (nice place this time). I got as far as the first restaurant when I met the very friendly owner, who invited me in. The prices were reasonable and I sat down. She sat beside me and started chatting away while her nephew started cooking. The first words from her lips after "where are you from?" were something like "oooh very handsome". Yes alarm bells did sound, just not loud enough.

So anyway, I order the local beer and she gets herself a glass and we start drinking my beer. Fair enough, it's only costing me about 40p a pint, she can have some if she wants. Chatting away in a mixture of English and Lao (form Lonely Planet's incredibly brutal Loa phrasebook). Next thing I know she has a hold of my arm is saying "massag, massag". I politely declined. Then she fed me a spoonful of chicken and rice and said "I love you, you love me, same, same"!!!!

Food arrives and I start eating. She's still pouring herself beers from my bottle, so I ask her if she wants some food. Of course she does. It's very spicy, so I'm happy enough to share it. In the middle of this, in comes a Vientnamese hammock salesman (I know he was Vietnamese because Mrs Loum pointed him out earlier, "Vietnamese, no good"), and I spend 5 minutes trying to tell him that I have no interest in buying a hammock, only the shitty phrasebook only has the Lao for things like "oh my, what a lovely hammock, I'll take 10".

Eventually, he gets back on his bike. I chat to Mrs Boun Loum for a while more and we arrange to go see a temple together (she was very very friendly and all I could think of was how much more friendly the Loas people are than the scheming Thais, even if I have managed to break my weirdo attracting record twice in two days!).

Then I get up to go with her and her strange little umbrella to this temple, but my shades are nowhere to be seen. Mrs Loum and her nephew search high and low for them but amazingly enough, they're not in the drinks cabinet or the wok or anywhere they look. I'm not too happy at this stage but Mrs Loum is still a bit frantic to bring me to the temple, so I go. We meet the Vietnamese guy on our way and they exchange words. They could have given one another a Laos style high 5 for all I know. She's very insistent I check the room in the guest house but I make her wait in the lobby, afraid that she's either casing the place or going to try something on!

We go to the temple and she takes a photo of me and then I take one of her and then next stop another bar that she or someone in her family owns. Another Beer Lao and two glasses. She gives me the address of her parents and 7 sisters in Stockton, California and also their phone numbers (don't ask why, I have no idea!) and also her address, which is a Po Box number (?!) and I give her my email and lied about not having a phone! Then I said I was really tired, she was gagging for another beer but I was having none of it. She asked what room I was staying in and I said I didn't know. I thought this was V suspicious. So she walked me to my guest house for me to have a snooze and we arranged to meet up again at 6!!! Actually it's nearly 6 now and I'm in the net cafe across the road!!!

Rather than going to sleep I wandered down to the local cop shop to file a report so I can claim it on the insurance. I knew this was going to be tricky.

There's very little English spoken but quite a bit of Thai, so I brought my guide book, 2 Thai phrase books and a Loa one. None of the have any phrases for dealing with the police. I managed to get across that my glasses were stolen and that I wanted to get a report for insurance, so I was brought off to an office to play a bizarre game of "Give us a crue". There was one Police guy who was studying English at the university but I don't think he's been doing it for long. In fact I don't think any of them have been doing anything for long, they all looked about 16. It took quite a while but they managed to write up a report on the whole thing but I have to say there are some serious definiencies in the phrase books. Try miming hammock without falling on your arse and still be taken seriously! The natives in the queue outside got a great laugh out of that one!

So the burning question is, who did it? Was it the buck toothed hammock vendor who wouldn't take no for an answer or was I lured away from my specs by the wiley charms of Mrs Loum? Or were they in on it together, planning to sell my specs and live it up in to their secret lovenest on the banks of the Mekong River?

I'm undecided myself, but I know I'll be safe tonight, because I'm going drinking with half the Vientiane police force this evening at 9!!

F