I spent yesterday gaining a new found appreciation for the early explorers.
Not only were those men good (or so bad they were good) at navigating the oceans, battling through scurvy and the loss of teeth, but they must have been excellent at learning new languages without any sort of Rosetta Stone, $19.99 package – either that, or they gave some excellent fire power demonstrations and just shut everyone up.
We landed at a village along the Mekong River in northern Laos. Just like early explorers, we came by boat and were greeted by people who came down from the forest to watch (with glee) how the foreigners would handle the muddy embankment. Only this time they weren’t being invaded by people with proclamations stating supposidely decent intentions, they were being invaded by people bringing money.
Armed with only the basic knowledge of how to say hello (Sabaai Dii) and thank you (Kaup Chai Lai Lai), we tried to force our way into their hearts.
They blessed us (by chanting and tying white strings around around our wrists and giving us something to being to the Buddha today), gave us homemade whisky, and then showed us to our residences for the night.
I was with a family that spoke no English, and so besides the basic, “smile a lot and say thank you” I was at a bit of a loss. I ended up prancing around the house pointing at things and having them say names back to me: rice is “Khao”. I was soon exhausted.
I have no idea how on earth those early explorers managed to learn enough to send back reports of minerals, possible slaves and better weather and then ask for invading armies. After one night, my Laotian expanded by one word – at that pace, the only useful information I’d be able to bring back was on the effects of long term malaria – and to be fair, my navigation skills are such that I probably wouldn’t make it back anyways.