I sometimes wonder if there is a Lao word for “progress.” It seems to be a concept quite beyond them. But, to be fair, even if they don’t have a word for “progress,” they probably don’t have one for “depression,” “unhappiness,” etc. So, it’s a wash. . . I’d been forewarned that the access road and my little retirement home “wasn’t quite completed.” Billy spent some time in Vientiane because a family member was sick, dying, perhaps, and he’s got family in the National Assembly, so, yes, by all means, take good care of them.
But my not quite completed retirement home was a good bit less completed than I expected. It seemed a bit, well, more “airy” than I desired. Like, all four walls, ceiling and floor, open. In fact, if a pile of logs had, for whatever reason, just fallen from the sky, then that is roughly what you would find. But what a view! Okay, fair enough, it’s not a sheer 14 meter drop, but it would be a bumpy ride down to the bottom. So, fully expecting to spend the night in my little house, I reluctantly went into town and checked into a guest house.
Progress, if the word exists here, must be preceded by “painfully” or “excruciatingly” slow. Two full days later, I was determined to sleep in my unfinished retirement home. But I was thoroughly enjoying it all. I mean, the day before, when I was waiting for the crew to show up, this guy and his wife showed up, chatted with me despite my broken Lao, then proceeded through my land into the jungle. Later I heard the sound of a chainsaw, and I watched a huge tree fall from the cousin’s land. What’s that all about, I thought. But, of course, it was my floor. By the end of the second day there was neither a roof nor anything resembling walls, so I slept at a guest house again.
By the third day, there was something resembling a roof and a floor, so I was determined to stay there. This was, after all, an important moment for me. I’d had it played out in my mind for weeks. So I put up my mosquito netting and laid down my freshly purchased bedding. I was resolute about spending my first night there alone. I mean, I was a boyscout at one time in my life, and I had the advantage of having a cooler full of Beer Lao. I had it all planned. A big fire, with seating for a number of my friends, reserved seating, of course, as I knew they could not attend. I was going to put the seats around the fire, take photos, etc., but, of course, my crew wouldn’t leave me alone. They just don’t understand that “I want to be left alone!” for Christ’s sake.
And so it was that Billy and the Cousin from Pakse suddenly showed up. I’d been mucking about for a few minutes trying to get the big fire going using kindling and such, and of course the Cousin from Pakse, assuming I haven’t got a clue how to do anything, has a piece of rubber inner tube with him. I mean, give me a liter of diesel fuel to pour over it, and I’ll get it going. Billy and I both complained about the smell. I took the time to show Billy what I intended to do with the stream crossing, and we discussed important matters, such as how beautiful Vietnamese girls are, as Billy had lived there for 6 years. It was then that Billy realized, though I’d told him many times, that the only useful skill I have is speaking Japanese. He threw at me a “Good morning!” and a “Good night!” and a “Young Japanese girls are very pretty, aren’t they?” to which we could not find any disagreement, because you know all these things if you’ve helped the Japanese build bridges build bridges, which I guess he must have done.
I eventually drove them off and began making dinner. Of the most important things in life, I’d forgotten one of the least of them, a glass. The lack of importance is due to the fact that almost anything holds liquid. So I used a noodle bowl. In fact, I think I’ll always use the noodle bowl to drink beer. It wasn’t actually so cold that night, so I remember very little after that, as I slept so well, with just the sound of the waterfall beside me.
By the next night, I almost had walls. I mean, it looks like I have all the walls, but actually the wall on the far end wasn’t up yet. But, what an effect. There is something about sitting around a fire. Something very primitive, I suppose. Anyway, this is my retirement home. It almost seems fine to me.