Tuesday, April 17, 2007

201206 dinner 'conversation'

Back at Vongprachit, uncooperative water heater = cold water shower in an unheated place with the mercury plunging gleefully towards single digits Celsius. But the cat has done this a couple of times before, so not too bad. Outside, locals huddled around small bonfires in front of their homes, burning whatever pieces of scrap wood & branches they could find to keep warm. The orange glow of the little fires provided most of the street lighting, & gave the place a 七月* feel.

* qi1 yue4, the 7th month in the Chinese lunar calendar, when the gates of Hell are opened for ghosts to wander around in the mortal world, & the living burn paper offerings for the dead in bonfires; in Singapore such fires will usually be found along the road & at road junctions.

At Sinphet restaurant, another of those living room-like type of establishments complete with lady owner reclining on a flowery sofa watching TV, the cat watched as a girl gesticulated animatedly at the bewildered staff, pointing at items on a copy of the menu that she had in hand. & then she plonked herself down at the cat's table with a smile, & started speaking - with her face & hands.

She is in her early 20s, from Phongsaly province, prefers aahaan farang ('foreigner food') like มันฝรั่งทอด (maan farang thawt - french fries) over Lao food, has a middle-aged French boyfriend (her second boyfriend) who works as a chef in Thailand, was travelling alone on her way back home after meeting up with him in Vientiane, has never ventured anywhere in Lao south of Vientiane due to some restriction linked to her Lao ID card, is friends with the owner of a nearby guesthouse, & is mute.

While planning for this trip the cat had wondered how it would communicate with Lao who couldn't speak nor write English or Chinese, & had packed its trusty English-Thai/Thai-English dictionary just in case. & now it was having a 'conversation' with someone who couldn't even speak. Dictionary buried deep within the cat's backpack back in the guesthouse - without it the cat couldn't write any Thai nor point to any word. She could only write a few English words, & her vocabulary consisted of 'BOYFRIEND', 'JAPAN', 'BAD', 'COOK' & very little else.

We rapidly worked out a pictionary+charade system whereby:
  1. she points at something, gestures with hands, mimes, or draws picture in cat's notebook
  2. cat makes a guess, & says out a 'keyword' in Thai/Lao, draws another picture, or finds something to point at
  3. she indicates if cat is on right track or meowing up the wrong tree
  4. cat guesses another 'keyword' (wrong tree), or guesses the question she has in mind (right track) using words like ทำไม (tham mai - why), ยังไง (yang ngai - how), เมื่อไหร่ (muea rai - when), ใคร (khrai - who), เท่าไหร่ (thao rai - how much), เหมือนกัน (meuan gan - same), ชอบ (chawp - like), จาก (jaak - from), etc, or by adding on to her picture
  5. repeat until both question & answer fall into place
Part of the 'conversation':

  1. guessing where the cat is from
  2. guessing the cat's age
  3. asking the cat to send her a copy of the photo below to her friend at nearby guesthouse, who will keep it for her till her next trip to Udomxai from Phongsaly (address in Lao at bottom left, above)
  4. she even has a gmail address(!!) but can check it only a few times a year when she comes to Udomxai (when tourists ask about internet access in Phongsaly province, the reply is to try their luck across the border in China =P)

The cat was so totally floored by her independence & gumption.

Removing bits of white fluff after the Cha Rueh Sin laundry disaster - a piece of tissue must have been left in some pocket somewhere in the same laundry load:


Electrical tape was probably one of the most useful things the cat packed on this trip. Prevented plugs from falling out of loose antiquated sockets. Sealed up leaky water pipes & faucets. Held loose wires in place so that electrical stuff could work (one water heater worked only if one particular wire was held up at a certain angle). Covered up peekaboo & drafty cracks & holes in wooden bedroom doors (most guesthouses plug them with bits of cotton wool). & in this case, stick on & peel off (& repeat a few hundred times) to remove lint. Good value for less than USD0.20.

end of day 4 (201206):
noodle soup/pho/feu/khaaw soi eaten to date = 03 bowls

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