Thursday, 14 July 2005

some 'customs' are just beyond me!

Imagine the situation. You've just spent thirteen hours in front of a computer and you decide enough is enough and it is time to head home. You are starving; it has been 9 hours since you last ate. Opening the front door of the office, you realise a) that torrential rains are busy turning the road, once again, into the red sea, b) that you are wearing freshly laundered, cream combats and c) that flip-flops and red mud are not the best of pals.

Deciding which way to go to find food, you choose to head towards your hotel and begin the Olympic assault course around vast puddles, in the hope you can still find somewhere selling food.

Your luck is in. A small ramshackle restaurant has a light on, and someone is sat eating. You duck in, out of the rain and attempt a conversation with a lady in sign language, which you hope suggests that you are looking for a place to eat.

In response, you are shown where to sit and are given a menu. As your stomach grumbles, you quickly scan down the list and point something out. A discussion between the two ladies ensues. One lady returns to the table and reports, in broken English, that they don't have the particular item you chose. Ok then, so you choose something else. They don't have that either. So you ask what they do have. Running a finger down both sides of the menu, the girl points out a single item; Spare ribs. Well you're starving so it'll have to do. You nod enthusiastically and say yes please.

The two ladies sit down. Nothing happens. There is no clattering of pots and pans in the kitchen, just the sound of torrential rain on the corrugated iron roof. You look at your watch. It's been 10 minutes and nothing's happened. Nevermind, you think, it must just be cooking.

Ten minutes later one of the ladies puts on a helmet and jacket, jumps on her bike and heads of into the dark, rainy night. Ok, well you've heard about this. People have mentioned that in some countries, you go to a restaurant and they jump on a bike to go and buy what you order from another restaurant nearby. The other girl gets up and walks out of the back of the restaurant. You are on your own.

Another hungry 5 minutes goes by. The girl returns with shutters and starts shuttering up the windows. Ahh you think, she must just be keeping the bugs out of the restaurant. She continues to put the shutters up right next to your table, then when done, she once again disappears.

Your watch reads 9.45 pm. Another 5 mins pass and starvation is beginning to settle in. Suddenly, a woman with a young child appears. She looks at you and crossing and uncrossing her arms out front, repeats 'ish finish' 'ish finish'. You presume this means 'finished', as in 'chances of you getting food are slim to none matey'. Still starving, you pack up your bags and head out into the rain.

Stomping back towards your hotel, stomach pleading to be fed and in near useless flip flops, you then complete the day perfectly by tripping up, immersing your previously-laundered cream combats into a rather large pool of red mud.

Unbelievable? I'd have thought so, until last night. No idea what happened there. Why take an order, if your not serving food? Who knows! How very Lao.

I can only be ever grateful for the hotel staff who, on seeing me staggering in, covered from head to toe in bright red mud (literally), offered me a very welcome bowl of noodle soup!

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