More Misconceptions

DSC09980waterfall.JPG

This blog entry about the events of Monday, December 06, 2004 was originally posted on December 11, 2004.

DAY 415:  My name is Erik, with a “K” for the fourth letter, which is the uncommon spelling in North America.  I was never a fan of pre-made personalized key chains and mugs growing up; most of the time they only had “Eric.”  “Erik” is the Dutch/Danish/Scandinavian spelling of the name, the name of a Viking (i.e. Leif Eriksson, Erik the Red), and my father says he chose it for that reason — although my suspicion is that I was simply named after Erik Estrada when my dad was watching an episode of CHiPs in the 1970s. 

Yes ladies, I may quite possibly be named after the heartthrob that played Ponch.

“Erik” often conjures up the image of a tall blonde, blue-eyed Ikea furniture-buying guy, but you’ve seen my picture; I only have the Ikea part down.  But this misconception is probably the reason why my transport guy who was supposed to whiz by that morning and take me to the boat docks couldn’t find me right away — until he finally spoke up.  “Are you Erik?”

“Yeah.”

I hopped on the back of his motorscooter and he brought me to the slow boat on the Mekong just before departure.


GREAT, MORE BOATS, I thought, being back on the Mekong again after having spent two long days on it before.  But it was a necessary part of a complete full-day tour I booked to see the two main points of interest out of town, the first one being the Pak Ou Caves, about 25 km. upstream.  Originally the site of ancient tribal religion when the locals worshipped Phi, the God of Nature, it was converted to a Buddhist shrine when Buddhism swept the country and was adopted by the royal family.  During the times of monarchy, the king and his subjects went every year to the Pak Ou Caves during Lao New Year in a pilgrimage to pray.

To break the boredom of being stuck on a boat for a long period of time, we stopped at some “villages” on the way.  I put “villages” in quotes because they were primarily tourist traps so that people could be stuck somewhere away from town with nothing to do but browse for goods.  The first one, a paper-making “village,” was quite boring (Paper?  Zzzzzzz…) but the second was a lot more exciting:  the Lao whiskey village. 

“Oh wait, you actually get to taste them?” said a surprised girl that I figured was from Vancouver because of her accent.  She was Jes from Edmonton.

“Yeah, why do you think we came here?” I answered.

Lao whiskey is made by fermenting sticky rice and distilling it into bottles in two strengths; the clearer and stronger one for men and the red, sweeter one for women.  “One tastes like gasoline and the other tastes like juice,” Jes said.  “I think I like the gasoline one.”  As strong as it was, it was no match for the bottles of whiskey with vicious animals in them:  scorpions, millipedes and snakes

“There’s no way you’d get that through customs,” I commented.


HALF AN HOUR LATER we arrived at the Pak Ou Caves, with its dozens of golden Buddha statues in two caves.  About 2,500 were in the lower cave, most wooden or made of tree resin, all coated with gold leaf.  Another 1,500 or so were in the upper cave, a place with no natural lighting, where it is believed that a large golden seated Buddha once stood.

With Jes was her schoolmates from the foreign exchange program at Thammasat University in Bangkok:  Lysh, originally from Utah, USA but called the Bronx, NY her home; and German Michael from Heidelberg.  They were all touring Luang Prabang and its environs for the weekend instead of studying for finals later that week.

After about an hour of exploring the caves, we were back in the boat to head downstream on the Mekong back to town.  I sat next to Michael and inevitably revealed to him I was in my fourteenth month of travel thus far.  “What, are your parents paying for it?” he said with a little disdain.  (No one respects a guy traveling on the full expense of mommy and daddy.)

“No, I was working for an internet company that paid me out.”

He was confused.  “How old are you?”

I smirked.  “Thirty.”

“Thirty?  Thirty?  Three Oh?”  He wrote “30” in the air with his finger.

“Yeah.”

“Hey, how old do you think he is?” he called to his schoolmates in the back.

“Whatever you think it is, add ten,” Lysh the American said, who was familiar to the genes that apparently made most Asians look far younger than they appear.  I remember one of the early episodes of E.R. when George Clooney was still on the show.  An Asian guy was rushed in with a sports injury and Dr. Ross (Clooney) assumed he was in school, when actually he was in his thirties. 

Jes guessed 24, Lysh 26, and Michael figured 20.  “See, add ten,” I said.

My age has always been a misconception in my life for years.  When I was about 18, I was carded for buying a lottery ticket (16 was the minimum in New Jersey).  When I was 23 I was carded for renting a rated-R movie at a video store — Monty Python and The Holy Grail of all things.  Both times I had to prove them wrong with identification and each cashier was shocked.  (Looking young has had its advantages though; like passing for a student in Egypt with a fake student I.D. to get into all the monuments at half price.)


