"China 2010" story # 25

Luang Prabang, Laos           October 17, 2010

But, it wasn't just the villages of Laos that made me fall in love with the country.
     I was also very happy to return to Luang Prabang Town, because its young people really knew how to party. Even though their government imposed an 11:30 p.m. curfew on their discotechs, and even though the people didn't like to go out before 10:00 p.m., their nightclubs were hot, seven nights a week. It didn't take a mathematician nor a meteorologist to realize the Lao clubs were better than the "falang" (foreign tourist) bars - which were only lukewarm four nights a week.
     Yet, few falangs and even less meteorologists made it out to Luang Prabang's fancy, spacious Daofa Club. The first time I went there, a young band played clumsily and loudly on-stage. By the time they were finishing, though, glassy and glittering outbursts of guitar fed a wandering, rocking song no one wanted to end. Short, Lao girls stood around tables full of alcohol, rocking their waists back-and-forth and yelling to the music. "Yay! I'm so glad I'm in Laos!" I thought. I was so happy to be in a country that appreciated rock music.
     But, this was trendy Daofa Club. When its concert ended, a deejay began playing hip-hop and popular music. A tall guy who looked Dutch (not me; the other "falang" in the club) got up and danced with some welcoming Lao youths. And I got up - still happy - to make my exit and walk the two dark kilometers to my home near the touristy part of town.

Not long afterwards, I was again making the long walk to the Lao clubs. Suddenly, a cute voice yelped behind me, and a motor-scooter carrying three small women swerved to a stop beside me. What's this? Girls??? All right!
     Only, something wasn't right. The splashes of long hair sliding down their heads seemed a bit crooked. Their body parts, in make-up and jean skirts, seemed square and hard. Their high-pitched voices sounded scratchy. Oh no. They were ... Southeast Asian ...
     Lady boys!

"Well, I'm not dumb, but I can't understand
why she walked like a woman and talked like a man.
Oh, my Lola." - The Kinks ("Lola")

In mid-September, this wasn't my first sighting.
     -- Flashback: to early September. It was the night that little Ni had invited me to sleep in her family's village home.
     Just outside their home, leaning in the window in order to talk to me, stood a large and plump hair-dresser. She wore a pink-and-blue mumu dress, and long hair on her squarish head. Something didn't seem right. She rested her meaty forearms on the windowsill without grace. "She" kept insisting I come sleep in her house.
     "It's okay. I'm a girl, you know."
     Containing my horror, I politely turned him down. Ten-year-old Ni, whose coffee skin rarely showed emotion, yelled a celebratory "Yay!" because I'd chosen her family's house over the lady boy's. ... as if the lady boy had ever stood a chance!
     Two days later, I saw Ni's neighbor standing outside of its hair salon with her wig off, revealing short hair above his dress. --
     Back to mid-September. The three lady boys expressed that they wanted to take me to Daofa on their bike.
     I told them I'd just walk. But, I felt bad for turning down such awkward and vulnerable people, so I assured them: "Kawy ja bung pwokjao nay Daofa." (We'll see each other in Daofa.) Happily, they drove off.
     Ha ha! I'd fooled them! Poor lady boys ...
     I walked to Daofa Club but kept walking.
     You see, recently, a muddy-skinned Lao boy, with a guitar in his hands and a mohawk, had told me about the club beyond Daofa. I even had to pass through a short stretch of pitch-dark, empty countryside to get there. And I reached C Star ... the rock bar.
     Casually dressed, warm-weather Asians stood around tables full of beer, shouting to the music, in the dank and dimly lit bar. Lao and Thai rock played on the speakers. The songs unhurriedly progressed. Low-pitched singers wailed wisely like tribesmen. I bought myself a water and happily sat down.
     A boy, small but business-man confident in a Black Polo Shirt, soon welcomed me to the bar using the friendly Lao tradition of "cheers!"ing drinks. (It wasn't the tradition to drink water, though.) An older gentleman - possibly the youngster's Ill-Behaved Uncle - waved his glass of Beer Lao at me, from their table behind me.
     Black Polo Shirt partially introduced me to two pretty girls wearing white jean jackets, drinking and dancing at the table next to me. They were the most made-up girls in the club, except for the lady boys. (The lady boys tended to wear more eye-shadow and be taller than other girls, but have broader shoulders, squarer walks, and gruffer voices.)
     The shorter of my neighbors came over and, speaking great English, introduced herself as Mim. Her soft beak's voice had a silly, wacky tang to it; and her squooshy, flat face made me want to poke it like a plum pie.
     But, it was the taller girl who, speaking no English, introduced herself as "Noy" (small) and invited me to join their table. A tall guy who looked Dutch (me; the only falang in the club) began spinning her and her horseshoe smile around in circles. She rested her straight, black hair and backside against my chest, and we danced closely for the next hour.
     Pretty Mim paraded around the room. She often danced with Black Polo Shirt. Noy was visibly disgusted by him. His only dance move was to jab his pelvis up-and-down at steep angles. He and Ill-Behaved Uncle often did this move a short distance from one another, grinning proudly and enjoying the night.
     Mim and Noy went to the bathroom. At this time, a Thai song came on, and its brown-sugar guitar beat pushed along a five-minute jam that made my chest want to explode with love for Southeast Asia.
     Noy returned. Since embracing and caressing always make people feel more warmly towards one another, our night of close dancing had already caused me to have feelings for her.
     She took a ring off her finger and said something to me in Lao. What? Mim translated. Noy was asking if I'd buy her a ring tomorrow. What!?
     At first, I was terrified. What would that symbolize? How could poor I afford it?
     But, then, I looked at my big-brown-eyed Lao sweetheart. And I opted to view the situation with foolish optimism. Yeah, it could be fun. I could buy her a cheap ring at the market; she could buy me one. They wouldn't represent a commitment - just a momento of our friendship. Besides, what else was I gonna do on a date with someone I couldn't talk to?
     And then, for the first time all night, Noy let me kiss her. And her pettite, wet lips opened like a whirlpool.
     Around this time, I got pulled away from her by a young guy. Why? He wanted to introduce me to a table full of lady boys.

