"China 2010" story # 23

Luang Prabang, Laos           September 11, 2010

When the toad-shaped, Lao policeman on his scooter going twelve miles an hour had overtaken me, but then I simply walked off to the left to escape him, it wasn't the type of scene that instills an awe for the police in us commonfolk.
     But, perhaps I play too much!?
     I turned myself in in the morning, after sleeping in my tent as a fugitive of the Lao, in the howling, buzzing jungle.
     Actually, there wasn't a policeman in sight, when some villagers, carrying logs belonging to their long, narrow boats, had seen me taking down my tent and called me down from my mountain. Coming down, I was surrounded by tens of curious villagers. They probably wondered what a guy going to jail looked like.
     In the calm of the morning, a nice boy asked if I wanted breakfast, and he told me to enter a house that contained a beautiful, light-skinned woman.
     At this time, the thin policeman from yesterday timidly entered the crowd. He followed me in the house, standing while I ate breakfast.
     The beautiful woman told me her "po" (father) was a policeman. He was the dark, toad-shaped one. His wife made a hell of a breakfast: sticky rice, to squeeze in my fist then pop in my mouth; tiny bananas; thick and sweet, Lao coffee; and noodle soup flavored with lime, with chicken and tomatoes.
     "The Last Breakfast."
     The thin cop took me away. He led me to the Xieng Men Village police station - a wooden, thatched building on stilts. There, we wrote some police reports. A friendly cop named Ang Song came from Luang Prabang Town. He was to take me to his police station.
     "Don't worry," Ang Song assured me.
     The village cop said, "Okay, Justin. When you go with us this time, you must go. Okay? Don't run."
     And at that moment, I made my get-away ...
     Just kidding.
     Ang Song heard about how my morning had begun, and he said, "You see? Lao people are very good. If you don't have any money, they will give you some food. And they will invite you to sleep in their homes."
     I liked his optimism. But, I reminded him, "I can't sleep in Lao peoples' homes. It's not allowed.
     He paid for us to ride the wooden ferry - resembling a stretched-out snail, or a squished vikings' ship - to Luang Prabang.
     The long-haired, round mother of Ni happened to be waiting for a ferry to her village, when we arrived. I asked, concerned, "Sabaai di bo?" (How are you?)
     At the police station, Ang Song and I worked on some more police reports. I was told that, carrying a tourist visa, I could sleep in "guesthouses, hotels, resorts."
     Young Ang Song knew I had little money. He said, "You can stay in my house!"
     "No," I said, "I can't!
     Additionally, I was told I could stay in a local person's home, if the event was reported to the police first. But ... I suspect it might've been Ni's parents who'd told the police to come to their house, so they could report that I'd be staying there as their friend - in which case, the police had still forced me to leave.
     Also, some policemen suggested I would have to pay to get police approval for a home stay, and that I could only stay a day or two; others were unsure.
     Even the policemen themselves couldn't understand/clarify this stupid law. I like to believe that people don't need laws, that their instinct for compassion, left unhindered, would result in harmony.
     The uniformed cop, colored mud-puddle green, put the final touches on the last report. I got up to leave, when ...
     A colorless, empty guy - the boss of the place - gave me a $200 fine, for sleeping in a Lao person's home. Oh, no!
     I objected. I said, "Maybe the (insert name of whatever country I'm in) government are thieves?"
     "What!?" The boss's mouth slurped with rage. "Don't you say that! If you say that, I'll call your embassy. You'll be out of here!"
     Up to this point, he hadn't spoken English. It strained him to speak it, and his brow wrinkled differently with each syllable. Yet, he unleashed an assault of very sophisticated, beaurocratic jargon with the theme of: "You mistook the law."
     I figured I probably shouldn't press that button again.
     Regardless, I said I wouldn't pay the fine.
     It was Saturday. They had my passport. Kind Ang Song told me to go and get a hotel room for the weekend, then come back on Monday when my embassy could maybe help me. His optimism nearly pushed me into following his order.
     But, hadn't he told me, "Don't worry," already? And I wasn't going to pay them anything; why did we have to wait until Monday to settle that? And leaving my passport with them meant I was glued to Luang Prabang. Thank god I didn't listen to Ang Song!
     Maybe he was playing The Good Cop?
     Luckily, I had nowhere to go. I would stay right there, keeping several police station employees there on their weekend, until they either arrested me or gave me my passport.
     This situation was a small model of my greater efforts to "thrump" (live like a local) in Laos. I, as a thrumpkin, had found great difficulties in Laos, yes. But, as long as I - no matter how tough things got - refused to give up ... I must succeed! Similarly, if I just refused to pay the fine ... the police would eventually have to pardon it! Or, they could forceably take it from me, but that would make my earlier comment true.
     Beneath the station's overhead fans, I studied Lao comfortably. At around three p.m., Ang Song told me I could leave with my passport. The police acknowledged that I couldn't pay the fine. Their final efforts to get me to ask my parents for money had been unsuccessful. They had me sign a police report, saying I'd received a warning. I said, "Sorry." And I was out the door.
     A free man!
     Two hours later, a local college offered me a teaching position ...

So, I stayed in Luang Prabang.
     Two days later, I saw my little pal Ni. She was greeting a Japanese couple with "Konichiwa" and "Arigoto", and selling them one of her bracelets.
     Her big, dark face was in a quiet mood. "Are you angry at me?" I said. She said, "No."
     I asked about her parents. She said, "My-ee mom say, 'suuuprman not good."
     "Komlwat. (Policemen.) She say, 'dey only wan' muhney.'"
     I asked if they'd been made to pay any fines. She said, no. Whew. I was relieved.
     But, it was sad to know that Ni and I weren't going to be as good friends as we could've become. I said we'd have to get some food together the next time we run into each other.
     "Well ... I guess I'll go to my hotel room."

Modern O.

Thanks to Lu Baoming; and XingXay & his wife for rides in Laos!
Much thanks to Ni, her parents, & her three siblings for the place to stay!

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