Where on Earth Is Vientiane?
When I wrote Vientiane as my current address, the bank employee asked, “Is this city in Europe?” Maybe he was thinking of Venice?
I sort of expected recette pate a pizza
the question. I get it all the time. I’ve been doing a lot of briefing about the place since I came – friends, acquaintances and people I get to sit with in flights. Those blank stares look familiar. Let me do it one more time. Vientiane is the capital city of Lao People’s Democratic Republic (PDR), otherwise known as Laos, the (once) Land of a Million Elephants. It’s not anywhere near Europe but right here in South East Asia – idly draping the historic Mekong River.
Languid and quiet, Vientiane is an icon of friendliness and warmth. All you need to get by is to wear a nice smile and say “sabaidee”, a local greeting that covers almost everything from welcome to good morning, evening and night. The Laos would return that in a jiffy. A kind of warmth that does not come easy in many places nowadays. Only in Vientiane. Only in Laos.
When I boarded my flight for my first trip to Vientiane, I was filled with so many misgivings – and a prick of excitement that one usually gets when visiting a new country. But I didn’t anticipate fireworks to go with it (much less a marching band). I’ve been traveling like crazy around Asia but it took me years to drop by. Ah, I thought it wouldn’t work. I cannot stay for six months, much less two years. I am beginning to eat my words as I speak. A joke going around is that the country’s national motto is “Please slow down”. I haven’t thought of the words for a long time. In this age of multi-tasking, who can run and hide from the frenzied world. Nah, it doesn’t exist.
It does! I was floored. Surrounded by all the frenzy of growing Asian cities, it has managed to hold on to its own comfortable footing. It’s like the rest of the world rushes in full speed – as Vientiane takes a stroll and gets the privilege of enjoying the view. The world is almost on full-stop. Almost. On Sundays, you can walk all you want around the city with very rare annoyances of crowding and speeding cars.
I always smile (that’s almost daily) when the ever-patient Lao’s bring up the morning “traffic”. You can’t call that traffic when the car stopped for five minutes, can you? Just watch out for the tuk-tuks, the drivers could drive like crazy. Once when my friendly tuk-tuk driver zoomed in and out of big cars like a jet, I howled in fright – all I got was a baw pen nyang (no problem) with a huge grin. He’s right. I survived.