Spots of Time

December 31, 2003

Leaving A Legacy

There are many kinds of legacies. The legacy of property, of children, of ideas, of philosophies. A legacy is immortality achieved, in some form or another.

One year ago, I began to create my own legacy, in the form of my travels and my columns. I didn't consciously think, "I am going to leave a legacy." My motivation was much more immediate and much more superficial.

First, to improve my writing skills - by forcing myself to writing regularly and on deadline. Second, to keep in touch with my friends and family - in what I hoped was an entertaining and informative way. Third, to know that when my peregrination was over, my stories would remain as a personal roadmap and reminder of my travel experiences, ideas and state of mind - in what will certainly prove to be one of the most exciting and uncertain period of my life.

I've always been a writer - a private writer. I was the girl scribbling in journals about the injustice of the high school caste system, about broken hearts and breaking hearts, and about holidays and vacations full of sunset-inspired epiphanies.

But, suddenly I was 28, about to embark on an extended journey with an uncertain conclusion. While I was certain my past career endeavors were not my life's ambition, I was nonetheless at a loss for what my life's ambition COULD be. I had ideas, sure - hopes, dreams, and desires. But, nothing concrete, nothing tangible, no building blocks. I needed a goal. Even if it turned out to be the wrong one.

Those who know me well will not be surprised at my admitting that with very few exceptions, I do not run headlong into the unknown. I check the road for obstacles, take along a map, and prepare myself for the journey. Just as this trip of mine was not undertaken lightly or spontaneously, my first serious foray into writing wasn't either.

It was the only New Years' resolution I made for 2003 - a travel column per week, every week. To be quite honest, I wasn't sure I would be able to do it. It wasn't for a lack of ideas - I always have many more than I need. But, there is a huge chasm between a good idea and the ability to transform that thought into a readable travel column - as I found again and again, week after week. Sometimes I succeeded in my attempts - sometimes I failed. But what matters most, at least to me, was that I did it. And now, just a day before 2003 becomes part of the archives of history, I realize that this resolution is the only one I've ever successfully achieved.

While technical and geographical difficulties made me miss my deadline on a handful of occasions, 99% of my columns have come in on time and on deadline - without an editor or any kind of a weekly "schedule." I consider this a noteworthy accomplishment considering I have been living a life where the only distinguishing characteristic of the weekends vs the weekdays is banking hours and traffic patterns. My Tuesday deadline - more than reminding me of the day of the week - helped keep me grounded.

For many people, the days before New Years are full of memories. Regrets for the year past, and excitement for the year to come. A mini "I saw my life flashing before my eyes" moment - in which one reviews the highs and lows of the past 12 months. They are traditionally a time of resolutions, and in sticking with tradition I shall share with you mine 2004 resolution. As with last year, there is only one. Why mess with success? ;)

I call my trip my own personal version of "graduate school." And, true to its name, every day is an education. Not in a formal classroom, but in the daily life of the planet we all share. I spend each day learning - about the world around me and myself. Sometimes the lessons come easily - like Thai cooking and the price of a tuk tuk in Bangkok. Sometimes they are harder - combating loneliness and isolation while on the road. There are tests I have passed with flying colors and tests I will have to retake - again and again.

As with a traditional graduate programs, like those many of my friends are currently involved in, the end of their schooling will require a final project, a thesis. And, so will mine.

My New Years resolution is my thesis - to become a published writer.

I put no constraints on this goal - not even that of time. While my hope is that somewhere within the 365 days that will make up 2004 I will see my name in print, I would rather it take me longer, if that will ensure pride and satisfaction in my work.

This goal is not about the glory of seeing my name in print (though hey, it would be cool), or about money (because all writer's will tell you that there isn't much). It all comes down to seeing if I have what it takes - the motivation, the desire, and the talent - to call myself not just a writer, but a published one.

To all of you I wish all the best that the New Year can offer: a fresh start, a new beginning, a jumping off point. The ability to reinvent yourself, to let go of the past, to embrace the present and look forward to the future.

And, above all, the opportunity to find your own legacy - whatever that may be.

********

For all of you still reading, if you come upon any contests, calls for stories, or think you can help me complete my "thesis" don't hold back - write me! I've got my own ideas, but who couldn't benefits from a little help from friends? :)

December 23, 2003

The Evolution Of Christmas

The newspaper showed a picture of a man swimming underwater and feeding sharks in an aquarium in Beijing, China. What struck me most was the man's dress - he was decked out head to toe in a bright red and white Santa suit. The caption said that as China continues to open its doors and embrace westernization, western holidays such as Christmas are more frequently celebrated.

