Descriptions to Moutern


Not certain if my memory of Phongsaly is real or fake.

Because the ends and starts of the conversations I observed in Moutern seemed similar enough that I think I might be misremembering the whole thing.

In my memory, discussions followed a schematic: a greeting and introduction (delivered in a particular fashion and with particular physical posturing), then the conversation proper (when the back-forth of the speakers’ exchange falls into a repetitive pattern where one person speaks while the other listens and performs reactive acknowledgement), and finally the winding down of the speaking (when sentences are short and staccato until one party chooses silence).

The beginnings and ends, with their apparently more defined behavioral rules, seemed to resemble each other because of those rules — likely because I couldn’t understand a single word being spoken.

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An Agreement


A friend once observed that many bodies and forms live in us: heads and hands and hearts and lungs. And feet that we use to keep on walking.

After nearly two years of reflection, I agree.

Those bodies and forms dovetail into the one entire person that we each actually are.

It sounds simple but was by no means a straightforward process;
we were like a lump of unshaped clay at first (thank Earth for giving us even that much), born as funny-looking babies with oversized foreheads. Then we got molded and prodded into an adult-sized human and eventually hardened like molten lava into sulfurous igneous rock.

And so there we were for some time, thinking we’re all shapely and set in stone until an older soul points out that there’s more to us than just the outward form and that our various body parts are interrelated pieces of our overall whole.

Which is some wisdom, man.

But I totally agree — there are definitely sections and subsections to our whole-ness, you know?
And I also agree that changing physical locations can help a person better experience life because it puts them into situations where they’re obligated to use the multiple bodies of themself to cope or enjoy or feel.

The tough part, I figure, is uncovering which specific facet could and should be presented in each context. Like when walking down a dirt road like the one in Muang Mai for example, I would use my feet and eyes but also my ankles and toes to keep me from tripping on the larger rocks and holes. Easy enough. But when conversing in English, I definitely use my head and mouth and lips as well as my tongue and heart to hate and/or accept the person I’m talking with. That’s more ambiguous.

But, again, those body parts exist and are all incorporated into us regardless of what gets displayed on the outside, and that is like the truest affirmation of our clay-like selves I’ve ever heard.

So then maybe I’ll use a different metaphor from now on (like a conglomerate rock or a whitish-tan sandstone boulder flecked with differently sized pebbles…) and continue trying to embrace the forms and entirety of myself and others.

Friend, if you’re reading this, I want to let you know that my life has changed a lot and I imagine yours has too but I miss you like hell nonetheless. I hope you’ve kept your sandals dirty para seguir caminando.

A Pakse of Four Thousand Islands


Champasak lends itself well to superlatives.

The southernmost province embodies such awe-struck descriptions as “most beautiful” place in Laos with the “best coffee and goi pa/ກ້ອຍປາ” and astounding sunsets.

Starting from Champa’ and traveling west, you would encounter the region of Isaan within the country of Thailand. Turning east toward the rising sun, ascending the Bolaven Plateau, and keeping onward, you would find yourself in the wet heights of Attapeu or Sekong Province. Southward to the Cambodian border, you would come across four thousand islands carved by waters that came all the way from Tibetan elevations.

Pakse, the capital of Champasak Province and second-largest city in the country, is often the beginning and end point to exploring the rainy, coffee-growing region. It also serves as a jumping off point for trade and travel to Cambodia, Vietnam, or Thailand. Like many large cities in Laos, Pakse lies along the Mekong; unlike every other large city in Laos, it’s divided into two by the southerly meander of the Nam Xe Don tributary.

The city offers some fairly impressive views of both rivers and their confluence. One of those views — from the hill across the Lao-Nippon Bridge — is intended for those prepared to handle some dilapidated wooden stairs (and just stairs in general). The lookout near Wat Phu Salao and its Golden Buddha offers an expansive view of the City-split-in-two:

However, Champasak’s main tourist draw is its plentiful waterfalls.

Assuming you know the road and have a motorbike, you could visit at least three in a day. Some waterfalls are encircled by restaurants and small-ish resorts, meaning that no trekking is required. Others require a little more from their would-be visitors (and offer more in exchange). Tile 2’s Tad Gneuang Falls, for example, first transforms its visitors into unwitting worshipers. Then it drenches them in a mildly holy mist as they clamber down a path of slick and steep stone stairs to snap a shot in fleeting wonder.

The Khone Phapeng Falls (ນ້ຳຕົກຕາດຄອນພະເພັງ) just north of the Cambodian border are a veritable apotheosis. Over 11,000m³ of water pass over these falls every second, making them one of the largest falls by volume in the world — a full four times larger than Niagara Falls and ten times larger than Victoria Falls.¹ The falls consist of a network of narrow channels and steep cataracts that spans 10km altogether, making it the widest waterfall in the world.

About 40km upstream of the Khone Phapheng Falls, the Mekong already begins to stretch itself out into a patchwork of waterways and rapids patterned with proliferate islands. Together, they form the eponymous archipelago of Four Thousand Islands//Siphandon.

