I've had better....

Trip Start Feb 04, 2007
Trip End Mar 09, 2008

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Flag of Lao Peoples Dem Rep  ,
Friday, March 16, 2007

We were cycling around Luang Prabang.  Gorgeous place, situtated a little further up the Mekong.  Another perfect cycling town.  We were searching for Tamarind Restaurant which serves tasting plates of Laos food.  This way we could taste about 10 different dishes and all the proceeds go back to local charities. 

I stopped at a small intersection and smiled at a lady with a baby on her bicycle go by.  I just don't understand how their babies manage to hang onto the bikes.  I continued across the intersection.  Iain was a little further ahead as we'd agreed it must be this block that we had just ridden down.  The squiggle of a map said opposite the Wat and so it must be this street.

I'm not exactly sure what happened next.  My cheek was hot, burning.  There were lots of people shouting.  One guy was telling me to lie on my side.  Another was lifting my head.  Iain was touching my head. I didn't really care what everyone was saying - I just wanted to stay lying down.  Even though I had a face full of gravel I knew that any which way I moved would be even more painful than where I was at that moment.  The Dutch couple were arguing with a Japanese man who kept yelling out that he was a Doctor.  Iain was thrusting tissues to my face.  The Japanese man lifted my head into his lap and then I saw the pool of blood and realised something bad had happened.  [Remember: I am writing this now so all is OK  :) ].

There was more yelling and someone said that a Tuk Tuk driver who had stopped knew the way to the hospital.  I was starting to feel OK and stood up.  I was certain that whatever it was, I could fix it up with Band Aids.  I had brought heaps!  Even extra wide ones to help me adjust to my hiking boots.  There was no way I was going to Laos hospital after everything we had heard.  My mind leapt to blood transfusions, rusty needles and cats in the operating theatre.  

We were in the Tuk Tuk.  The entire population of Luang Prabang seemed to have come out to watch our departure.  Yes, all 26,000.  I said 'Kob Chai' to the Japanese doctor.  Later I realised he wasn't from Laos and probably wondered what the hell I was saying to him.  I was a bit confused. We were travelling through town so fast.  Dust was flying up and Iain was covering my face to make sure it didn't get into me.

We burst into the hospital with the Tuk Tuk guy yelling something in Laos.  We burst right in.  Right into the operating theatre. There was dirt outside and then a swinging door and then two operating beds. [I couldn't find the cats, but I just knew they were in there somewhere]...  There were two men lying on the beds.  One was sound asleep, the other was wearing ripped up clothes with a patch over his eye.  The doctor kicked him off the bed and he came and sat down opposite me.  The fog of shock had begun to dissipate and now I was just letting the tears stream down my face.  He looked at me and he also started to cry.  I feel very bad for him as he was obviously involved in a motorbike accident and had probably just lost his eye.  We both sat there, feeling sorry for ourselves.  Sobbing.

The Japanese doctor had talked about stitches.  On the way in, I was trying to tell Iain about those butterfly closures.  They are excellent little things which replace stitches entirely.  If people were going to make me get stitches, I wanted those things.

I was lying on the table and the doctor walked in and revved his hands "Motorbike?". "No, bicycle".  He spoke in Laos to his assistant who seemed disinterested and wanted to get back to whatever she was missing on TV.  Iain was suddenly there, he was rubbing my arm and telling me it would all be OK.  I was so glad that he managed to say exactly what I was thinking but didn't quite have the energy to ask. "Stitches?" "Yes" "Do you have anaesthetic?" "Not necessary".

Not necessary!  Are you kidding me?  Not necessary.  I am in enough pain already.  I don't want more things shoved into my face without something. Anything.  Even brandy would do. 
I thought "keep it together.  Concentrate on his mole.  All I was looking at were the 8 long, black hairs growing out of the mole on his chin.  Stay focussed on them.  And besides, Iain was here by my side.  Iain, who normally baulks at the thought of the sight of blood was here.  He was doing well.  It would all be OK. 

It was all going OK. I squealed a little bit.  But stayed really focussed on the hairs. I was squeezing Iain's hand hard.  That is, until he said "I have to go.  I have to vomit" and promptly walked outside and started to retch noisily.  Its funny.  As long as you don't see yourself in that sort of situation,  you don't see the wound or the blood, you don't think it is really that bad.  That is, until the person who is staring intently at you, holding your hand, needs to go and throw up.  Immediately, my brain moved from "all OK. all OK" to "oh my god, this must look disgusting. I'm dying!".  I started crying.  The doctor mumbled something in Laos and the nurse came to make sure the tears didn't get into the wounds...

Anyway.. after all that.  It was 3 stiches in my chin, two chipped teeth and two grazes across one whole side of my face that makes the locals look at me tragically and children look extremely frightened - I am fine.  I can't explain what happened.  I don't know myself.  Iain didn't see it but he thinks I just fell over.  Just fell off my bike.  Before he contaminates this entry I am getting my two cents in.  My bike fell to the left and all the bruises all over my body are on my right. Both chipped teeth are on my right, my grazes are on my right.  I have no idea what happened but it was painful and fast. [And before you ask, yes I can ride a bike]. 

After the excitement of the day, I thought I would do something a little more low key.  I logged in to find that my parent's dog just died of cancer.  Extremely upsetting.

We had a late dinner and I sat there tearing up about Fluffy with bandages across my face and the visible bits of me getting blacker as the grazes started to form.  I'd definitely had better days.  Iain interrupted my misery to comment that on the plus side, the entire population of Laos probably didn't think that I was a crazy wife beater.... :)

- - - - -

Claudine. Gravity. Natural enemies.