Walking around downtown Bangkok a few days ago, I noticed an abundance of Christmas lights and decorations. All the shopping malls had Christmas carols playing over the loudspeakers, the outside gardens were decorated with Christmas angels, trees and signs - signs that wished people "Happy Holidays" - in English.
Even here, on the island of Ko Pha Ngan, where my brother and I plan to spend our Christmas, a quick walk around town shows shop fronts with Christmas garland, ornaments, New Years hats and noisemakers, and other western tchotchkes that seen unusual and out of place

Is Christianity spreading to Asia? No, it is not. But Christmas is coming, full force.

Every year, on December 25th, American Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. While not the most important of Christian festivals (that is reserved for Easter, the celebration of Christ's resurrection), it is the most colorfully and lavishly celebrated. No longer the simple celebration of a famous birth, the American commercialization of Christmas has taken the holiday to a place early Christians could never have imagined.

If you live in the United States, you can't get away from it. When I was little, the first signs of Christmas showed themselves the day after Thanksgiving - with department stores decorated to the nines and pre-Christmas shopping sales. Christmas carols started playing on the radio, families began to put up outdoor Christmas lights, and vendors selling pine trees took up shop in abandoned lots and outside grocery stores.

As I got older, the arrival of these splashy accents arrived sooner and sooner. The past few years I remember seeing Christmas decorations in stores immediately after Halloween - nearly two months early!

None of these events has anything to do with the birth of Jesus Christ - but then Christmas itself doesn't either. While Buddhist monks tolerate spirits houses and Baci ceremonies in Thailand and Laos, ceremonies and traditions that have nothing to do with Buddhism, most current Christian traditions are really nothing more than the evolutionary absorption of earlier pagan celebrations with some uniquely European and American touches.

No one actually knows when Jesus was born - the Bible lists no date. Some say September, some October, some July. Why then do Christians celebrate his birth on December 25? Why not July 8 or April 15 or September 25?

December 25th is the date of the winter solstice - and Pope Julius I chose that date as the "official" celebration of Jesus Christ's birthday. It is commonly believed that he chose this date to adopt and absorb the traditions of the pagan celebration of Saturnalia, a mid-winter celebration originating in Rome to honor Saturn, the god of agriculture. The timing of the celebration - around the winter solstice, was a time of excessive drinking, dancing, and a general feeling of festivity. The early Christians were smart - by decreeing that Jesus Christ was born around the time of the winter solstice, they nearly guaranteed popular adoption of the celebration of Christmas. Why not? In addition to Saturnalia, early Romans also celebrated the birth of the Mithra, the god of the sun, as well as Juvenalia, a celebration of children. Adding the birth of a man named Jesus was just icing on the cake - the more the merrier!

it is important to note that Christianity, in the early days, was not the force it is today. It was a struggling neophyte religion, and the first missionaries had a hard time getting the people to let go of their religions and adopt a new one. By incorporating pagan beliefs into the new religion, missionaries made it easier for the people to agree to "convert."

A great example comes from my own religious upbringing. Being of Serbian decent, I was raised in the Serbian Orthodox religion - considered to be one of the two "oldest" Christian religions (along with Catholocism). The Slavs, originally a polytheistic people, were not quite ready to give up on their "gods" - despite what early missionaries told them about Jesus. So, the missionaries, masters of "religious spin," allowed the Serbs to keep their "gods" but they called them "saints."

Today, in the Serbian Orthodox religion, each family has a patron saint whose special day (called "Slava") they celebrate each year. The celebration is a time of food and drink, family and celebration - as well some readings from the Bible. Few realize that "Slava" is really a celebration whose roots have nothing to do with Christianity, Serbian or otherwise.

The decorated Christmas tree, another symbol of modern day Christmas, has its current roots in German culture. However, evergreens were long seen as important symbols of life and immortality - the Vikings, the Celtic Druids, and even the early Romans believed this. All of these cultures used evergreen boughs, brought into homes, to ward off evil spirits.

The list goes on - from the tradition of giving gifts to the creation of Santa Claus and the reindeer - Christmas as a holiday is a fusion of religious and secular beliefs that together has created one of the most celebrated holidays in the world.

