His Shangri-la is Lao
We stopped in the middle of a four hour mountain climb south of Luang Prabang, for a cold drink and some shade. A man came out of the house next door, and I glanced his way. Nah. He looked farang (Western) but it couldn’t be, this far out of the city, in a tiny village. Something about the way he moved about the house, helped a small boy with his shoes, said he belonged here, lived here.
I saw the beard, the nose, yup, farang. He turned to us and said, “Hello.” We spoke, he in a vaguely European accent with excellent English. He said he was German, and had traveled by bicycle, for five years, around the world. We shared touring stories, favorite places, bicycles. He said we could never make the climb by the end of the day, and the worse one waiting after that. We hoped he was wrong.
I wanted to know how he ended up in Laos, and how long he had been there. I waited. It would come.
He began his story: He got food poisoning in Laos. After five years of bicycle touring around the world, he was stuck in Luang Prabang. Then he met her, and his life changed forever. They married, have two children, and he has been in Laos for seven years. He manages a pig farm for his father-in-law, and the family spends half the week in Luang Prabang, where their children can get an adequate education, and half on the farm.
I asked him if he would ever go back to Germany, take his family. He smiled, “Never.” He is Lao now, family man, farmer, happy, healthy. He found what many would call his Shangri-la. His is real. A beautiful wife, comfortable home, two much loved children. So, for some seekers, Shangri-la becomes more than fantasy, an ideal, but a day to day life, real.
He traveled alone those five years on his bicycle; we know just how many pedal strokes that is. He was searching for something, Shangri-la maybe. He entered Laos from Yunnan China, mythical location of mythical Shangri-la, as we did. He hadn’t found it there, lovely as it is. Food poisoning brought it to him, it brought him love and purpose.
Where he lives is beautiful, very, very beautiful. The people are poor, but they laugh at, and with, we crazy farangs pedaling through their lives. They bathe by the roadside at a cold water stand pipe, and instead of complaining, laugh. They expect little, and appreciate much. Perhaps our German friend, now Lao, saw that, and the light of his love’s eyes, and knew he was home, in Shangri-la.
We didn’t get his name, but he has this site and we hope he will e-mail us. We will publish his name and correct any miss-perceptions. We’d also like him to know we made it to Kiukacham, just before dark. It was our hardest day in Laos.