Suddenly, duty calls. There are times when one must postpone the eradication of rural poverty, including one’s own, in places such as the Bolaven Plateau, and make a buck. Or, I should say, justify the bucks that are already being made. The nearly bomb-proof crapper is, then, on the back burner for a while, as is my hydropower installation and, well, everything, really. Tomorrow, Saturday, March 3, I fly from Vientiane to Bangkok. Then, after pacing around the airport for 9 or so hours, I fly Eva direct to Vienna, Austria, where I’ll begin freezing my balls off. Then it’s to Slovakia, Germany, Switzerland, and back to Germany. But that’s not the whole of it. Then it’s Frankfurt, Germany, to none other than Tulsa, Oklahoma. I know, the excitement is almost excruciating, you must think. From Tulsa, however, I get a chance to visit my family in Massachusetts and, since I’ll be there for two weeks, I can annoy them to my heart’s content.
On the eve of a trip that will take me back to the United States, a place that I haven’t been to since the very beginning of the Bush administration, before 9/ll, actually, you’re right if you think I may be “contemplative,” to say the least. But before these infrequent if a bit freakish overseas business trips, I’m always a bit, well, silly. This year’s silliness involves running, and running shoes, in particular. Since I was last in the States, a movement has taken place, entirely without my knowledge. It’s called minimalist, or barefoot (nearly) running. I’m in the middle of a book called “Born to Run” by Christopher McDougall. It’s a fascinating bit of non-fiction (non-fiction is always stranger than fiction) and it’s cool how the whole running shoe industry got it wrong. I see this in the pharmaceutical and processed food industries, as well, but that’s another matter. So, I’ve got an insatiable foot fetish at the moment. I wonder how many jugs of beer I’ll be forced to drink if I show up at a Hash House Harriers run in something like these. . .
It was in Vienna, in fact, when I was doing sort of the same tour, in late Autumn of 2010, that I was overcome by another, stranger, silliness. I felt like I’d missed some of those rights of passage that other men/boys have been lucky enough to have. I’ve never been in a fist fight, and, to my mother’s great dismay, I never got a university degree. But, after days, if not weeks (I don’t remember) of research on the internet, and with many hours to kill in Vienna before my boss and one more guy showed up, I proceeded to a quiet part of the city. The entrance to the establishment was discrete, to say the least. With butterflies in my stomach, I entered. A kindly receptionist offered me a menu and duly noted my intention. Inquiries to “specialists” were made and, within moments, I was ushered into a small room with a raised bed, of sorts. I was instructed by a young, quite pretty, in fact, specialist to remove my trousers and underwear, but I could keep my shirt on. There is something about keeping the shirt on that exacerbates the utter nakedness below. Anyway, the service that she provided was very much business as usual, for her. My naughty bits were sanitized and, gradually, every hair was ripped from my genital area. The specialist’s English wasn’t very good, but she managed a “You’re very brave man.” I appreciated that, as I held back the tears, as I’d read about how some men undergoing what their website now calls a Brazilian Hollywood Cut scream and run out, not forgetting their trousers on the way, I hope.
I don’t remember, completely, anyway, how getting a portion of my pubic hair stuck in my zipper one day escalated to this admittedly bizarre overreaction. I suffered certain consequences, however, as you’d expect. No, not itching or anything like that. That waxed feeling is quite superb, actually, and I can understand how one cannot stop after surviving the first one. Later in the trip we stopped in Baden-Baden, the famous German hot spring resort (yes, this was purely business). This was after a visit to Carlsbad (Karlovy Vary), the famous hot springs in the Czech Republic (yes, this was purely business, too). From a Japanese point of view, Carlsbad was pathetic. Old people with varying degrees of rheumatism walking from spring to spring with a silly looking cup in their hands and DRINKING the hot water. Where were the baths? Anyway, my punishment for doing silly things awaited me in Baden-Baden where we discovered enough free time to visit Friedrichsbad Roman-Irish Bath. Although the Japanese are quite accustomed to public bathing in hot springs, sometimes mixed gender bathing, they always have a small towel to hide their naughty bits. Friedrichsbad Roman-Irish Bath is, on certain days of the week, mixed gender, as it was when we went, and they do not allow anything other than as-you-were-born dress, including a no-towel policy. So, during dinner the evening before this adventure, around dessert time, I felt compelled to warn them of my truly baby-like appearance which they would undoubtedly notice, anyway. I anticipated a lot of chuckling and a bit of admiration for my bravery, but instead I got some serious looks of disbelief. I wasn’t prepared with any statistics about male waxing of the genital area in Japan, nor did I have quite the vocabulary needed. I ordered another beer with a strong schnapps chaser. I had plenty of time to drink them both before my boss replied, “You did what?”
So, there you have it. I’m sure you will all be glad that I won’t be writing again, probably, until I return, in nearly a month’s time. In the meantime, I have packed and prepared, in my foot-related way, for my journey. A truly wonderful thing about Vientiane is the great number of Vietnamese women offering foot and nail care. My foot, as you can see, is about as big as her knee downward. Unfortunately the lady with the porous rock, who can remove about a 500g of dead skin from the soles of both your feet in about 10 minutes, has returned to Vietnam. I won’t be waxing on this trip, philosophically or otherwise, as 35 euros will go a long way towards a pair of minimalist running shoes.