Today, the spread of Christmas to Asian nations has little to do with Christianity and more to do with the popularity and pervasiveness of western culture and traditions. The holiday, in Asia as well as in the rest of the world, has become more about having a party, getting gifts, and celebrating with friends and family, than about the birth of a man thought by the Christian world to be the Son of God.

So, is this a bad thing? Is this spreading of a secular Christmas to non-Christian nations damaging to the original intent? Is it ok to sing Christmas carols and give presents when you don't believe in Jesus or even in one god?

It is said that Christmas as we Americans celebrate it today was born out of the Victorian era. That we as a nation took the holiday from its pagan roots of a time of gluttony, indulgence and raucous behavoir and elevated it to focus on the ideas of charity and kindness, peace on earth and goodwill toward man. If that is true, then we also have the power to distance it from its current over exposure of spending sprees and commercialization.

When I was a little girl, I believed in Santa Claus, reindeer and baking Christmas cookies. I believed in Christmas vacation, snowmen and red and green paper chains counting down the days until I would run downstairs and see a decorated pine tree with colorfully wrapped presents underneath. I gave money to the Salvation army, bought toys for kids who didn't have any, and ate Christmas dinner surrounded by my family.

None of these things had anything to do with the birth of Jesus Christ, yet I don't think that partaking in any of these traditions was wrong. Even if I hadn't been taught "the true meaning of Christmas," (in the Christian sense) I still new Christmas was a time of love, a time of giving, and a time of kindness. And if that is the message being passed around the world, then what harm is there in that?

I love Christmas. I love the Bible story of Jesus in the manger, the visit of the three wise men, and the star of Bethlahem guiding the way. I love the carol about the little shepard with nothing to give, getting Christmas cards in the mail, decorating Christmas trees and baking Christmas cookies. And, I don't think there is anything wrong with it, provided there is some understanding of the roots of the tradition.

********

For more information about the pagan roots of Christmas, check out the historychannel.com, one of the main sources I used for this column. Really facinating stuff!

History Channel: World Christmas

Happy Holidays!

December 16, 2003

Calling All Spirits

Outside of every Thai home and business is a small "house" - about the size of a bird house or a doll house - colorfully decorated and with offerings of food, drink and flower placed in and around it. Called a "spirit house," its function, as one might imagine, is to house local spirits.

The Thai people believe that spirits inhabit things, including homes. The idea behind the spirit house is to make it so nice, so inviting, that the local spirit will set up residence in the spirit house, leaving the main house for the family.

This practice is taken quite seriously, and the more lavish the house or business, the more lavish the corresponding spirit house - otherwise, why would the spirit want to stay in it? A visit to a modern shopping mall in the city of Chiang Mai proved the point - the spirit house for the shopping mall was the size of a large tree house!

For a long time, I thought the concept of a spirit house was a Buddhist belief, as I also saw the spirit houses outside most temples. However, my ignorance was cleared up while participating in a two-day Buddhist meditation retreat. During a question and answer session with the instructing monk, someone brought up the spirit houses. The monk explained that spirit houses had nothing to do with Buddhism, but were part of the animist beliefs of the Thai people - beliefs that predated the introduction of Theravada Buddhism to the country. The spirit houses we had seen at various temples and wats were put there by lay people - and the Buddhist monks made no objections.

To me, this seemed amazingly open minded.

This fusion of Buddhism and older animist beliefs is not unique to Thailand. The Laos people, also Theravada Buddhists, have their own unique blend of Buddhism and animism. Called "phii" or "spirit" worship, it is the dominant non-Buddhist belief system in the country. Though officially banned by the government, its practice is open and widespread - even as far an being incorporated into "traditional" ceremonies in tourist hotels!

The most interesting and commonly practiced of the ceremonies involving the phii is the Baci [Baa-see] Ceremony. The ceremony is a calling of personal spirits back to an individual. During my time in Laos I was lucky enough to participate in a family ceremony.

The Saturday after Thanksgiving, Pom, one of the two sisters that runs the guesthouse I stayed in during my month in Luang Prabang, asked me if I was available that evening at 6 p.m. She explained that they were having a special ceremony for her mother and invited me to join in. I immediately agreed, excited and curious about the ceremony.

