Jeffrey Miller

A Writer's Life

Tag: Aon

Ferry ‘cross the Mekong

One of my first trips in Laos was back in July of 2007 when Aon, her family (her mom, younger sister, and Bia) and I visited the famous Buddhist temple and Khmer ruins Wat Phou Champasak near Pakxe in southern Laos.

Getting there was quite an interesting journey because to get to the temple and the ruins one has to cross the mighty, magnificent Mekong River on a ferry.

For those who are vaguely familiar with the Mekong River, the name alone conjures up all sorts of images whether it’s the Mekong Delta from the Vietnam War or if you are much of a Thai whiskey drinker, Mekong Whiskey. However, for those who live along its winding path, the river is an important waterway and natural resource.

The river itself can get quite wild during the rainy season (last year in the capital city of Vientiane it rose above flood stage and flooded out streets that run along its banks) but when I crossed it in the July of 2007, it was simply magnificent and peaceful.

The ferry is a couple of boats lashed together with a makeshift platform to accommodate a few cars and a bus or two. It might not look like much, but it serves its purpose well ferrying people and vehicles across the Mekong.

It takes no more than thirty minutes to cross, and when the weather is gorgeous like it was the day we crossed it, the scenery is breathtaking.

Someone stole my new Doc Martens!

Yesterday, I bought my first new pair of shoes in four years.

The Doc Martens that I had bought in the States back in 2005 had served my feet well. As Forrest Gump mused, “there’s an awful lot you can tell about a person by their shoes, where they’re going and where they’ve been.”

In my case it’s been all the places I’ve visited wearing them—from Illinois, Korea, and Thailand to Japan back to Korea and Laos. Likewise, in those four years alone, so much has happened in my life—leaving Korea, going to Thailand and meeting Aon, hanging out in Japan a few times, back to Korea and Laos, the birth of Jeremy Aaron and the passing of my mother.

Yes Forrest, you can tell a lot about a person and the shoes they wear.

I had worn those Doc Martens down and stretched them out so much from all my walking that the time had come to buy a new pair. Fortunately, there is a Dr. Martens’ store in Daejeon (I have tried other shoe stores and outlets but I’ve never really liked the shoes; I’ve been wearing Doc Martens since 1993 and they’ve always been good to my feet) and when I stopped in there yesterday, the store carried my size (finding western-sized clothes like shoes, socks, pants and shirts is not easy in Korea, and especially in Daejeon where there is a much smaller foreign community).

However, and as expected, the shoes were pricey: 170,000 Won or around $150.00. Sadly, they are not even original Dr. Martens. They are made in China.

I needed new shoes so I can live with the price. Made in China? Whether or not they are originals, or only original in price, that is—to excuse the pun—the price one has to pay when you want something you like.

Once I had them on my feet, my feet were happy so I was happy. A spring bounced back in my step and I was walking tall again—not shuffling my feet because my last pair of Doc Martens had been stretched out so much.

Everything was right with the world. Got up this morning, talked to Aon, Jeremy Aaron and Bia (52 more days!), worked on my novel, and then went to school, paid some bills, filled out a form to have money transferred to my Korean Exchange Bank account each month, and then went to the gym.

That spring in my walk also was evident on the treadmill where I ran another 10 kilometers in an hour. When you’ve got happy feet you just want to keep on running and running.

After that exhilarating run, I decided to cool down with some Gatorade and went to my locker to get some money. That is when I noticed that my new Doc Martens the ones that had made my feet so happy and that had set me back 150.00 had been stolen.

Okay, so I didn’t lock them up in my locker with the rest of my street clothes. I am guilty as charged for being stupid. I just never imagined any of the four or five people who were at the gym when I was would steal them. But one of them did, or someone else who came in when I was running.

Now maybe you’re wondering why I would take off my shoes and leave them out? Well, this is Asia and at restaurants, dentist offices, and even gyms, people take off their shoes before entering these establishments. (A lot has to do with the “sitting on the floor culture” but I could never understand why a dentist’s office or a gym.) To be sure, if one really wanted to steal someone’s shoes, it is not that difficult. I have heard numerous stories of someone going to a restaurant and then leaving to find their shoes had been stolen.

Steal someone’s shoes though? How low can a person go? Well, low enough to bend over, pick them up and walk off with them I guess.

When I explained what had happened to the worker-cum-trainer, he didn’t seem too shocked or overly concerned. I’ve been a member of this small gym for three years and I would have thought he would have been a little more surprised. Instead, he asked me if I had locked them in a locker. Well gee; maybe I just took an extra stupid pill this morning because no, I did not lock them in a locker.

After he did a perfunctory search of the gym he went back to washing towels and gym wear.

“Excuse me, I’ve just been robbed,” I said. “Maybe we should call the police.”

“Do you want me to call the police?”

I guess I was not the only one who took a stupid pill in the morning.

Finally, he got around to calling the police and that is when I did my best Joe Friday impersonation and tried to get him to search the computer records for the people who came in to the gym. When a member comes in, they have to show their membership card, which is then swiped in a card reader, so there is a record of who is there. You don’t have to be a Joe Friday, Columbo, Starsky or Hutch to figure out that it was a matter of simple deduction: one of those four people who were in the gym when I was on the treadmill walked off with my shoes.

