TrekShare.com - Crashing a wedding in Laos

by : Joseph Kultgen



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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 additionScience Articles, 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.?