Pom's mother is 77 years old. Though she didn't speak any English, she always smiled at me warmly when we passed during the day and I had a soft spot for her. Earlier in the week, I came home to find the sisters preparing a mass amount of food, and their mother and her elderly friends working on flower and fruit arrangements. Pom told me her mother had been sick, so they were preparing an offering to take to the temple. I determined this ceremony had something to do with her illness.

I arrived just as the ceremony was starting. Inside the main house, a group of old women were sitting mermaid style on the floor, gathered in a circle around a tiered centerpiece standing on a low circular table. The centerpiece, a metal bowl called the "phaakhuan" was piled high with cones of banana leaves and flanked with marigold flowers, white string, candles and incense. Around the base was a selection of food and drink items - rice cakes, sweet pastries, boiled chicken, liquor, and eggs.
Each of the women had one hand touching the table upon which the phakouan sat, the other, in front of their chest in a half-wai (similar to the Christian prayer position of two hands together). They were dressed in traditional clothing - long sarong skirts (sin) with coordinating sashes (paa bien) wrapped around their upper body. I quickly sat down and joined the outer rim of the circle. I noticed that those who could not touch the center table touched the arm of the woman in front of them - and so I followed suit. I later learned it was to capture the flow of good energy and show a state of togetherness.

An elderly man, known as the "maw phawn" or blessing master, sat in the middle of the participants and conducted the ceremony. Usually a village elder, the maw phawn is always a man and usually one who has spent some time as a monk. Lighting the candles, he joined his hands in prayer and addressed the "spirits" in both Pali (an anicent Indian language still used by monks) and Laos, chanting for about ten minutes.

After he finished, all the women bowed their heads, their hands palm together in the traditional prayer position. Then the maw phawn took a few pieces of string from the centerpiece and positioned himself in front of the mother, the guest of honor. Taking her hand in his, he brushed his fingers toward her wrist, then away. He then tied a white string around one wrist and then the other. All the while, he murmured his blessing.

At that point, the women took some string from the centerpiece and one by one, went to the guest of honor and tied one string to each wrist, providing their own blessing. I took two strings and waited my turn, not knowing what I would say, but figuring I would do my own version of a prayer for good health.

I was watching the mother with interest when one of the old women, without a word of English but with a sparkle in her eye, came over to me and began to put the string on each of my wrists, all the while smiling and saying some words I didn't understand. Nith, the other sister, seeing what she was doing, came over and translated.

"She wish you good luck, and long life, and happiness. She wish you will have many children and also come back to Luang Prabang. She wish you safe travels and a quick return," she said, smiling.

When she had finished I smiled and thanked her in Laos. My wrists were almost immediately taken again, by another women, who also chanted as she tied on the strings. Nith later explained to me that while the guest of honor was usually the focus of the ceremony, it was very common for the participants to also tie the strings on other participants - wishing them good luck and a long lif, among other things. As I looked around, I noticed women tieing strings on the sisters, and on each other. Everyone was smiling and laughing - enjoying the ceremoney and the gathering of friends. Even though I didn't understand most of what they were saying, I had a great time, feeling like I was a part of something special.

The next day I had Nith explain to me more about the background of the ceremony, and explain the details of what had happened the night before. She told me that according to ancient Laos beliefs, a body has 32 spirits or "khwan." Throughout a person’s life, the khwan wander, sometimes going very far from the person’s body. Normally, this is fine, but during certain times in a person’s life, especially when they are sick, it is important to call back these spirits - so they may help the person in their current need. Because Nith and Pom's mother had been ill, they had decided to perform the ceremony.

The Baci Ceremony is also performed at other important times in a person's life. The ceremony is performed for a mother and baby after the birth, for a couple as part of their wedding ceremony, and when a family builds a new home. It is also performed during the Laos New Year, before a Laos person undertakes a great journey, or when they are about to enter a new business venture.

Nith explained that the stroking of the palm by the maw phawn meant two things. The first motion, toward the wrist, is done to bring good things to the person. The second, away from the wrist, is to remove all bad things from the person. The strings tied to the wrists bind the spirits to the person.

The strings should remain on a person’s wrists for a minimum three days, to ensure the desired affect. They can then be removed but should be kept in a safe place, somewhere above your head (the most holy part of a Laos person's body). This is to guarantee that the blessings will stay with the recipient throughout their life.