THE FULL-DAY TOUR WAS ACTUALLY TWO half-day tours bundled together; only me and a young English couple, Catherine and Duncan from Leeds, had remained for the second half.  Joining us was an old Dutch(?) couple, two Americans, and a Thai woman named Anne on vacation from her job in Bangkok.  Luang Prabang was a vacation destination for her to get away from the craziness of Bangkok and the over-developed tourism of Thailand.  “Luang Prabang is what Chiang Mai was forty years ago,” she said.  (She didn’t look more than thirty years old.)

A minivan driver with a cheesy taste in music drove us the 30 km. south to the Khong Si Waterfall, a series of cascades and crystal clear pools underneath the main waterfall (picture above), all surrounded by jungle.  It was held within a national park that required an entry fee.  While waiting on line for a ticket, Anne heard my American accent, breaking her original theory of me.  “I thought you were southeast Asian,” she said to me.  “You look Thai.”

“Everyone says that I look Thai, and I ask them if I look Lao, and they say, ‘No, you look Thai.’”

She analyzed me again.  “No, you don’t look Lao.  You look Thai.”

Amazing; I look Bolivian in Bolivia, Egyptian in Egypt, Nepali in Nepal, Thai in Thailand — but not Lao in Laos.  What gives?

Beyond a small animal reserve with a shy tiger and some curious Laotian bears, we hiked the trail up to the middle of the main falls, through the tropical vegetation and the pools of water streaming down succumbing to the force of gravity.  The water of the main falls ran down the sloping hill to smaller waterfalls (HiRes), and ultimately to the designated swimming hole secluded in the jungle.  The water was colored cyan naturally with algae, making it look like a man-made pool that fancy resorts tried to emulate, but all created by Mother Nature.

The girls were afraid the water was too cold, so it was just Duncan and me who went for a dip.  “[After seeing this,] you have to do it.”

“Yeah, it says ‘swimming’ right there [on the sign.]”  The park people made a rope swing hanging down from one of the trees and the two of us ended up swinging and swimming until it was time to go.  On the way back to town we stopped at one of the Hmong hill tribe villages, which, unlike the “villages” of that morning, appeared to be a real village with no vending stands — until villagers just approached us with woven bracelets out of their pockets to sell to us.


BACK IN LUANG PRABANG, I booked a bus ticket for the next morning to go to the eastern town of Phonsavanh with the tour agency I dealt with before.  “How are you?” the man asked.

“Good, good.”

“What have you done today?”

“Uh, I just got back from the tour I booked with you yesterday,” I answered.  He didn’t remember me.

“Sorry, we have many tourists.”

The woman at the desk remembered me though.  “You are Filipino.  Your parents are from the Philippines.”

“Yes, you remember.”

“But you look Lao.”

“Really?  People say I look Thai, not Lao.”

She analyzed me again.  “No, you look Lao.”

Finally, someone with the correct misconception.  Now I could go proving people wrong in the proper way.






Next entry: Life Is Like A Box Of Chocolates

Previous entry: Pousi Galore




Commenting is not available in this channel entry.

Comments for “More Misconceptions”

  • First? maybe?  Someone actually thought you were 20?

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/11  at  02:50 AM


  • what a beautiful place

    Posted by Liz  on  12/11  at  05:03 AM


  • were they green or white hmong villagers?

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/12  at  01:51 AM


  • The Hmong village looks cool. Expecially since it’s an actual village.

    I was reading on the BBC that since so many Hmong people were relocated to the States, L.A. now has its very own Hmong Hip-Hop scene.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/12  at  06:16 PM


  • On the front page of the Seattle Times’ travel section on Sunday, there was a giant article about Luang Prabang (did I mention this already in another posting - oops if I did!). It’s a SIGN for me…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/14  at  07:45 AM


  • really beautiful places. it looks more tropical paradise than i thought it would. nice that you’re busting my misconceptions—again.

    where do you plan to spend christmas? with family in the philippines?

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/15  at  03:22 PM


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This blog post is one of over 500 travel dispatches from the trip blog, "The Global Trip 2004: Sixteen Months Around The World (Or Until Money Runs Out, Whichever Comes First)," originally hosted by BootsnAll.com. It chronicled a trip around the world from October 2003 to March 2005, which encompassed travel through thirty-seven countries in North America, South America, Africa, Europe, and Asia. It was this blog that "started it all," where Erik evolved and honed his style of travel blogging — it starts to come into focus around the time he arrives in Africa.

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Life Is Like A Box Of Chocolates

Previous entry:
Pousi Galore




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