We decided to get out of the village today, at least for a while. We borrowed two bikes and pedaled clumsily down the highway to a nearby town. It was probably twice the size of our home-stay village and presented a striking demonstration of life’s relativity. The shops lining the main street dazzled and impressed us, even if they only sold bike tires or shampoo. It was like seeing the neon glare of a Las Vegas strip after weeks in the desert. We cycled along the Mekong river (which winds its way snakily down from China, an Asian Mississippi) and saw on the other side, a mere swimming distance, the jungled mountains of Laos.
Later we tried to get some work done, but I was feeling lousy and tired from the interrupted sleep the night before. We contented ourselves by crocheting (Sonia) and reading (me), awaiting the time when the kids would return from school and molest us on our quiet porch. They did come soon after, and accidentally erased one of Sonia’s documents on the computer, for which she berated them. We shooed them away like animals, but like animals smelling the lure of food – in this case, computer pinball – they soon approached again. We kept the computer out of reach and played an educational game of hangman instead. I also showed them how to draw Scooby Doo to keep them distracted. Continue reading
Woke up before the sunrise for another early departure to Phu Wua Park with Mr.Oot’s class. Our host mother Yort packed us up a bag of sticky rice and cooked fish for lunch, which wouldn’t be eaten until after several hours of hiking in the sticky heat. Back home I get paranoid when cooked food is left on the counter for more than 20 minutes, so I sensed this would end up being a beef jerky and Power Bar day.
Fish for lunch...so good even the flies like it
After some campfire-like singing, in Thai, that energized the group and lasted long enough to dull my senses, we started on our uphill climb through still-wet foliage and over damp logs. The slippery rock faces threatened to plummet us to our doom, but we still managed to hang on until the top, where we met a superb view of the surrounding jungles leading down in the valley between the Laos mountains and Mekong river on one side, and on the other to Phu Tok and deep into Elephant country. I imagined a primitive scene, not too far away, where Tarzan swung from thick lliana vines over roaring elephants and cheetahs pawing madly at the air. I know I had the wrong continent, but the reality before me was probably not too far off.
Oot led us afterwards off the beaten track, along winding streams surrounded by phallic-looking carnivorous plants which made me giggle. We joined up with the rest of the group, already wet and submersed in a nearby river which looked cool and refreshing. We were quickly thronged by gaggles of kids brandishing their teachers’ cameras. Using broken English, one teacher explained that these kids had never before taken a picture with white people. Soon after, we had them lined up in a queue, waiting their turn to put an arm around us and give the peace sign to a ready lens. We felt like Mickey and Minnie at a theme park, and gave some serious thought to charging a fee. We traipsed back together, all 70 or so of us in single file, through the jungle like African refugees. Continue reading
Skydiving is not for the faint of heart. Neither is it for the incontinent of bladder or shrill of voice.
As a spontaneous birthday dare, my girlfriend and I found ourselves pulling up to the Victoria Sky Diving Centre one otherwise pleasant Sunday afternoon in early August, to test my fear of falling from a moving aircraft (call me skittish) and also to experience firsthand the allegedly transformative powers of this sport’s exhilaration and fear.
I signed myself up for a tandem jump. Unsure what the word meant, and too lazy to do a bit of research beforehand, I envisioned this as me jumping with a troop of Elvis look-alikes and forming elaborate shapes in the sky – a web of falling gabardine. Tandem actually meant I would be harnessed to a stranger’s crotch and that in the event that our primary and reserve parachutes failed to open, my soft body underneath would protect his fall. I was determined to seek out the thinnest instructor in the room.
Inside the office were hung various safety equipment and harnesses, instilling me with a confidence that dissolved when hearing the good-natured banter between my tandem instructor Brian and a spandex-clad videographer about which piece of my harness connected to which. The videographer’s job was to leap out of the plane milliseconds before me and capture my expressions of, in no particular order, a) Terror and Panic as I realize that I’m falling from a height higher than a tree, a response ingrained by our vine-swinging ancestors millennia ago, b) Anger as I realize this is actually worse than the teacup ride at Disneyland, as had been promised back at the office, c) Excitement, as the neurons inhabiting the fear centres of my brain exhaust themselves to submission and d) Disgust as I ingest a colony of high-flying bugs through my nose, as my body plummets at 9.8 metres per second square.
Feeling a little uncomfortable in the office about being so close to a man in purple spandex, I nervously quip that I forgot my Huggies at home, referring to a rumour I heard about first-timers from a friend at work. “Diapers are optional,” was the straight-faced reply from the receptionist.
Starting to get performance anxiety