* May 29: Reached Vientiane, Laos. I had an overnight train journey (253 Baht) from Bangkok to Nong Khai and then a 30-minute shuttle train service (20 Baht) from Nong Khai (Thailand) to Thanaleng (Laos), crossing the friendship bridge which forms the international border between Thailand and Laos. I took a mini van from Thanaleng railway station to central market of Vientiane (negotiating the fare to 150 Baht when it was actually 500 Baht). INR 2= 1 Baht
* May 30:
Two days ago, I met Krishna Kumar, a Mumbaikar in Bangkok. He has been working with ‘The Nation,’ a prominent English newspaper in Bangkok, Thailand. Over the two decades, he reached the rank of Chief Sub Editor. He is a workaholic and represents last generation of die-hard journalists. He took weekly off after 24 days. He is not on social networking sites and believes in one to one communication.
He said he is a contemporary of Carol Andrade, a journalist/editor from Mumbai. Kumar said he worked with Mid Day and then in Indian Express. Odd 24 years ago he left Express for next assignment in Thailand. A journalist in foreign country is equal to dozens of diplomats, because a journalist helps to formulate the public opinion and he reaches to the masses, government and bureaucrats every morning through his words.
* May 31: Going against the doctor’s advice
Last evening, after it had rained, I saw some boys playing volleyball. I could not resist and joined them. In high school, both my thumbs were fractured while playing volleyball and the doctor advised me to stay away from the game. I followed his advice till last evening. Laos locals know nothing about India, except that it’s a very big country and Bombay (Mumbai) is the biggest city. No Hindi films theater here.
* June 2: Another love story
Vientiane, capital of Laos: She is from Sweden and he is from Laos and they married in Thimphu in flat 20 minutes.
77-year-old Michael Somsanouk, also known as Mixay and is the father of Laos’s first English newspaper Vientiane Times, could not recollect where he met the love of his life for the first time. He says he probably met her at some National Day programme or National Reception in Vientiane three and a half decades ago.
He tries to hide a smile as he says, “Unlike in romantic movies, it wasn’t love at first sight. I don’t even remember our first meeting very clearly.”
A Swedish national, Mrs Somsanouk, was working with the Swedish Embassy in Laos at the time. They met a couple of times for formal events. Gradually, love blossomed.
Mixay, who was educated in France and often visited relatives in UK, was a popular personality in Laos, a former French colony. Very few people in Laos can speak French and hardly any can understand English. Rarely, does anyone understand both languages. Mixay is one of those rare people in this tiny South East Asian country.
Later, Mrs Somsanouk got another assignment at UNICEF in Bhutan. Love worked as a magnet. The two decided to get married and went to the Municipal Court in Thimphu accompanied by two witnesses. But the president of Court asked for two Bhutanese nationals as witness. The couple hunted for two Bhutan friends and coaxed them to be witness. That is how they got married on foreign soil, far away from their homes.
Laos had no English newspaper till 1994. Then Laos government requested Mixay for assistance to establish a national English newspaper. He acknowledged it and that is how the Vientiane Times newspaper was born. He was the first Editor-In-Chief of the Vientiane Times, Laos.
Out of curiosity, I asked him about India. He said, “Yes, I have been to India once. It is a very big country. In 1980, the then Prime Minister of Laos, asked me to accompany him on his official visit to New Delhi. It was an honour for me. We were staying in the President’s Palace. I still remember there were strong and tall Sikhs guards in every corner of palace. They looked very smart and their outfits were attractive. There were huge portraits of Lord Lady Mountbatten. I did not understand what kind of love was that for colonial legacy?” I kept mum.
* June 4: Has this ever happened with you?
Local Buddha park, suburb of Vientiane, Laos: Last week, I had cycled whole day in Ayutthaya, ancient religious city in Thailand. In evening, rushed to Bangkok, took my sack and rushed to railway station. I was just running from one place to another. I was afraid that I will miss my train.
Fortunately, I got the train, last car/ boggy of train but missed to buy some food. I had hope that I can buy something on train which was prestigious train like our Deccan Queen. There were some pork disheswhich were useless for me. I was starving. Since morning, I had only breakfast. Stomach was pulling from inside. Moreover, I had lost my neutrality of mind. I could not keep calm, as if I was disturbed. You could imagine my state of mind with this picture.
While searching for ticket, I got this fruit which I had bought two days ago. I don’t like guava but what a delicious taste it has. That was my three-course dinner for the night.
* June 5: Meditation in the river
Took a calculated risk. Current was not fast. My friend told me this river is Ganges of South East Asia. Its famous for some treaty with India. I will get some more details if possible
* June 8: WiFi is poor so could not upload any pictures lately. I’m physically and mentally fit. Bit homesick, rest all okay. I will write once I have better network.