sayarsan's picture

The Hmong are a mountain people who made it down to Lao sometime over the past 500-1000 years I suppose and more recently have made their way across the Mekong River into Thailand because their land and its resources are coveted by the Pathet Lao government. They are on the endangered species list and Thailand has been known to show some kindness to endangered species i can tell you. I was staying in ChaengSaen a former walled town with one side on the river and the others surrounded by a wall of clay or terra cotta bricks which has largely disappeared by now. The surrounds are made up of villages and fields mostly for growing rice and there is plenty of country to hunt in not too far from home. When i came into the village i was recuperating from a dislocated knee so i was quite happy when to settle at a table with a drink and i was soon met by a few children who typically check out intruders and soon their school teacher came over and i was able to speak english a bit. I'm certain they judge people by the way they treat children and these were an easy lot to get on with. AyKwan who seemed about 60 yrs old, bright, quick, and not at all decrepit came to sit down after they left, I had bought a bottle of Mekong and he had a bottle of clear LaoKao which is the homemade spirit that was probably twice as strong as the store bought stuff i had. He would toast me with a shot of LaoKao and i would toast him with a shot of Mekong as we tried to get past the preliminaries waiting for the sun to go down so we could retire to his place and smoke. Tax free Lucky Strikes were about all i had to offer anyone but before long someone had sold me AyKio (Mr.Green). As it darkened we got up to go and i realised just how strong his LaoKao was as my crook knee again dislocated and i fell down on the goat trail we were clambering up.
AyKwan had no mind for my feeble pleas to slow down but one of the young men did and gave me his shoulder as a crutch but he wasn't quite tall enough so we stopped off at his home which was with his family who had the grocery stall and were very well accomodated in a teak house with a beautiful living room in which the family sat after dinner. With the aid of a dictionary their sons managed to broker a lively conversation and they also had a bong although AyKwan, DekYai (big brother), and myself were the only ones smoking. DekYai had plenty of AyeKeo to smoke but the father answered no when i asked about opium. Never mind the conversation was good and all that alcohol had an effect anyway and as i settled down to bed the elder son gave me a 'Thai cigarette' i.e. KrongThip with a liberal sprinkling of PongKao (white powder) which sent me to a delightful rest.
I awoke very early in the morning, DekShao (young brother) had gone hunting and i went out to the fire to put some MetSal ointment into my knee which was now quite painful. I began rubbing the ointment into my knee and was quickly accosted by an aged woman who was kind enough to massage it vigorously before applying it to both her own knees which hopefully weren't as sore as mine but probably a lot more chronic. Perhaps she recognized the cream as something like industrial grade Tiger Balm which isn't far off. Soon DekShao returned smiling and showed us his catch which was a large rat from a rice field. I didn't know at the time but where the Hmong come from there is a variety of rat which grows quite big in the rice fields depositing plenty of meat in their tails. As it was he had a good specimen of field rat and as i watched him skin and mount it for cooking could see no sign of blemish or parasite and found it very easy to eat, tastier than chicken, and its only shortcoming being its small size. The fungus soup and rice that went with it completed a good light breakfast and after sitting and talking very little for a short time I went inside to get my things.
Walking was really hard and inside as i got my stuff I had trouble with the collection of clocks. On the two back walls of the sitting room were numerous plastic wall clocks of the same size and make but all different colours and i must have knocked three of them down completely by accident. Thinking now these refugees from the hills of Laos had been hunters and subsistence farmers long before they came down to the Mekong and settled within earshot of the the army that had chased them out of their hills to a place where they needed to think about time so much. I'm glad to say they are coping well so far and have lost none of their grace and charm. They didn't seem to mind about the clocks but when they had put me to bed the previous night they were insistent that my feet weren't pointing towards the shrine on the wall opposite and that shouldn't change much in the foreseeable future.


felix's picture

I loved this piece. You'd told me about the clocks on the wall before, but this fleshes out the whole event nicely.