Lady Visqueen Returns From Her Tour of Southeast Asia

No gigs, actually, but she handed out plenty of toothbrushes.

If tap water hits your lip, you will have lightning diarrhea. Not true, folks. You have to take a sip. Also, when you base a street meal on whether or not the woman who dropped the rooster part in the dirt and tonged it back onto the fire is really obeying the three-second rule, all's fair. I didn't get sick in Laos. On the contrary. Scaring yourself to gain wisdom has done me wonders. Who knew that walking into a Seattle travel agency at 12th & Jackson and buying a plane ticket would be so defining? Especially when the lovely Agent Hong says "Why you want go there?!" Headsets start to come off. I said, "I've never been to Southeast Asia before, and my friend Justin [Nonthaveth] is in Laos helping his father set up a technical school. I'm staying with his family in a remote southern village above Pakse. I just got four vaccinations and some malaria pills, but they were fresh out of rabies at the Polyclinic. Do you think I need rabies?" Hong:"You no go in bat cave, right?" Me: "I don't know yet." For reference, here it is. The gist of this travel diary is that amazingly special things happened to me because I went looking for them. Before I left on November 3, I shook down my dentist for a hundred toothbrushes and stole floss packs out of the front-desk fishbowl (sorry). I bought a suitcase at Value Village and stuffed it full of medical and school supplies. Ironically, I would straighten my own smile and graduate by giving these away. I remember reliving these warm feelings toward the end of my journey within Laos, the morning we crossed into eastern Thailand by a Romancing the Stone jungle bus, detailed by Cheech & Chong. Scaling a fence to get through customs was also nice. If Justin and I hadn't followed the one white guy with the scabs, we'd still be in Champasak selling fried sparrows to get by. Also not included in my blog is one tip I'd really like to pass on: Ubon Ratachani Airport is closed at 5:15 a.m. For the record, they are closed. at. that. hour. No one will be there. I know because a janitor let us in. He held up six fingers, looked at us, and walked off. It was completely dark. We sat in plastic chairs bolted to the floor. At 6 a.m., the lights began to come on in sections. The janitor was nice enough to flick them gently, so as not to dilate our pupils and illuminate our stupidity all at once. Two more people showed up and began sweeping around us. I was getting something out of my pocket, and a Thailand 10-baht coin flew out. Just like in the movies, it was circling on its edge, rolling, rolling, almost getting away. I put my flip-flop out to slap it to the ground and slide it to myself when Justin screamed in slow motion, "Nooo!" He had literally just read an article in which a tourist stepped on a rolling baht and went to jail, because you can't desecrate the King's face. (Justin, now that I'm back in the United States, I suppose I can quietly add that the Queen of Thailand, with all due respect, and full ignorance on my part, looked like Dina Martina.) Anyway, a lot happens to you on a return trip. First you get on a plane and fly backwards from Bangkok to Taipei. You won't know until you land that the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) stormed Suvarnabhumi Airport. They would put a stranglehold on international travel with razor wire and confusion to get Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat's attention. I had spent countless hours in both Bangkok airports this month, and cannot believe I missed this coup by a single acceleration of jet fuel. My travel companion Justin and his mother would not be so lucky. Stranded back in Vientiane, their only way out was traveling to stunning Hanoi, Vietnam. EVA Flight 68 to Taipei, Seat 52A. Clock hands magnetized and whirling, you watch The Philadelphia Story twice. Unfazed by Hepburn's figure, you gently tug and play with the string bracelets tied to your wrist, hoping they never fall off. Two elder village women are represented by this sacred thread. Ones who chant and pray you never get sick, simultaneously making a knot with white cotton string. This blessing is to keep you lucky and happy, and secure your safe return to them. Running through the halls of Taiwan Taoyuan's terminal at midnight, past the giant gold sparkly mouse and airport meditation sanctuary, you're suddenly at Sea-Tac the following day. And you ride the escalator to the tram that's pulling away as your sister and baby niece open a car door. The baby smiles and immediately recognizes you. Interstate 5 is precise and organized. No rice tractors. No franken-vehicles built from random parts with a hand-painted wooden sign (done up in a Little Rascals font) that says "Isusu." You parallel-park and open the wine at Thanksgiving. Supermarkets feel like gluttonous spaceships or American dream sequences. You kiss your mother and your sibling-in-laws. You light a votive and rest it on the toolbox where your dad's ashes have been working since April 10. Baby niece smiles in a way that makes life hurt better. I show photographs and handheld video of 340 "small souls" at the Ban Mouange Elementary School. Their dirt floor and chalk slates and huge smiles and pride. This experience is what will separate my old self from my new self. I think of them walking to school in the rainy season when there's "inconveniences," even beautiful ones, like being snowed in on Capitol Hill. And you remember Justin's cousin, Tha, is afraid of snow. And he's a prison guard in Pakse Province. 2009 feels like an improved prescription. A brighter chance with fewer side effects. Sharper glasses mainly. Maybe this is what it means to be more awake, and I am happy to be alive for however long. But if my time comes before the Visqueen show at the Tractor on Saturday, please leave Ben Hooker my tab.

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