I read in my journal entry for January 25, 2001 how I sit in one of the old-fashioned rattan chairs on the porch of our hotel in Vientiane—the sleepy capital of Laos—and write about my first impressions.
The tea I asked for half an hour ago has not yet materialized but I don’t mind. Absorbing the pace of life is part of the experience of being here, just like the scorching afternoon heat and the musky smell of the hotel.
A young man with fine features sweeps the porch with slow, delicate movements, as if he’s caressing the teak floor rather than cleaning it. All the while he sings softly, in high tones, a wandering melody as though he’s talking to himself while singing.
He’s dressed in what I assume to be typical Laotian costume, a brown silk jacket and a beige sarong that is folded like a pair of puff trousers, high white stockings, and curly golden slippers.
I wonder what he wears at home. Shorts, perhaps, and a Manchester United t-shirt like I saw other young men do?
Does his name sound as melodious as the ones I heard on the radio when I was a boy sitting at the breakfast table in Rotterdam? Back then, I didn’t quite understand the news about the American bombings and the struggle of the local communists to take power, but I did notice how carefully the news reader enunciated the names: Souvanna Phouma, Souphanou Vong, Pathet Lao. As if he too enjoyed their gentle intonation.
I wonder where he lives, how he gets around. Is he the breadwinner of the family?
And most of all, I wonder what he’s singing about. I’m going to ask him but not just yet.
For one more minute I want to continue enjoying the soothing sound of his voice, the swishing of his broom and the soft humming of the ceiling fan.