A blog about writing, reading, travelling and great characters I meet in life. I love these things more than cheese-on-toast times trampolines times monkeys.

Monday, 11 April 2011

Search for a writer in Luang Prabang - uncover an unexpected experience

‘There are no writers here.’

That’s the answer I get from Lao people in bookshops and coffee houses in Luang Prabang.

This only makes me more determined to find one.

On the streets at dawn...

...I look out for writers.

Toddlers through to great grandparents sit on the pavement - they offer food to hundreds of monks. But not a writer in sight.

By the Mekong river...

...I hire a pink bicycle and explore Luang Prabang. I look down steep green banks.

Kids splash and twist like catfish. Adults fish and bathe on their backs.

Boys play football on a brown pitch.

But no writers here either.

At Kuang Xi waterfall...

...I search for a writer.

Friends and I swing from a rope in the trees and drop into a waterfall pool.

The world slows down as I revolve under the milky blue water. It feels like a cool sheet around me.

Kuang Xi Waterfall - ‘The Big One’ fills my ears with fuzzy white noise. Tons of water pours from the clouds down the green and brown rock face.

Surely a writer here? Not one.

And then Luang Prabang starts to hynoptise me...

This town wraps the decision-making part of my brain in banana leaves and stores it under the bed.

The hardest choices I make here include:

- do I have eggs or jam with my French bread for breakfast?

- a cup of Lao coffee or a pot?

- read in a cafe for two hours or three?

- coconut or papaya juice?

- an oil or a Lao massage?

- stroll through the night market or visit a temple?

That's why Lao People’s Democratic Republic is also known as Laos Please Don’t Rush.

Maybe there aren’t any writers here after all.

Right under my nose...

I chat to Siyasack (Sak) at my guesthouse about my search for writers.

Sak is 20.

He works at my guest house from early morning until after lunch. He studies teacher training and Science every afternoon. He works at the guesthouse every evening and does his homework.

He sleeps on the floor of reception at night.

Sak tells me about a story he wrote (summarised here)...

Two men are in hospital. One man lies in bed beside a window. The other man who has lung disease has to lie flat - he can’t see the view from the window.

For one hour each day, the first man describes what he sees outside:

- “The park with a lovely lake”
- “Ducks and swans playing on the water”
- “Children sailing their model boats”
- “Young lovers walking arm in arm”
- “Flowers of every colour”
- “The view of the city skyline in the distance”

Months later, the man beside the window dies peacefully.

The other man moves bed. And for the first time, he sees there is just a wall outside the window. He asks the nurse why his friend who died would make up so many wonderful sights. The nurse tells him that his friend was blind.

‘Perhaps he wanted to encourage you,’ the nurse says.

The inspiration for Sak's story...

‘My father start smoking since he is 13 years old and he has big problem with his lung,' Sak says. 'My father put tobacco inside a fresh leaf and chew all day working on the farm.

'The story I writing, it was the first time my father was ill and I took him to the hospital. I met a man in the hospital who had problems with his eyes.

‘The blind man in my story is teaching us to know that even when he is dying, he can still control his temper and share his happy to the other guy.’

"Share his happy..."

...I love this phrase Sak gives me.

I think about it as I climb over 300 steps to Phou Si temple in Luang Prabang.

I wonder about Sak's family as I watch the sunset over the Mekong River.

‘My father is 42,' Sak tells me that evening. 'He was working hard on the sticky rice farm and in the night time he go fishing. My father cannot work now because of his lungs.

'My mother take care of my father and my three younger brother. My mother is 36 years old and she works on the sticky rice farm. Even though she is working very hard, she is always smiling.

‘My brothers are Joy (17), Tatia (11) and Luen (7). Joy help my mother work on the farm. I am asking the head of the temple in Luang Prabang if Tatia can come to be monk. Luen go to primary school.’

I say to Sak that I’d like to visit his family...

Sak tells me his village is 60 kilometres away in the mountains of Xieng Ngeun district. The last 15 kilometres is up a mountain dirt track.

‘And we will have to come back the next day,’ Sak says.

Sak has to arrange cover at the guesthouse. It will be the first day off Sak's had in 6 months to visit his family.

And I get to go with him :-)

This story will be continued after my trip to Sak's village in the mountains...


  1. Beautiful photos and beautiful prose about a place I look forward to visiting. I love Sak's story and I love your amazing ability to befriend whoever you meet, Charlotte. Can't wait for the sequel about the mountain village and your journey there. Something tells me you will have uncovered a writer before this is over...

  2. Lovely comment, thank you Sarah. And yes, the search for writers continues :-)

  3. LPB brought me more joy than I could have imagined! Truly loved it there!
    Your trip to the village sounded amazing!