Now, what I am thinking is that it had to have been an inside job. Why? Whoever absconded with my Doc Martens knew I was on the treadmill at other end of the gym and not in the shower room or outside the locker room. This person knew exactly where I was at when they took them.

The police finally showed up but there was not much they could do. There was a bit of a language barrier and I was told that it was my mistake for not locking them up. Again, I am guilty as charged for being stupid. They took down my personal information as well as the telephone numbers of the four men who were in the gym when I was and who could have stolen my shoes. All they could do was call these men and ask them if they had stolen the shoes; don’t think they are going to bring them into the station and grill them for hours until one of them breaks and confesses.

The officer who had done all the talking was very apologetic and in broken English told me that he was ashamed this had happened to a foreigner. They said they would get back to me if there was a lead in the case or if they broke the case open. No, they didn’t say that per se—I’ve just watched a lot of movies and TV dramas about cops and robbers and knew that was what they really wanted to tell me.

In the meantime, shoeless Jeffrey was in need of another pair of shoes, so I hopped into a taxi went back to the Dr. Martens’ store and bought another pair of the same shoes that had been stolen. In the end, a new pair of shoes cost me $300.00.

I should probably thank the guy for giving me something absurd to blog about today. I also should ask the gym for a one-year’s free membership; it’s the least they could do for me.

One thing is for certain, I am not going to let these Doc Martens out of my sight when they are not on my feet, and lock them up if I can’t keep my eyes on them.

Vientiane – Gateway for your Laos Adventure

that_louang_dec_31_2007_009Hugging a bend along the Mekong River as it winds south between Thailand and Laos, Vientiane first appears a rather non-assuming town with a mixture of French, Chinese and Vietnamese-style buildings interspersed among Buddhist temples and modern structures.

Busy and hectic compared to the rest of the country, with a population just a little over 200,000 Vientiane is quieter and more laidback than other capital cities in Southeast Asia. Don’t let that fool you, though. As quiet and unassuming Vientiane might first appear, it is an exciting and vibrant city filled with antique shops, quaint open-air cafés, and a trove of restaurants and guesthouses, amidst cultural landmarks steeped in Laos’s historical heritage.

The origin of the name Vientiane is rather interesting: it either means “the King’s grove of sandalwood” in Pali or “City of the Moon” in native Lao Language and today’s spelling is of French origin. Depending on whatever name origin you choose, Vientiane is a city that has retained much of its exotic Indochina charm amidst dizzying modernization.

The gateway for exploring Laos for some travelers might begin at Wattay International Airport—which is just a short taxi or tuk-tuk ride downtown to many of the hotels and guesthouses (which are the best bet for budget-minded travelers). The town always seems busy with travelers and tourists coming and going.

Most travelers spend two or three days here before heading north to Louang Prabang or south to Chiang Mai and Bangkok or perhaps even further to Siem Reap or Hanoi. That’s pretty much all the time you would need to take in most of the sights here unless you are like me and just want to have a week to chill out, enjoy some delicious Lao food, and enjoy sitting outside some café.Patouxai

Most of Vientiane’s landmarks can seen in two or three days. For starters there’s Patouxai, Vientiane’s very own Arc de Triomphe and That Louang, the country’s symbol of national unity and Buddhism. There’s also the mysterious-looking chedi, That Dam—what really is inside?

If Buddhism is your thing, Vientiane has two very important temples Wat Phra Kaew (yes, like the one in Bangkok, and there is a reason for the same-sounding name—the Emerald Buddha, now in Wat Phra Kaeo in Bangkok, used to be here in Vientiane) and Wat Si Saket, located right across the street.

There is also a museum that might be a little short on artifacts, but not on historical scope. All of these landmarks can easily be walked to from most of the guesthouses along the Mekong River and side streets.

However, the best way to get around Vientiane is by renting some bicycles and riding around the city. You can rent one for the day from most guesthouses.

Of course, there are always tuk-tuks to get around, but they can be a little expensive and in many cases a rip-off for unsuspecting tourists. You might not think twice about spending 2,000-3,000 Kip for a tuk-tuk to get from say Wat Si Saket to That Louang (you could walk there in under an hour if you wanted at a nice leisurely stroll) but it’s still a little pricey. Most of the rates are already fixed so there’s no negotiation.

Streets of VientianeThat’s why one is better off walking or renting bicycles. You are really not that far from most places—the farthest place being That Louang if you are walking from Fa Ngum Road or Setthathilat Road (which runs parallel to Fa Ngum Road).

And no trip or stay in Vientiane would be complete without having at least one or two baguette sandwiches, which are sold throughout the city—from sidewalk vendors and cafés. Without question, it’s some of the finest bread you’ll ever taste in your travels in Southeast Asia.

If shopping is you thing, there are plenty of antique shops to satisfy one’s hunger for souvenirs, bric-a-brac and antiques as well as the city’s morning market (near Patouxai).Morning_market_in_Vientiane

After you have had your fill of Vientiane—whether it is visiting it’s stunning landmarks, enjoying its tasty baguettes, or strolling along the Mekong at night—and it’s time to move on to your next destination, you just might find yourself missing this quaint, historical and charming city along the banks of the Mekong.

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