After three days, I removed my strings, but was unsure where to place them. I finally decided to put them in the top portion of my backpack - which, when on my back, rested above my head. It was the best I could do considering my present gypsy lifestyle, and I felt the spirits would find this arrangement suitable.

The timing of the ceremony, for me, was ideal. Just a few days after Thanksgiving, a holiday I was unable to celebrate according to my usual tradition, the ceremony reminded me that while our own traditions are important and should be maintained - they are no less important than the celebrations and traditions of other cultures. And, when in Rome!

Thinking back on Nith's explaination of other times when the ceremony was performed, I quickly focused on the embarking of new journeys. With my Laos visa expiring in a few days, I knew I was about to embark on another adventure. Thinking again about the old woman with the sparkling eyes, I recalled her words:

"She wish you safe travels and a quick return."

I hoped she was right.

December 09, 2003

A Necessary Blood Transfusion

I'm suffering from traveler's anemia - and there is only one cure. Lucky for me, the cure arrives in one week's time. But, I'll get back to that.

Traveling alone, in one word, is freedom. The freedom to go where you want, when you want, with who you want, for whatever reason you want. It is the ability to turn on a dime, to scrap your plans in favor of a passing fancy. It is being the CEO, CTO and President of your own company. It is being in CHARGE.

Traveling alone, in another word, is loneliness. It means regularly having dinner on your own, asking strangers to take your picture at tourist sites and worrying that the bus might leave without you if you run out for a bathroom break. It is giving the stuffed animal you travel with a name.

I value independence as a character trait. I see it as a sign of strength and of self-confidence. The ability to swim upstream,to make up your own mind, to be the master of your fate.

Dependence, on the other hand, has not typically been high on my list of qualities. Whether it be a girlfriend unable to make decisions without her boyfriend's input, a worker who only does what he is told, or a grown up child unable to pull away from parents - dependence brings weakness and insecurity to my mind.

In Stephen Covey's book "Seven Habits of Highly Effective People," he explains that the optimum path for an individual's growth is an evolution from Dependence to Independence to Interdependence. Even though I first read his book eight years ago, I am just now beginning to understand what he wrote to be true.

Traveling highlights a person's strengths and weaknesses. It makes one realize what they can do and what they can't do. It makes you aware of your mortality, your needs, your desires - in a way that is magnified and amplified. Every day is different, every day offers challenges, tests, opportunities to shine and opportunities to wallow.

While I have enjoyed, and at times, reveled in my independence, I have slowly begun to realize - to truly understand - that Independence - which I once saw as the Holy Grail, is really just an intermediary step. That Covey was right - that one must reach Independence, but not stop there. That one must continue to the final step - the harder step - of Interdependence.

People need people. This is not my opinion - this is a fact of life. Modern society would simply not function without Interdependence. From the garbage men who provide a thankless but vital service, to the factory worker who made the T-shirt I am wearing right now, to the coffee bean farmer that provided me with my morning beverage of choice.

In one week's time my brother Sasha will fly from Indianapolis, Indiana to Bangkok, Thailand, carrying with him the cure for my anemia - his presence. I am in need of a "blood" transfusion - a bit of the familiar and the familial.

I have attained Independence - excelled in it, in fact. After 13 months on the road, I don't think anyone can dispute my claim or my "success." However, if Covey is right, and I think he is, then my claim of "success" is as premature as the Prime Minister of Thailand's recent announcement that Thailand has "won" the war on drugs. I've finally realized that Independence is not the goal - it is a step in the process.

I still have a long way to go. Interdependence is a whole new ballgame and one I am not use to playing. It is being ok with not being able to do everything on your own. It is the realization that sometimes its better to have someone else do the job or make the call. It is learning from others as you learn from yourself.

My brother and I will travel together for two months - through Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand, maybe even Myanmar. It will be a new way of traveling for me - of relinquishing control of all of the power, the decision making, the planning - of sharing the journey and moving forward as a team. I am looking forward to it.

Hurry up Twirpy - I miss you!

December 02, 2003

Hold the Dogs

In Mongolian, the equivalent of "hello" translates to “Hold the dogs.”

Mongolia has historically been a remote and sparsely populated country. Most families live miles and miles from their nearest neighbors, and visitors are so rare that a face-to-face meeting requires plenty of warning. So, upon nearing a location, a traveler would stop about one mile away and shout out “Hold the Dogs!” – warning of their impending arrival. They would then wait several minutes, after which time they would progress another quarter of a mile, stop and repeat the phrase. This continued until the person finally arrived – giving both parties time to prepare for the meeting.

