This is where I found myself; I had been away from the United States for nearly a year. Through intermittent wifi, I received word my best friend of a decade had died. And I had just exited a bus in a remote Laotian town closer to the China border than to anything resembling a city.
While I was long familiar with the feeling of being far away, and I was at this moment the furthest away I had ever been, this was among the first times I ever felt truly distant. There was nothing that I could do except to communicate with the people back home. And communication here was scarce at best.
When getting a belated lunch accompanied with a couple drinks at a local restaurant, I was soon joined by a Spanish traveller named Miguel. After some time talking, another couple wandered in, a Brit named Craig, and his companion, Mari from Estonia. After a while at that restaurant, we parted ways for a bit, only to rejoin for one of the most genuinely fun nights I had had in a long while.
We began at the old market of the town, which during the day was inhabited by stray cattle, but for some reason still functioned at night. Along with the readily available Beerlao, we ate anything that we could get our hands on, including plates full of grilled skewers and garlic-flavoured snails which we had to suck from the shell with only the aid of a toothpick. They were actually quite good.
This feast extended into out own games of hopping one-limbed battles. The goal was to knock the other over. Not a difficult task in theory, but a gut full of partially cooked snails and Beerlao complicated the situation.
After the market, Miguel insisted he knew of a karaoke bar that would still be open. Having done quite the late-night survey of the town the night before, I vocally doubted him, but as the three of us followed him through the town, he proved himself right. We were welcomed into the bar with a grandiose “Sabaidee Farang!” and sat down.
None of us dared the Lao language karaoke, but we listened and had fun with it. And in the end, it was the night I needed.
One of the things you learn to accept in this way of life is the impermanence of some friendships. It’s difficult to foster lasting relationships in a lifestyle where everyone is quite literally moving in different directions. I’ve walked away from several places and the relationships they held and I have seen several people I grew to care about go their separate ways in order to move on with their lives.
And then there are these fleeting friendships. Oftentimes because we are all moving along our own paths, we may only intersect for a few days. It’s possible to have a fantastic experience in that short time, but of course you know the whole time it won’t last long. Knowing that the people met randomly can have such a profound impact on me, it was not a comfort for the loss of my best friend, but a reminder that in spite of other things, life goes on beyond what you can’t change.