We’re back in Laos – we arrived yesterday towing a mixture of emotions in our wake. I’m a bit sick of every experience and transition bringing both good and bad with it. What happened to the days when I felt sheer, unadulterated, joy at something? Or even pure happiness?
Who am I kidding, I rarely do unadulterated anything. Possibly the closest I’ve ever come to unadulterated joy was finishing my end of year exams when I was sixteen and realizing that I wouldn’t have to study for eight, heavenly, weeks. And I do taste pure happiness now but it’s in tiny moments, like this morning at 5:30am when Mike heroically got up to deal with our whining puppy (who’d already woken the whole house at midnight and had to be installed in our room to settle him down again). Mike opened the door to his crate and Zulu shot out – a golden blur propelled by a wagging tail – and promptly scooted under our bed. There he settled down to eat a snotty tissue and pretend he couldn’t see Mike on his hands and knees, commanding him to come out. For some reason I found the sight of Mike, kneeling on the wooden floor in his pajamas and trying to look stern, hysterically funny. It was a small, light, bubble of pure happiness that was all the more startling for having formed in pre-dawn darkness.
It’s in tiny moments like these – moments that often last no longer than a couple of seconds – when I feel a singular something. Big, epic, things like moving countries or getting married or returning to Laos never bring singular emotions. They are magnifying glasses, enlarging both the good and the bad. And so it has been with this return.
The good has been great. Stepping off the plane to find Luang Prabang crisp and cool was a wonderful shock. Mike had told me that the weather this time of year would bring relief, but back in June I had no framework for understanding this. I’ve never lived anywhere so overtly tropical where the weather really does change drastically from an unrelenting steamy to a clean and edgy chilly.
Seeing Zulu so excited to see us that he peed himself, and so mystified to have us back that he didn’t try to chew on us with his sharp little teeth for eleven whole minutes after we walked in the door, was gratifying.
And dining last night at one of my favorite restaurants here, Tamarind, was gastronomically celestial. The monks were halfway through their evening chanting as we arrived, snagged the last free table, and waited for our feast, and what a feast it was. Lemongrass stalks stuffed with ground chicken and herbs and then grilled. Blackened pork wrapped in bamboo and served with a tart tamarind dipping sauce. Green beans seasoned with oyster sauce and fresh chili, so crisp they squeaked between my teeth. A glass of lime juice with a lemongrass-stalk straw. A creamy pumpkin and coconut soup. A dipping platter of smoky eggplant, tart salsa, sesame-studded dried riverweed, and something I’ve learned the hard way to stay away from – a paste made of buffalo, chilli, and jam. Oh, I almost forgot the sticky rice served in woven baskets. I love the sensuousness of those warm, fat, grains between my fingers and the tactile communality of eating mostly with our hands.
Yes, the good here is great. But there is always, always, the other hand with epic adventures. And on this other hand are moment like the one last night, when I went to wash my cold face before bed and realized anew that we have no running hot water anywhere but the shower (when the wall mounted hot water heater isn’t playing up). And when our neighbors play their radio yesterday afternoon much more loudly than I think is strictly neighborly, for hours. And when our unsettled puppy wakes up at midnight and refuses to stop crying. And, right now, when I’m busy typing this and an electric saw starts grinding away on metal about twenty feet away.
Oh yes, we are back in Laos and it is a mixed bag. But, then again, that’s pretty much adult life I suppose.
Other parts of adult life are unpacking after a trip, and filing, and completing paperwork, and cleaning up the office, and invoicing clients, and feeding myself instead of just trusting that my Mum will throw lunch together, so I better go. But, first, what about you? When is the last time you felt an uncomplicated emotion?