You know when a car is operated by a non-male that focusing on other items can lead to unplanned lane changes and vertigo for the passenger. Changing the radio, looking at a house, then oh look, didn't we mount the curb nicely?

Accurate reports how Claudie came to crash will result in divorce, but I would encourage faithful readers to note that she herself acknowledged she was "looking for a restaurant" at the time. Amazingly, her hands never came off the handlebars, nor her feet off the pedals. And in all seriousness, it was a sickening sound and a scary few minutes.

Fortunately, the Chinese Government has built a Friendship Hospital in Luang Prabang. Friendship Buildings are everywhere, and i really like the whole sentiment of "we're kind of sorry about killing hundreds of thousands of your people, I hope this makes up for it." However, no one has yet built Friendship Road-To-The-Hospital, which proved for an interesting ride out.

On reaching the hospital i was sternly but discreetly asked "insurance?". I assured the doctor yes, and he proceeded most professionally. The bill was US$15.

There is a thoughtful sign in town that offers Q&A for tourists - focussing on 'why do I get charged more than the locals for everything', and it provides a sensible answer in saying that if you too want to live 10 to a room, without electricity or running water, and with a high likelihood of death if you get anything worse that appendicitis, then yes, you can have local prices. We read this sign about 20 minutes before Claude got to sample their medical care.

Long term readers may know I struggle with the sight of blood. And I struggle to separate pride for holding it together all the way to the hospital with an ordinary performance once i got there. A bit of skin under her chin was hanging down, like she could stick two tongues out at me. That cut had generated a LOT of blood (my first action was to rub all over her face thinking she had a much worse cut). And of course, I couldn't tell her. The doctor had said 'two stitches', and as he completed the second one I felt free to release the needs for my insides to travel to the outsides. And then, realising a third would be needed, he looked up with a big smile and said "plus one for free".

As we sat in the surgery as formalities were completed and drugs dispensed the doctor looked concerned. As Claude rechecked her wounds for a second it became quickly apparent the doctior was concerned about me now. Quite pale. Icy sweat. Smell of death.

While Claude rested in our hotel room, I went to fetch the bikes (stored by a lady next to where it all took place). On bringing one bike back to the guesthouse, i explained to the proprietor that my wife had been in an accident, and I would go and get the second bike shortly. "OH MY GOD!" he exclaimed, tears welling up in his hitherto stern, unflinching face, "OH MY GOD!!" he re-iterated, struggling to come to terms with the scale of what may have occurred "is... is... IS BIKE OKAY?".

After a tough day, we went to a beautiful riverside restaurant. I had asked Claude not to wreck our run of luck with food on a prior blog entry, which of course has led to a torturous 24 hours up to this point as my stomach rejected anything that wasn't bread or weak tea (fine now). Who would have thought fried sun dried buffalo and a side of Maekong river weed would disagree with my system so thoroughly? The buffalo was like a good jerky, btw, and remains recommended with a Thai style chilli and fish sauce accompaniment.

Our journey to Luang Prabang remains the highlight. The hills are wild, sheer and spectacular. The  winding road is dotted with Hmong villages that barely cling to the side of the road. And we got to see traditional agriculture. From what we could deduce the key crop they produce is smoke.

Yes. Fire is the one tool used extensively. In Luang Prabang visibility is only a few hundred metres mostly due to the fires we saw lit for about 200km of our journey. You may think that setting fires to remove all vegetation from a steep mountain landscape may lead to landslides, but we only saw evidence of that about once per kilometre. Traditional farmers: slow learners. They were growing bananas by the way. So many bananas that they have basically no value and can be had free at a number of places. 

We went to Luang Prabang Museum yesterday (out of the sun for the grazed and battered/ good W.C. facilities for others). It was superbly presented, lavishly decorated, and made you realise just why the monarch was never heard from again when the Communists took over in 1975. Everyone starves, and you live like a, well, like a king.

The Palace comprised gifts from governments around the world. Australia did not excel itself, thank you very much Prime Minister Harold Holt, by offering two ugly boxes and a paperweight with opals on the lid (also offered to unsuccessful contestants on Laos Sale of the Century), plus a boomerang. The boomerang looked well worn and chipped at both ends, so at least the monarch took his toys out for a spin. The Russians gave lapel pins, the British tea services, the French silverware, and the Americans gave them an enormous extended middle finger by supplying a model of the Apollo Lunar Module. Ha ha. Look what we can do when we're not bombing the crap out of you. I couldn't help but hope they had at least supplied it in kit form so the king got to glue it all together himself. (There was also a silver pen set from JFK that I would be keen to relocate to Sydney given the chance.)

However, the Museum had also chosen to host an ill-conceived photo exhibition. It promised, teary eyed, to allow the local peasantry, the poor, the sick, the dispossessed, indeed "all those touched by the scourge of globalisation", the chance to finally step forward and express themselves. And every single artist contained within it was a New York or London resident who spoke of their journey to Luang Prabang and how it touched them. Not sure how much self expression the locals got when Grandma's upholstery got nicked to be incorporated into some rich Westerner's art as 'inspiration'. In no case was a local mentioned as the artist. 

Maybe less of a scourge if they could sell all those bananas - they're small and sweet (and worth about $4 a kilo in the West) in a country where you otherwise make $300 a year. Maybe the New York Art Community owe them that Friendship Road.  
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