Retirement, and the anonymity that comes with it, isn’t easy when you’ve been used to long hours, lording it over others, and all the attention that comes with being a senior civil servant.
In June the withdrawal pangs from enforced inactivity got too unbearable for a 68-year old friend who then organized a tour of southern Laos with a group of five friends. Objections of “I’m too old” or “my knees hurt too much” were dismissed with counter arguments such as “It’s only for six days” or “We haven’t hung out together for so long”. Finally, with creaky knees and stiff backs, six of us, ranging in ages from 65 to 75, set off on our six-day, six-destination, great southern sojourn.
Besides the travel itch, we also wanted to catch up with colleagues who had worked under us many years ago and were now approaching retirement themselves. There is a saying, ‘Glass without polishing will turn to mineral, friends without contact will turn into strangers’.
In Khammouane and Savannakhet many people came out to welcome us, inviting us to meals and overwhelming us with their hospitality. In some places we walked through local fresh food markets to relive memories of our bachelor days of having to cook for ourselves. Markets are good places to observe peoples’ true well-being. In Savannakhet we spent a night, noting the city’s rapid “development” - new roads, numerous street signs but still few traffic lights.
At Napong we stopped for its famous grilled chicken before continuing to the waterfalls. In the drizzle we enjoyed riding elephants and accidentally ate their bananas, thinking these were for sale. We laughed like schoolboys at our mistake. We wanted to swim in one of the streams but because of the heavy rains and high levels of water, were advised against doing so. So we played petanque under a huge plastic sheet and built up an appetite for a large family-like dinner near the Tone-Tad waterfalls.
After breakfast the next day, we continued to Sekong, stopping at the beautiful Sinouk coffee plantation for some freshly brewed coffee. Sekong province, is rapidly changing too with more concrete roads, restaurants, hotels and guesthouses and an international-standards airport.
At Paksong, besides coffee, we saw locals growing strawberries, grapes, oranges, papayas and limes. Now, the roadside shops weren’t only selling Beerlao but also custard apples, avocado and much more.
We also met with old colleagues who invited us to dine on fresh fish at the floating restaurant in Muang Village. At Done Khong, we were enchanted with the astonishing natural views of Si Phan Done and the various types of river fish at the local fish market. I asked a fish vendor if the hydropower dams were causing fish shortages. Annoyed, she asked me if, “humans know the river better than fish”.
For six days, six sexagenarians forgot blood pressure, stiff backs and creaky bones. At the end of it one of us suggested, “After Buddhist Lent, let’s go north.”
“Yes,” we shouted in unison.
- by Dorksone Donkhong
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