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The challenging river terrain once stymied French colonial traders seeking to connect the then-colony of Indochina with China at the Mekong/Lancang headwaters. Khone Phapheng’s rocky rapids forced them to build a small-gauge railway between Don Khone, the largest island, and its neighbor, Don Det, to circumvent the impassable falls. The railway eventually fell into disuse in the 1940s, but was, for a time, the only railway built in Laos until Thailand’s Northeastern Line was extended from Nong Khai to Vientiane in 2009.

Nowadays, the islands are still just as split-up and surrounded by the Mekong as they were a hundred years ago. Bridges and ferry boats connect the islands across the copious channels that flow between them. These channels act as a natural funnel for the river’s fish, making some areas — like just downstream of Khone Pasoi Falls, for instance — ideal fishing grounds.

Champasak isn’t just the sum total of tourist descriptions of waterfalls and dreamy islands, though.

Sure, many of Champa’s observable features could be recorded and told in denotative language, but they’re often meaningless without an underpinning of value. Frequently it’s the things that are less observable that inspire that value. However, those less-observable things are themselves the product of some sort of secret summation based on physicality and straightforward perception.

So, with some simplification, Champasak is a place where things occur and continue and are built upon or removed. Lumber and steel and clay bricks have been arranged here. They’ve been moved just as much as the black opalescent butterflies and dalmatian clouds glide northward to Salavan. This space is where ant colonies function. In July, a new crop of glutinous rice will be transplanted, then grown, harvested, processed, and cooked.

In Champasak, families build houses and share meals and peer across the table at one another. Here, people walk across somewhat reddish soil that, when trenched into paddy and inundated by seasonal rain, appears more brown than its un-wet color.

In juxtaposition with the sky and its green-leaved downstairs neighbors reaching into the upward open, the dirt path and side-of-the-road wooden fences are quite content to stay put.

And that’s alright, here is both.



Beginnings of things might be when the-other-way-around comes rightside-up.
For example, watching some birds and bats and airplanes fly upside-down outside the window then sitting up to see them cruising the typical way.

Ends of things might be when they slowly topple down head-first or their physical becomes something else’s physical.
Example: when Pakse drifts off to some southern and eastern place and then, one year later, starting to wonder how long the distance has been.

Because of those upwards and downwards, and because the evening can slowly turn purple to pink Navel orange,

Earth heals.

It stitches them together as if it’s “been there” too — starting out/settling down.
Water listens before anything else, even when stepping into the warm rain bathing (brown) in this rice paddy,
and the sky feels breath-heat, making space.

Green things are a cure. Seriously.
Which is why it’s alright to watch things upside-down, wonder about four thousand islands in Berlin, and still have muddy toenails for many days.

<<<<>>>>

R


And on Tuesday I came to the realization that my biggest “R” is Remember.

Because the actions that our ancestors took directly led to our choices, and therefore, for better or worse, we’re invited to reconcile themselves with ourselves. In order to do that, I think we’re supposed to remember to perceive people as they were and are, remember their singular goodness as well as their bad. We’re taught to remember that we are not them even though they are, by nature, part of us.

But we could also remember that in the beginning there was only what was and eventually we wilt as much as climates change, our words are written down but then lost in time, and the gardens we tended for years on this Earth — both young and old like seasons — flourish and decompose and soon afterward only mushrooms and iridescent varieties of fungus remain.

Nonetheless,

what will be depends on how we choose to manifest our Remembering through our thoughts, words, and deeds. I want to honor our human capacity to Remember by just trying hard and giving my damnedest attempt to make the people who inexplicably love me proud. In memoriam, I’m going to keep hoping that my neighbors feel contented and well.

:

‘I had once been bidden, “Stand! Endure! Remember!” and that was what I determined to do.’


For Zyanya

You tell me then that I must perish
like the flowers that I cherish.
Nothing remaining of my name,
nothing remembered of my fame?
But the gardens I planted still are young—
the songs I sang will still be sung!

HUEXOTZIN, Prince of Texcóco, ca. 1484

Lunch (Thoughts of Shanghai)


Late lunch was xiaolongbao from the original spot on Wudong Lu.

Still didn’t take a picture — ate them all with dark rice vinegar (the Zhenjiang variety of legendary origin) before I could even pull out my smartphone.

Later that day I would take a taxi to Pudong with several large bags and check in for a red-eye flight direct to LAX. First, I’d eat these eight dumplings — minced pork mixed with spring onion and aspic set inside circular unleavened dough wrappers then folded and pinched shut — directly from the bamboo steamer. These were the same ones I tried after arriving in Shanghai last year: the ones with vinegar poured in the same saucers, red chili sauce served with the same tiny spoons.

Exactly eight dumplings; no more, no less.

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What to Ask Someone Who’s Just Been Abroad


Please, ask about anything other than how it was.

Whether you meet someone after they completed an exciting trip, or you’re the relative or friend of someone who has just been abroad, you’re probably eager to ask all about it. Just know that someone who has been abroad will get asked mostly the same questions: “How was it?” and “Did you have a great time?” or “Did you see [insert stereotypical noun pertaining to that location]?” and “Do you miss it?”

This is like the jet-lag of all conversations: it puts you to sleep and you just want to get past it because it’s annoying and exhausting.

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