In Nepal, "Namaste" means something along the lines of "I salute your inner god-spirit." "Shalom," the Hebrew word for "Hello" also means "Peace." In Hawaiian, "Aloha" means "Hello" and "Goodbye." The Akha have the same word for good morning/good afternoon/good evening - "Udutoma."

Makes the English greeting of "Hello" dull by comparison, huh?

Languages are amazing. Anyone who speaks a second language can attest to the feeling of magic that occurs when you finally understand what someone is trying to tell you. Even those who don’t speak a second language have seen the power – think about a little child’s struggle to explain something but not having the words available in his limited vocabulary – and then, suddenly, that moment of comprehension!

Growing up bilingual, I loved that my family spoke a language that few people understood. It was my “secret language.” It allowed me to ask friends over for dinner, in full view of parents and kids, without anyone feeling uncomfortable. It allowed my brother and I to talk to each other at school or with friends about anything and everything we wanted – with no one else the wiser.

Even though I was born in the United States, I did not learn to speak English until I was three years old – and not without some problems. One of my first words, to which no one will claim responsibility, almost got me into trouble with my young neighbor – someone I was innocently trying to befriend.

I was about three years old at the time and standing at the fence that separated his yard from mine. He was seven year old and playing on his swing set. Our moms were working in their respective kitchens, keeping an eye on us through their windows.

“Dummy!” I cried out to him, a huge smile on my face. He stared at me – first confused, then angry. Then he started to swing higher. I was confused. I smiled again and called out, “Dummy!” He got a bit red in the face and started swinging even higher. Thank goodness for my mom, who chose this moment to come outside and explain that I had no idea what I was saying. A few minutes later we were both happily playing together.

Even when you grow up speaking another language, issues can occur. For example, in an early letter to my grandmother in Yugoslavia, one I wrote in Serbian and entirely on my own, I had accidentally written “pisam” instead of “pisem” – over and over again. The one letter difference may not seem like a big deal – but when you consider one word means “writing” and the other “peeing” the rogue vowel suddenly becomes very, very important – and very, very embarrassing!

At least my embarrassment was reserved for my own family – my friend Jordana was not so lucky. A fellow volunteer in the Akha village in Thailand, Jordana had an uncanny ability to pick up the local language – both Thai and Akha. Using the homemade phrasebook the NGO had given us, as well as her own hill tribe handbook, she spent many hours “speaking” to her host family. They seemed to understand most of what she was saying, but there was one phrase that brought about a confused and/or blank look every time.

Each day Jordana would enter the kitchen and offer to help the mother with cooking or cleaning. “Can I help you?” she said according to the Akha phrase in her book, smiling brightly. The woman always looked at her oddly, and never gave any kind of response. Undaunted, Jordana continued to ask, several times a day.

Upon returning to the clubhouse, the reason for her host mom’s strange behavior became apparent. Our phrasebook was not without errors and apparently this phrase had been wrongly translated. Instead of asking “Can I help you?” Jordana was in fact telling her host mother, multiple times on a daily basis, “I love you.”

However my favorite “language oops” story was shared with me recently while in Luang Prabang. Aaron, an American, was traveling in France for the first time. Fresh off the plane, he boarded the Paris underground, on his way to meet his girlfriend. He set his heavy backpack on one seat and sat down on another. As the train got closer to the city, more and more people go on board. Soon there were no free seats.

Just about then, a local man boarded the train. He noticed Aaron and his bag and began to berate him in a torrent of French words. Aaron had no idea what he was saying, but his tone was loud, angry and fierce. Soon, he had attracted the attention of the other passengers, all of who stared between the man and Aaron, tennis-match style. After what seemed like an eternity, the man paused in his tirade and looked expectantly at Aaron, as if this was his chance to explain, to redeem himself.

Mortified by the tongue-lashing, Aaron was speechless – almost. Summoning all his courage, he managed to squeak out the one French phrase he knew by heart. “Je voudrais un oeuf dur si’l vous plait.” The train burst out laughing and the man threw up his hands in exasperation, storming off the train

He said, “I’d like one hardboiled egg please.”

********

Next week: The Laos Baci Ceremony