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Almost a disaster of miniscule proportions

First of all, let me preface this letter with a note on the very real
disaster of gargantuan proportions that has rocked this part of the
world.  I, like all of you, have been relegated to watching the
unbelievable destruction unfold on TV and computer screens, and in
newspapers.  Though in my case, here in Bangkok, a little closer to the
action.  Since everyone here, local and foreigner alike, knows someone
who was down in the affected area, there is much anxious nail biting and
e-mail scanning daily.  Also, several relief drives, notably for blood
(which, thanks to an obnoxious but harmless stomach bug I've picked up I
can't contribute to), have been set up across the city to assist.  

When it hit, I was on a bus in Laos with my friend and his family.
Landlocked Laos, where we didn't feel so much as a shiver while the rest
of the region was being battered and torn.  Bangkok is likewise inland,
so I have been prefectly fine and without any major disruptions to my
plans.  My flight to Calcutta will go ahead as scheduled this evening
(sleeping in India tonight!!) - another devestated country, but luckily
for me, another city far from the mayhem.  

Thank you to everyone who has sent notes - it is nice to be thought of
by so many!!  Now that you know I am fine, we can all join our thoughts
together for the many thousands of people from around the world affected
by this tragedy.  The loss of life, and at such a joyful time of year,
is staggering.

And now, a much lighter note...

My final day in Luang Prabang, Christmas.  Long, leisurely breakfast
with my friend and his family.  Unexpected gifts (mostly of the edible,
no-need-to-pack variety - smart friends!!).  Laughter, food, games at a
string of outdoor cafes.  The power went out about 9:30am, just as we
were sitting down to breakfast, and didn't so much as flicker again
until 4:30pm.  Effectively silencing the myriad boom boxes that line the
main road and  leaving the town bathed in delightful peace and calm. 
People drifted from shady spot to shady spot, relishing the heat of a
tropical sun once removed.  Sleepy, lounging, chill.  Delightful!  

In the afternoon, Erik and I took a leisurely stroll - across a high
bridge whose pedestrian path was a series of rotting 1 by 4s, bolted
rusting to a crumbling strip of metal hanging from the side of the main
bridge.  Made my heart beat a bit faster than normal, but was otherwise
fine - gorgeous view up and down the river valley across the jungles
that hang dripping right to the edge of town.  Following that mild
exertion, we crashed out in the cool old cavernous room that he shared
with his father for a long nap - something that felt decadent and

From there, I went back to my guesthouse to pay my bill and pick up my
laundry - literally every item of  anything fabric I was carrying, save
the scant clothes on my back.  This is when the day began to get
interesting.  The usual staff were not in the guesthouse, and the young
girl left behind spoke nearly no English.  We managed to get as far as
"later", but that's it.  But the day was still young, and I wasn't

More wandering, window shopping, cool drinks.  The best massage I've
ever had in my life (and recently I've had a fair few!).  A spectacular
turkey dinner with all the fixins around a table warm with the
companionship of good friends and family.  Gorgeous sunset.  And back to
the guesthouse.  Where the girl has been replaced, not with the owner,
but with an even younger, far less helpful young man, who refuses to
look at me and instead repeats tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow over and
over again while watching soccer on TV.

Another guest at the hotel, a foreigner who speaks Lao, intervenes on my
behalf.  Explains to the boy that I am leaving at 5 in the morning, and
tomorrow will be too late.  Explains that I will be travelling naked
(nearly!) and he will not be paid, and that that was not good for any of
us.  Suggests he calls the owner.  The boy turns up the game and
continues his mantra: tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow.  Rainman-esque.

Erik and I decide to go across the way to our favorite little hang-out
for a drink in the hopes of having a brainwave.  The hang-out that
hosted the (emminently enjoyable) drag-show the night before.  No
progress.  The hour is getting late.  I am pretty resigned to cutting my
losses on my things (shopping in Bangkok doesn't sound so bad
afterall!), but am more concerned about my bill.  Wish I was the kind of
person who could just cut and run, but know I'm not.  What to do, what
to do?  Erik goes back to his big room to pack and rest.  I contemplate
options (you may wonder here why I didn't just leave the cash on my
pillow or something, but that would be because you don't know that in
Laos 3 different kinds of currency are accepted, though not universally
and following no apparent pattern...which to leave?  How much?).

Enter Swedish barman and his host of drag-queen staff.  Who are smitten
by Erik down to the last one (as are nearly all living creatures when
they meet him, human and animal alike), and overheard us puzzling out
the guesthouse problem earlier in the night.  They decide that helping
me out may garner some passing pleasant thought from the boy Erik, and
so come over to the guesthouse to check on/help me.  Imagine that
Christmas Evening - a mutli-cultural crowd of transvestites (out of
drag), all circling the poor young staffer and yelling at him in Lao. 
Off went the TV, out went the boy, and barely 10 minutes later I am paid
in full and bearing a promise that my wash will be waiting for me at the
desk the next am when I depart.  It's nearly midnight, just 5 hours to
go.  The motley crew all congratulate themselves on their intervention,
make me promise to tell Erik what they've done, and exit, smiling and
chatty.  I go to bed.

At 5 am, a bag bearing my still-damp wash was waiting at the font desk. 
Along with the overly perky and solicitous regular door man - who it
turned out was supposed to have been present all of the day before but
had passed off the job in order to go to an all-night rave across town. 
That made me feel slightly better about all the grief I caused him. 
Whatever the drag queens said to him, it worked.  I marched out carrying
just what I marched in with - plus a whole stack of entertaining
memories of Christmas 2005 (in the words of my friend's
father..."Christmas will never be the same again!!")!

The intervening 2 days has been much less interesting, but just as
satisfying.  I left Erik and co. in Laos - they will join me in India
sometime around the middle of January once they tire of Thai beaches -
assuming they can find one still intact post-wave.  I scoured bookshops
and markets across Bangkok in search of some good reading material for
the road (success!), and generally took it easy.  Close to toilet
facilities, though hopefully I've seen nearly the last of that
particular non-delight.  Now it's time for some lunch, a bit of a nap,
and around 5, a ride to the airport.  Calcutta, here I come!!!