Friday, January 6, 2017

Come Drink With Us!

Last night I was sitting in the little spot in front of the hotel in Vieng Xai that gets wi-fi, when one of the members of the hotel staff invited me to come drink with them. I accepted, and followed him to the room where they all hang out. On the side of the hotel, there are a bunch of big rooms that have garage-style huge metal doors that roll down from the top, and concrete floors, and they were all hanging out in one of those rooms. They were all men, sitting in a circle on the floor around a rug, with a lot of food on the rug, and some clear spirits in a big water bottle. I don't know what the booze was. I asked them what it was, and they told me the name, but I don't remember it, and I have no idea what it was made from. The staff and their friends hanging out were all Vietnamese living in Laos. They offered me some food, but I motioned that I was full because I had just come from a restaurant and was truly stuffed. But they insisted that I try a few bites so I did.

They were sitting around, laughing and joking, cross-legged around the rug. I have always been uncomfortable sitting cross-legged, even when I was a kid, and with the wounds on my knee, it was even more difficult, but I persisted and sat with them for an hour or so, or maybe longer; I wasn't really paying attention to the time. One guy was smoking tobacco out of a bamboo bong, and others were smoking cigarettes; they offered me cigarettes, but I'm not a tobacco smoker, so I declined. I could not understand most of what they were saying, but they seemed to be having a great time, and it was cool to hang out with them. They were constantly pouring the booze into shot glasses and making toasts. Sometimes the toasts would be for everybody to join in on, and sometimes the toasts would be just between two members of the group. The first time one of the toasts between two people happened, I started to raise my glass, but then the guy next to me put his hand on my arm and made a “no” motion, so I realized that the whole group was not included. But most of the toasts were for the whole group. A couple of the guys in the group wanted to do individual toasts with me, so I obliged. And then there were a few more serious individual toasts, where the toasters shook hands in a way where they grasped up to the elbow; one guy did one of those with me. After each toast, they would pass the water bottle around and fill everybody's glass again for the next round. I wasn't really in on what the customs were, but I just tried to be jovial and a good sport, and hope that I didn't do anything seriously wrong, but I doubt I did.

As the night went on, it seemed like we were communicating better. I was getting a lot of information across in Vietnamese, and understanding things they said when they said it slowly and with gestures and emphasis, to my surprise. I picked up on a lot of words I barely knew, but had had some exposure to. Only a couple of them spoke any English at all, and then only a few words. There is a guy at the hotel who speaks more English, not a whole lot, but more than the rest of the people who work here, but he was not there that night. One guy told me about the town he was from in Vietnam, and I found it on my phone on Google Maps, then he told me about a couple caves around there, which I also bookmarked on my phone. He told me to call him if I pass through his town, and gave me his Vietnamese phone number, because he would hook me up with friends in the area. So if I pass through there when I go back to Vietnam, I'll give him a call. My Vietnamese SIM card has a phone number and minutes, but my Laos SIM card is only data.

After sitting with them for a while, I begged off to go back to my room. I'm kind of a lightweight on drinking, so I had reached my limit fairly quickly, plus I was uncomfortable from sitting on the floor for so long. I bid them all goodbye and thanked them for inviting me to sit with them.

This morning, I woke up and went to the Indian restaurant down the street, and had breakfast and coffee there. Today I have to pack up to get ready to leave tomorrow. My stuff is strewn around the hotel room big time, so I'll have to gather it all up to pack. I was hoping my wounds would not be seeping any more by now, but they still are somewhat. But hopefully I have healed up enough to be on the move again. I think healing will take quite a while, and I'll have to take it easy for a while.

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