Any reasonable person would think it slightly off-color to crash a wedding. When that wedding happens to be in Laos who is to say if it's inappropriate or not? Whom am I kidding? I was well aware of the potential drawbacks of dropping in on an event that I was clearly not invited. It wouldn't be the first time leering eyes would be cast upon me as I casually pressed my way up to the buffet table.
Let's regress for a minute. Some people might not know what the word "crash" means in the first sentence. For those of you who have been sheltered from large community centers/bowling alleys for the duration of your lives I can understand.
It's been my experience that a bowling alley in the same venue as a wedding reception brings out the largest proportion of uninvited guests or what we like to call "wedding crashers." That certainly wasn't the case here. No bowling alleys in Laos! In particular no bowling alley that doubles as a reception hall. This of course is not a researched fact, but I'm willing to bet anyone 100,000 kip that in two weeks you couldn't find any sign of the leisure sport of the drunk. Lawn bowling doesn't count. For all I know lawn bowling or "bocce ball" is their national sport eclipsed only by badminton and a game of hands-free volleyball played with a wicker ball.
The name eludes me almost as much as the skill needed to play the sport. The truth is I was hungry. A traditional Lao massage administered by blind women in the late afternoon completely wiped me out and I had just woken at 11PM from a 4-hour nap. If you're still reading this you might wonder how does one get "wiped out" from a massage.
Aren't these things supposed to be relaxing? Yeah and no. Primarily NO in my case. It appears that the muscles from my toes to my thighs don't like to be physically manipulated away from the bone as the massage suggests.
For a mere 30,000 Kip or $3 US ? an hour massage from a skilled therapist seems like a great deal. That is if sometime in that hour you don't burst all the blood vessels in your face from wincing so hard. If my therapist hadn't been blind I'm pretty sure she would have thought she was killing me. I would have felt like a puss so I broke out the yoga breathing and prayed not to succumb to hyperventilation. Regardless, it was now 11PM and if I didn't move from my guesthouse quickly there would be little chance of finding any late night eatery in Luang Prabang.
Places tend to close after the electricity cuts at 9PM. Things looked bleak upon leaving the guesthouse. There didn't appear to be any lights, tuk tuk drivers or for that matter people in site. There was, however, a clear path of music being generated from beyond the cement building horizon.
Sounded like a party. Parties oftentimes have food. So off we went. At this stage of the story I introduce you to my friend Paul who spent most of the duration of the night within earshot of me. It became clear to me as we rounded the first corner that the music was definitely coming from this street.
It was time to move beyond my usual sloth like pace caused by the extreme heat and humidity. I could see a few motor scooters in the distance coming and going. As we got closer it became evident that this was the real deal.
People were hopping on their Chinese mananufactured motor scooters in suits with beautiful Laotian women draped over the backs. They sit sidesaddle because their silk skirts or "sins" wraps tightly down to their ankles. A quick decision was needed as we approached the entry gate. Just walk in slowly and pretend I'm not with the poorly dressed vagabond to my side. This wouldn't work. We entered the gate, saw about 20 people sitting at tables and another 30 or so under a wooden canopy dancing to live music.
I noticed there weren't any people doing the drunken "hook-up" stager that are so prevalent at weddings in the states. The vibe was comfortable, respectful and fully devoid of my wedding experiences. I made a b-line for the 15-foot buffet table. It was definitely the path of least resistance. It was obvious that everyone had finished eating at least 2 hours prior and the table was in the process of being taken down.
Seemed fairly logical that I grab a spring roll and dowse it in some spicy papaya sauce before it becomes a leftover. Before I could even put the first bite in my mouth a pair of women rounded the table and handed us all the utensils we needed. "Kop Chi Li Li" or thank you spewed from mouth about 100 times in the next 3 minutes. They either liked the way I pronounced the phrase or had giant hearts because their smiles stretched from ear to ear. The buffet had what appeared to most of the staples of the Laos diet.
There was a type of yellow chicken curry, some spicy beef, spingrolls, fresh vegetables and a giant vat of sticky rice. Within seconds of loading up our plates the two drunkest 20-year olds at the party pulled up four chairs for us. One for our plates and the other for our asses. Before even taking my first bit I had a 1/3 glass full of BeerLao between my eyes. This is where the story takes a dramatic twist. It is not because I started drinking.
That's a little later. The twist is because this story is being composed for Break Magazine and they don't allow any references to drugs or alcohol. Therefore I have written two versions.
The one where I drink myself to a point where I believe I can understand the Lao language is the version you are reading. Although we were given utensils I chose to forego the westernization of the land and eat using the dipping technique utilized by most people. Three bites in and once again a 1/3 full glass of BeerLao is between my eyes. The young man offering the glass was pimped out in a black tuxedo and appeared to be the kind of guy whom you should accept a drink from. Another "kop chi li li", a swig from his glass and we were friends.
I pulled up another chair for the special guest and we began to speak. The conversation took a slow start. Not because of tuxedo man, but rather because I had been so used to talking to people who spoke absolutely no English, that I was conversing like a trained monkey.
Shortly into the conversation I learned Pond was indeed the honored guest at what I learned was his wedding. The handsome 24-year old had just been hitched and he oozed elation. As I scarified down my food I learned he works for the Lao government as an AIDS educator. He also told us about a cousin of his who lives in NYC and his desire to my town. My door will always be open. Laotian men usually marry in there twenties.
The bride is usually younger. She will most likely be from the same village and will probably be related in some degree because most villages are small. Couples choose each other, but the heads of both families decide when the couple will marry, where they will live, and what bride price must be paid to the girl's father. This is usually in currency, although in olden times it was in livestock or grain. The groom's family delivers the bride price to the bride's father on the day before the wedding. The groom's relative's parade to the bride's house with gifts of food, tobacco, betel and so on.
The groom makes his formal request for the bride. Her family, after a long-winded, purely ceremonial show of reluctance finally agrees. In the presence of a bonze or village elder, the couple is officially betrothed. The next day, the groom and his relatives again proceed to the bride's house, where they make a great show of fighting and bribe their way into the yard.
The groom must persuade the bride's sister to wash his feet before he can ascend the steps to the house and claim his bride. Divorce is rare in Laos, partly because each marriage concerns everyone in two large, extended families. If a marriage is dissolved, the bride price has to be returned, and there are endless complications concerning inheritance and land use.
It is much more sensible to compromise. Working things out, in general, is the Laotian response to almost every conflict. Isn't that a novel idea? In the background we watched the nucleus of the party dance.
Thankfully there are no traditions of the Marquerena or chicken dance in Laos. This is one of the things I'm happiest about. Tonight they danced the Lamvong.
It's a combination folk dance and courting ritual. Girls dance in place with short, rhythmic steps, while boys weave circles around them; no one touches. The faces of the dancers are completely expressionless, but their arms and hands wave in complicated patterns expressive of love and devotion. Frankly, unless you are Laotian, you will end up looking like a queen doing this jig. The groom apologized to us that the party we crashed was almost over.
He insisted we accompany him to the parents of his wife's house for an after party. The two guys sitting next to us indicated that they would escort us to the party. Pond cordially dismissed himself and affirmed our attendance.
As soon as the 48-ounce bottle of BeerLao was cashed we would head out. As the pace and the amount of the beer in the glass increased I decided to engage the transportation question. I was pretty sure these guys had scooters.
Frankly I'm not a big fan of riding on the back of those things in any situation. In addition, I was positive both these guys were half in the bag. Through struggled words and gulps of beer I asked our new friends about drinking and driving. .
By: Joseph Kultgen