Monday through Friday I leave my house at 8:20 to get to the Talat Sao (Morning market) main bus station by 8:30. I bring my bike to the bike parking area, where they give me a ticket, and then staple the other half of the ticket around my brake cable, and then I walk the bike to very back of the most foul-smelling, dirty, disgusting hovel, while I maneuver around motorcycles and helmets and people washing dishes and sometimes themselves, men in speedos covered in soap, men in military garb pissing the corner. I try to do this as quickly as possible because, it smells in there, and also because I am usually running late for the bus. The official time table for the bus informs me that it leaves at 8:10, 8:40, and 9:00, among other times. This timetable is essentially useless. I generally arrive at the bus station at 8:30, sometimes the bus may leave at 8:25, sometimes at 8:35, sometimes 8:45, sometimes 9:00, sometimes 9:30. There is really no way of telling. Sometimes, after waiting for 30 minutes, I may try to ask some one where the bus is. Usually this is futile because a.) they don’t speak English, or b.) they also have no idea.
Assuming the bus leaves between 8:35 and 8:50, I generally arrive at the University around 9:15 am. I usually keep myself busy working on something or other for a few hours, eat lunch with the director at 11:30, and then mess around for another few hours, and at 3:45 I leave and walk to the bus stop, where I wait for some kind of transit back to Talat Sao. Yesterday I took a jumbo – which is basically a small pick up truck with benches in the back, and I was the only passenger. I still only paid 3,000 kip, but the ride was only about 20 minutes long. There are also smaller buses that are privately owned that go to Talat Sao from the University, each of them takes a different route, some a lot bumpier and longer than others. I haven’t figured any of these out yet, but basically whatever the first vehicle that passes heading towards Talat Sao, I take it.
Normally there are a few monks on the bus. The monks wear bright orange robes, with one sholder bare, and have shaved heads. Usually they are quite young – between 12 and 18 years old. Sometimes you see older ones. If you are a lady, never make the mistake of trying to sit next to a monk on the bus, or anywhere else for that matter. They are not allowed to touch women. If you go to the temple, and you see a monk, don’t try to hug him, or say “Koy hak hoy” to him, which means “I love dick”.
Speaking of koy and hoy, apparently for the last month I have been saying “penis” every time I meant to say “I” the difference is much more subtle than a k or an h sound, I think it has something to do with the tone. I read in a book that even if you are using the correct word in Lao, if you get the tone wrong, people will have no idea what you’re talking about.I have had multiple experiences of this being true, and also of saying the exact same words over and over again, and having it mean different things, apparently.
This morning on the bus I was sitting, reading Proust and hating it, like I normally do, and I started hearing some strange noises coming from the seat next to me. It sounded like there were birds in the bus. But I didn’t see any, so I assumed I had imagined it. A few moments later, I looked over again, and saw the man next to me had put his backpack on his lap, opened it, and was feeding some baby birds that were inside it. He carefully dropped little bits of food into their mouths as they put their heads back and opened up their beaks. I couldn’t tell if it was insects of seeds or what, but it was amusing in a way I had never before experienced on a bus. Except maybe the time I saw some girl fellate a man on the greyhound, but that was more horrifying.
This is why I love taking the bus.
Yesterday I ate bugs and frogs. I will post pictures shortly.