"Girls will be boys, and boys will be girls
it's a mixed-up, muddled-up, shook-up world
except for Lola."

I got out of there. ... As if I'd prefer to spend time with lady boys than with Noy!
     The 11:30 p.m. curfew neared. A barman brought Noy the bill for her and Mim's beers. The girls handed the bill to Black Polo Shirt. He looked at it, shrugged an "I can't help you" look, and consulted Ill-Behaved Uncle. Ill-Behaved Uncle came to me and pointed at it. 80,000 kip. $10. He instructed me to pay it.
     I felt a lot of pressure on me. I might offend Noy if I didn't pay it. Nevertheless, I told them I didn't have enough money.
     Noy was forced to take back the bill. She pulled money out of her purse and handed it to the barman. A few seconds later, she faced me with her flat face and smiled her horseshoe smile. I felt relieved. She and Mim and I were among the last people to leave the club.
     I got on the back of Noy's motor-bike. Mim followed, as we went to take me home. I knew of a Peruvian girl who'd died in a motorcycle accident only weeks before. I hoped we'd be safe.
     We went around the first curve, passing through dark, countryside jungle. What was that up ahead? A small crowd stood in the road. They surrounded something. Something horrible ...
     Lying face up, an older gentleman closed his eyes in the road, with a red spot the size of an orange on his forehead. Dead.
     It was Ill-Behaved Uncle.
     And the silence woke us up.
     Noy's motorcycle decelerated, and she slowed it to a stop with her feet. I heard a girls' sniffling. But, in fact, neither Noy nor Mim was crying.
     Among the crowd, Black Polo Shirt stood closest to the dead man.
     We felt humble in the darkness. I was mystified at the fact that the night could've been so good for me, yet so bad for him.
     The girls and I drove ahead to the first police post and told a policeman to hurry to the scene of the accident. Then, we finished taking me home.
     I kissed Noy "good night". I really liked being close to this soft girl. And the fact that she and I couldn't understand each other made me feel more compassion for her.
     Was I falling for her?

To be continued.

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