"China 2010" story # 26

Luang Prabang, Laos           October 22, 2010

-- Lao Law Lesson, Part II.
     -- It is illegal to smoke marijuana. If you're a foreign tourist who gets caught smoking it, or if you're a foreigner who's with someone that's smoking it, the police will try to give you a $400 fine. If you're a "khonlao" (Lao person) smoking marijuana, the police will probably just let you be.
     -- It is illegal for foreign tourists to invite locals into their hotel rooms.
     -- It's illegal for tourists to have sex with "khonlao". Being a tourist myself, I first considered the effect this rule must have on tourists. Then, even though I'm not a proponent of sex, I realized this law also confines the poor Lao souls who seek romance and adventure. In my opinion, if the Lao government wants to try to justify this law, they could argue they're trying to protect their tourists from having accidental one-night-stands with lady boys. --
     Unfortunately, I broke all these laws with Noy. The police entered my room, threw me in jail, and that's the reason why I didn't write a story for a month.
     No, no, I'm just kidding, of course! I didn't write because I was tired.
     I wouldn't do those three things - not even with tall Noy and her cute nose, squished like a mango. Well ... I might do the second one. But, I didn't. I'd turned over a new leaf! The Lao law was gonna start calling me, Mr. Docile and Obedient.
     For the record, here's what really happened with Noy ...

She and Mim were to come over the day after we'd met, at two p.m. They came early, revealing excitement.
     I was excited, too, but I was anxious about how the heck Noy and I were going to talk. Also, the girls looked great again, and I was wearing a wrinkled t-shirt. Noy looked happily at me, smiling her cartoonish smile. I sat them down outside my home (Backpackers Hostel) and showed them pictures of Michigan.
     I tried speaking Lao to Noy. "Meuwanni jao maolao bo?" (Were you drunk yesterday?)
     She nodded her head, yes.
     I was surprised the girls didn't ask me any questions, like: "How long will you stay in Laos, Justin, my knight in shining armor, my strong, brave love tiger?"
     A hostel employee, the sagging-Buddha-faced young man, joined us outside. Noy and Mim - wise females, at age twenty-four - grilled this boy with questions about me in Lao. Although I didn't pay much attention to it at the time, the hostel employee seemed uneasy and guarded around the girls.
     And so, the girls and I went to the market. Noy, with her black hair straight like a ghost, led us around. Saleswomen stood quietly beside their stalls, and some of them took naps. We passed through the vegetable stalls, which smelled of food that had been dropped to the ground.
     I, in fact, came to this market almost every day. I would buy peanuts, cookies, and sweet, little bananas. Why? They all had incredibly high calorie-to-cost ratios. However, the cookies weren't very healthy. I also regularly ate:
     "feu" (pork-and-noodle soup); the soup came with a plate of green beans, zinging peppers, minty leaves, and a red chili sauce I could mix in
     fresh fruit shakes, made with coconut milk; I usually chose tarty mango, suspiciously vomit-like papaya, icy watermelon, or the richer, blander "dragonfruit" (a purple, spiky ball that's white with black specks inside)
     fried breadpuffs; or else, brown sugar and rice moistened with coconut milk, wrapped in leaves
     But, Noy hadn't come to get food. She'd come to get a ring!
     Noy led us through covered lanes surrounded by book stalls and shoe shops. She wasn't paying any attention nor talking to me. I didn't like the way this date was heading. I asked Mim some questions, finding out that Noy lived with her family, and Mim lived alone with her dad. I asked what work Noy did, and the girls laughed, without answering.
     In a clothing stall, Noy saw a pink, zip-up sweatshirt she wanted. She asked the price. 60,000 kip. The girls told me to pay the saleswoman. What!? I had already, at this point, confided in Mim that I didn't have much money. "Only the ring," I explained what I'd be buying. Noy bought the sweatshirt herself.
     We arrived at the jewelry booth. Noy turned her back to me as she studied the rings. She picked a ring, that was made out of a sturdy metal like iron, shaped like a four-leafed clover. At 80,000 kip ($10), it was 30,000 more than I wanted to spend. Noy spotted the ring's matching, four-leafed clover necklace, and she wanted that too. The total: 240,000 kip. The girls told me to hand it over.
     I felt a bit trapped. For a long time, I was silent. I said:
     "I think ... maybe ... we should know each other better before I buy Noy a ring."
     Hmmm, thought the girls. Mim asked if I could buy only the ring, in that case. I reluctantly agreed. Noy bought herself the more-expensive necklace.
     We silently returned to the girls' motorbikes. Mim told me they had to go somewhere, but that they'd meet me at eight. They took me to a university of open-walled, wooden classrooms, where I liked to write.
     Hmmm, I thought. I hadn't even gotten to put the ring on Noy's finger! I hadn't even gotten to ride beside her on the motorbike! (I'd been demoted to Mim's scooter.) Finally, she said, "Khawp jai hlaai!" (Thanks a lot!). Her brown eyes became sunny.
     We kissed good-bye, but her mouth was dry like sand.

They didn't come at eight. It was all over. I wasn't very disappointed.
     But, one question still nagged me.
     Why had the sagging-Buddha-faced guy been so uneasy upon seeing Noy and Mim? What did he know that I didn't?
     Was Noy (gasp) a lady boy!?
     I mean, she was beautiful in every way; but, she did have a case of - what Jerry Seinfeld would call - "Man Hands".
     Hostel owner Shampoo revealed that he'd seen me with Noy and recognized her. "She's a good girl for one night, but not to marry," said the thirty-year-old partier.
     I said, "What? What!? Are you saying she's a prostitute? Is she a prostitute!?"
     Hmmm. Both Noy and Mim had a struggling squeakiness to their voices. And they had flat faces. Were these traits I'd noticed in other prostitutes I'd met? I liked to think so.
     But probably not.
     When I'd asked Mim about her work, she said she'd recently gotten an English degree from the private college near C Star Pub, and she was searching for work. Maybe they weren't prostitutes.
     I told sympathetic-eyed Deuan about my day. The boy said, "I don't like it. In my village, the girls are happy just to be with you. But, in towns, they only want boys who can buy them many things." Uh oh.
     Well, at least I'd learned something on the day. If you don't work much, then taking girls shopping will eat up your money quickly. And then you won't even be able to afford lousy cookies. And then you'll die.
     I hoped I'd be working soon.

Modern Oddyseus.

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