You’ve never seen one room be used for so many different activities than in Laos. By day, it’s a shop, selling processed junk food and toiletries. Late at night, it’s a bedroom for the entire family. But in between, it’s full of a handful of men sitting in dirty plastic chairs that surround anything that can be made into a table.
Big bottles of BeerLao, one of the two options in the country (the other is Heineken) covers the table. A large pot of noodle soup and it’s accompanying green ingredients of lettuce, green beans, coriander, mint, dill and others serves as a center piece. A fire is always made in a cement pot on the ground. There is also a huge speaker sitting on the floor nearby plugged into a laptop that plays slow but jubilant songs. They’re all about love or heartbreak, and when the men grab the microphone to chime in with some karaoke, they truly sing it from the heart. The music is way louder than it needs to be, and so are the speeches that the men announce (to whom, I really don’t know) for the whole neighborhood to hear. All of this happens just a few feet from the sidewalk and passerby’s usually get invited in food food and drink, especially if you’re a farang. This goes on for hours and on New Years Eve, I was lucky enough to be a part of the gathering.
Before the sun even set, the men were already joined together around tables, and this time the women were joining them. It was like everyone left work early to come together and celebrate over cases of BeerLao and endless amounts of food.
I passed a few monks, who usually are not allowed to speak to women, but today excitedly yelled “Happy New Year”! At the nighttime market, bargaining for souvenirs was especially easy. I went to buy a handmade scarf for something around $5 and when I said “For New Years, $5 okay?” the women smiled and said “okay, yes, good luck for new years”. This superstitious selling was characteristic of everyone that night, and I ended up walking out with a few beautiful cloths.
At my guest house, the celebrators were eager to show me a good time. They sat my friend and I down and immediately poured a glass of beer for me. In Laos, the way to drink beer is extremely unsanitary and very rushed. The whole party uses only one glass, which gets refilled over and over throughout the night. For this reason, when it’s your turn for the drink, you have to chug it down. If you don’t, someone will guaranteed hurry you along.
In the center skillet, a young man started putting noodles, cauliflower, fish balls, chicken feat, and endless green spices into the stew. My friend really screwed up when it was time to eat. Not only is he a vegetarian, but he also doesn’t like spicy food. In Laos, if you’re a farang that can handle spicy food, they love you! In actuality, it’s rude to refuse anything from them. For that reason, I ended the night with a full and burning stomach and sufficiently drunk from all the beer. We danced together and I was encouraged to give a speech into the microphone. “You have a beautiful country, good luck in 2014 and Happy New Year!”, I pronounced in probably the most awkward public demonstration of my life. But the people here are charming. They want you to love their country, which isn’t hard to do.
Sabaidee Pee Mai!! (Happy New Year)