How I found myself eating dog for lunch, with a policemen in the local brothel, while listening to the refrain “Don’t wear underpants”
During our many years of travelling to Laos, at some stage we picked up another granddaughter, or maybe more accurately, she adopted us as grandparents. For the sake of this story, I’ll call her Noi.
Noi was a student at University in Vientiane, but she came from an ethnic minority village in the far North of the country. We sponsored some of her studies, and I tutored her in English.
We saw little of her in her last year of study, because we’d moved to Thailand, only occasionally visiting Laos and old friends.
A month or so ago, we were invited to a family meeting, to discuss the date and other details of her upcoming wedding to the Policeman.
She’d suggested a date late in March, expecting we’d come back to Laos as her “adopted grandparents” to take part in the wedding.
But we had a solid commitment that time outside Asia, and would have to leave BKK for that at the latest on March 20. PANIC! “I cannot get married without you there!”
So it was decided a meeting needed to be convened with all interested parties attending, to set a new date.
That morning, we picked Noi up, with mother and baby, and drove to town to the house of Uncle and Aunt. Uncle was mother’s brother. He worked in a government position, possibly reasonable good one, by the size of his house. His wife was a medical professional at the local hospital, and Noi had left her own home at age 9 to come and live with them in order to go to school. So uncle and Aunt were kind of surrogate parents set Nr 1.
Noi and policeman husband (now in charge of a minor police station and a handful of officers in the same small town), PohMeh and Uncle and Aunt sat down with my wife and I and started the negotiations, while the baby did the rounds amongst the women and the nieces. All of it in Lao of course which I followed for about 60%, occasionally asking Noi to translate a bit I missed.
Most of the problem seemed to be the date because there seemed to be many other events clashing.
Finally date was decided on, to great relief of Noi. Then uncle started to ruminate about the cost of the drink. The food would mostly be paid for by family of the groom, but family of the bride must provide the booze. So when I heard the Uncle suggest a sum needed for the 70 guests, I conferred briefly with my wife, and then volunteered to put up 70% of that amount (Without letting on I’d heard and understood uncle’s 100% figure). PohMeh were penniless, Uncle would have a hard time coming up with 100%. I didn’t offer 100%, since that might have made him loose face, OR may make him think I was too easy a touch. I thought this was win/win, the amount we needed to contribute was the cost of a couple of nice meals for two in our original hometown.
So everyone relieved, we could now proceed in Lao way to the next main decision, where to go and have lunch to celebrate the successful end to the negotiations.
Uncle Nr 2’s new restaurant! On a crossroads, just out of town.
We got into the car, with Noi, mum, baby, and the two of us. My wife had to excuse herself, come down with a migraine, she went back to our guest house to sleep. Noi’s husband to be and the uncle and dad would follow on motorbikes.
We arrived at the restaurant, a brick building with porch, two open walls with wooden lattice to provide airflow through, next to the older wooden structure. We entered and found six young women sitting around, listening to music, aged between 17 and 25 (rough guess.
“Oh, Noi, I didn’t know, if this is your uncle’s restaurant, these must be your nieces.”
Noi turned to me and gave me a small wry smile. “Not my nieces, they work here”.
She then handed the baby to mum and walked outside to the car. She’s forgotten something, turned around and gestured to me for the key. I walked to her, unlocked, and went to the boot to get my camera.
She stood next to me and said “They are here to give service”
Then : “They sell”……………….. “Beer”
In the back of the restaurant there was a low slung brick building, with five separate doors next to each other. Five tiny short time rooms, as they are called in neighbouring Thailand.
I turned to Noi and said “Never mind, I have been here for long enough to understand, no worries”. She smiled again and went back inside to arrange for the food.
The girls coo’ed over the baby, then gradually left us alone. They looked a bit sad.
When the meal was served, I was alone at the table with Policeman-Husband. Noi and her mother, baby and one niece were sitting at the next table. Our table was served a nice cabbage soup, two types of fried meat, sticky rice and some fresh vegetables. And a couple of bottles of Beer Lao. I tried to engage Husband in conversation by telling the story how on the way to the village that morning, I’d been pulled over by two policemen, who wanted to see my documents and asked where I was going. I’d answered them in Lao, they complemented me on my language skills, and asked me how long I’d been coming to Laos. Off and on 13 years. They seemed very young. They greeted me and waved me through. This time, they didn’t even ask for money. I complemented their boss on their politeness. He smiled at me.
Meanwhile, the stereo system was crooning in Thai style pop music, but sung in Lao or Isan language. The last line of the refrain was “Bo Chai Khangkaeng Nai”.
In my understanding that means “Don’t wear (or Put on) Underpants”.
I looked surprised, repeated the line, and asked my table companion if I heard that right.
He smiled again, and nodded.
Meal over, I was full, and was offered some watermelon. Then Noi said I must drink more beer. “I cannot drink too much when I have to drive a car, I think Lao police doesn’t like falang get drunk and drive”. Husband, gave me a little smile this time. Great conversationalist!
“By the way ,Noi, what was that second meat dish?”
Still, it was very tasty. Then I remembered hearing earlier how the Policeman had been called out early morning, to help negotiate the outcome of an accident, car hit motorcycle, in which a dog had died. I wondered.
One of my more surreal meal experiences, eating dog in a whorehouse with a policeman while listening to “Don’t wear Underpants”
Laos is a country full of surprises.