August 18, 2007

241206 Udomxai to Pak Mong

The cat spent the journey peering over the roof of the 'driver's cab' of the songthaew as it wound & wound its way past villages busy celebrating the Hmong New Year. Girls dressed in their best finery tottered down rutted slopes from their wooden houses & along the road in shiny gold & silver high heeled shoes, protecting their faces & make-up from the sun with umbrellas. Music boomed from beside the road in one of the larger villages, with a huge crowd of people surrounding an unseen stage beneath a canopy. Once in a while, horns blared & people jumped back as the songthaew swerved to avoid Hmong teenagers lined up along both sides of the highway playing the ball-tossing courtship game.

Three hours later the cat found itself with a bunch of empty songthaews at the main junction in Pak Mong where highways 13 (to Luang Prabang) & 1C (to Sam Neua) meet. There was no one else heading eastwards to Nong Khiaw, not even Nam Bak. The drivers agreed that it made more $ sense for the cat to spend the night in Pak Mong than to charter one of their songthaews, althought they were willing to drive the cat to Nong Khiaw if it had to get there urgently. They suggested hanging around till 7:00PM when the last songthaew from Udomxai would pull into town, in case there might be passengers heading towards Nong Khiaw, & if there weren't any, go to the white guesthouse around the corner.

& so the cat parked itself by the roadside, passing time & attracting quite a bit of attention from locals by making 'friendship bands':


One by one, Mr One-of-the-Songthaew-Drivers, a grandpa from Boten, a shopkeeper, a lady who turned out to be Mrs One-of-the-Songthaew-Drivers, & others came up to talk to the cat, asking to watch the process:


& asking the cat what phao son (ethnic group) did it belong to, where it was from, etc. Apparently many Lao & some farang get the mistaken impression that 'friendship bands' are a traditional craft of some Lao ethnic group that the cat belongs to - one that they have not met before! =P Six days later the cat did the same thing on the boat from Pak Beng to Huay Xai, & ended up photographed by some farang tourists, & surrounded by a bunch of curious Hmong wanting to examine the threads.

The cat has no idea where 'friendship bands' originated from, it learnt the ropes (strings rather) from its best friend in primary school. They are far lighter to carry than books, great for passing time on buses & boats, useful for breaking the ice with locals (especially women), & can be given as gifts to people one meets along the way =)

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