Land of a Million Saibaidee’s

Wednesday, December 9, 5:03 PM
playing Lao catch-up in the Sydney airport, Australia

The people of Laos are so friendly. Everywhere I went, biking or walking, folks would say Hi. And not in the annoying way they did in India, where every man on the street, most of the time without even making any eye contact, would shout “Hello my friend! Where are you from? What is your name?” (You can probably sense my lasting sensitivity to it, being as it happened hundreds of times every day and I quickly grew tired of it.) In Laos, it also happened a million times, but I liked it. Slowly pedaling away up through countless hilltribe villages, I would always have enough breath to reciprocate felicitations with many people all the way. They weren’t soliciting for information, or trying to butter me up or ransack my wallet… they were just saying Hi, and with Big smiles. Everybody is amazing when they smile. Like a tenderized piece of meat, I grew quite accustomed to making friendly with everyone. It was sooo cute.

Of course, I had sa-bai-dee’s with the children. Like packs of pants-less jellybeans, they would bound from their homes, waving frenetically, chasing me down the street. It was adorable how, especially with the little ones, our exchange would always set them running! I sa-bai-dee’d with school kids, K-12, who in groups never turned tough on me, which I found totally confounding. No snide remarks amongst themselves, masking the insecurities of youth? Come to think of it, Laos kids never acted “Cool”… they just were. Schoolgirls would of course (after a slight hesitation) sa-bai-dee too, and would then crack up in giggles. Adults always sa-bai-dee’d, no surprise there, and most of my elders sa-bai-dee’d as well. I loved it with them, as they might draw it waaaay out… Sa-baiiii-deeeeeee!!! (going way up with it at the end.)

This was often the case especially with the really old, leathery-faced women walking in groups from the fields, puffing on their long silver pipes… which reminds me of my mini-soliloquy on GRANDMAS… Not so much as in Nepal, but many a tiny little old lady would be doing her labour, carrying big bundles of wood or chopping away, on the side of the road. Such thin little legs with dark skin hanging loosely, and gnarled old feet with toes spread wide from a lifetime of really using them (in sandals or without), I felt a little bad for them. Sure, they lived with their three generations of offspring who help take care of them, but they weren’t enjoying any retirement either. I imagine my Grandma, taking it easy now, and God Bless Her, for she earned it, spawning her four children and raising still many more little ones from them. Her life’s work is never done, but thank goodness she’s not chopping wood that she just dragged out of the hills.

I was happy that women could extend their greetings at all after seeing the restrictive social codes in place on the other side of the Indian ocean… and also that I got smiles (more power-ups) all day which fortified me with positive energy. Always inspired and grateful for their example, their simple and sincere salutations did much to make me feel welcome in most every town and village, so I never felt alone, or like an outsider, or degraded (as I sometimes do when I’m being objectified as a rich foreigner.)

This is all so amazing to me because people aren’t this friendly where I’m from. Which reminds me of a conversation I had with a Russian guy who was also Couchsurfing at Kay and Luisa’s place in Oudomxay. He was blowing his horn about how he hitchhikes and sleeps in the homes of many village people, how I must try this too… which is fine except his attitude came off very self-righteous. He did say something I liked about Russian people, however, that most are scared to leave their homes, let alone talk to or invite a stranger inside them. This I could understand, as I feel my culture is the same way, and he had a point about the folks out here Not Being Scared. I think he nailed it, why everyone is so cool… they’re just not fearsome. When people inquire about or share that they’re worried about my safety, I’m so happy to report that Home is the scariest place I’ve ever been. Okay, enough for now.

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