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Lao wedding.

In the hands of Lao police.

I am in Vientiane in my favorite café “Mekong Riverside” with breakfast in front of me. Two young ladies in police uniform lift their beer mugs at a table across the hall. And it is the middle of a working day! They notice my look and sit up. They stop smiling. A girl with two stars on her shoulder straps stands up and goes towards me. I thought she wanted to check my documents. Lao police in the face of a pretty young lady smiled to me friendly:

— Hi, farang!

— Hi, I’m Chris.

— And I’m Noe. Come join us, it’s more fun together!

— Yes, Madam Lieutenant.

— Where are you from?

— I’m from Russia. And what are you celebrating while on duty?

— No, we aren’t. We are just relaxing after a night shift.

— Today is the wedding of my brother! — said Noe. We are going there. Do you want to come with us?

And sure I did! We drank our cold beer and went out. Laotians started their motorbikes parked on Fa Ngum Street stretched along the Mekong River. In twenty minutes we left the northern suburbs of Vientiane and headed for the town of Pkhonhon.

What is a wedding for?

It seemed like the wedding began early in the morning.

The party was at its height as dozens of not too sober eyes looked surprised to see a foreign guest. There was all kind of food on the tables: papaya salads, chopped roasted pork, gluey rice noodles and of course “Beerlao” and Lao-Lao [1] . A forty-year old woman invited me to the table with nine more people: men, women and a couple of young ladies.

A man in a traditional shirt with bright ornament was plying among the tables. He had his sleeves slightly rolled up and tied with a ribbon for people to put money there.

— This is for the newly weds. We don’t touch money with our hands, or else they would have no luck. – commented a man sitting to the left from me.

— And where are the bride and the groom?

— They aren’t here; they are already in their bedroom. And we are celebrating and wishing them happiness.

— Have they left right after the ceremony?

— There was no ceremony. They just decided to be wife and husband, so they invited everybody from the village to their wedding. Everyone gathered, the newly weds stayed here for some time, we wished them happiness and then they wanted to spend some time in private. This is a very common way. Why else would people need a wedding?

Finding happiness.

With every shot of lao-lao the air became more and more passionate. The man sitting to the left from me delicately stroke my leg with his hand. No way! I gave him a formidable look, and the representative of Lao gay culture understood it very well, pretended nothing happened and sat at another table in a few minutes.

— Chris, go with me, my grandmother wants to see you, — said Noe.

The grandmother was dry and wrinkled but had a very clear and harmonic look.

— Sabadi [2] ! — I greeted her and she smiled.

— She is ninety four. She has been living for a long time… Give your hand to her — Noe asked.

The lady tied a ribbon on my wrist, whispered something and smiled.

— What does this mean?

— She wants you to be happy. Something good will happen, you’ll find your happiness, if you tie a ribbon on your right hand. To get rid of something bad tie it on your left hand. Like an illness or sadness. You gave her your right hand.

We returned to the table and I saw everyone drunk. Guests were leaving, and many of them were staggering like sailors after a long sail. I realized that the place has lost its attraction and wished everybody to have a good evening.

Different people were inviting me to sleep over at their places. But I had Van Vieng [3] , the village of relaxation and “Friends”, waiting for me. I went out on the road and snagged a bus going north in ten minutes.
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Chris Van der Valke, Laos 2007.

Published in «Traveler’s Diary» of Autumn 2009, and other magazines and newspapers.

Translated from Russian to English by «Traveler’s Diary» magazine. The original full Russian text is here.

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Notes of author:

[1] Lao-Lao – a traditional rice home-brew of Laos, 40% vol.

[2] Sabadi – a Lao for “Hello”

[3] Vang-Vieng is an iconic village of backpackers (free travelers) in all bars of which sitcom “Friends” is always shown.


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