A Stranger’s Offering from the Heart

I’ve always found that when travelling, people are my best insight into a country. I can’t say that about every person I’ve met, of course, but as a general ‘rule’, if you can call it that. I love to people watch, and try to go where the locals go… the kindness of strangers can be inspiring.

Whilst in Laos last year, I fell in love with the people. Their relaxed nature (even though they drive in a chaotic manner), their smiles that light up their entire faces, their generosity, and their friendliness despite large language barriers was heart-warming. We felt welcomed in Laos, for our entire stay there, and left with beautiful memories. One such memory in Laos, will remain with me forever…

An early morning in Luang Prabang, myself, Jake and a fellow travel buddy of ours hired some bikes (10,000 kip for the day! – cheap, cheap!) with the idea we would ride out of town to a wet market that was not well-known to tourists. We rode through sleepy streets and temples, waving to the orange-clad monks as we cycled in the morning heat. Jake’s bike was playing up a bit, and we occasionally had to stop so he could try to fix it. A little frustrating, but for 10,000 kip, what could you expect really?…
We rode a bit further out, and onto the main road, cycling next to tuk-tuks, motos, cars and trucks. Jake’s bike chain kept sticking, and started making it almost impossible to ride.
I always give him shit about what happened next, and for him, in hindsight, it’s quite funny… basically, he cracked a tantie, and threw his bike to the ground. Ha! poor guy…

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Now, for anyone whose been to S.E. Asia, you’ll know that motorbike mechanic shops and general ‘fix it’ shops line the dusty roads, with tools and tyres and spare parts and bits and pieces and fuel conveniently spread all over the place – organised chaos, really. It made the situation for Jake (for me it was simply hilarious) much easier – the first mechanic shop we saw, we rode up to and hopped off our bikes.

There were two men sitting on tiny plastic children’s stools at the front of the shop; a younger Lao guy, and an older, portly Lao man (who, instantly took his little white singlet off when he saw us arrive??). They were sitting down to eat breakfast, and we didn’t want to interrupt them too much. Jake asked if he could borrow a tool to fix his bike, which was met with a blank stare. Smiles and body language went a long way…. The portly man quickly left the front of his shop, promptly returning with a cute little tool box. Smiles all round, and the portly man went back to eating his breakfast with younger guy.

While Jake was fixing his bike, travel buddy and I stood at the front of the shop, which met with the main road, watching the passers by. I turned to watch the two men, and to look at what kind of food they were eating; a large bowl of communal sticky rice, a bowl of asian greens of some description, and a big bowl of something chunky and brown…

I walked over to the men and asked “What are you eating?” and here in lies the beauty of the story…

No sooner had I asked, the younger guy looked up at me with a big smile, and shirtless portly man was up and shoving a bowl into my hand. He put a heap of rice into my bowl, filled it some more with the cabbagy greens, dipped some chopsicks into the brown goo and shoved a piece of something into my face… I took hold of the bowl and chopsticks, somewhat shocked and amazed, while my travel buddy and I laughed. Shirtless man was busy re-arranging chairs, offering me his, and fetching another for my buddy, along with another bowl and set of chopsticks. We laughed as they pointed egarly for us to sit with them, and with no languge other than smiles and hand gestures to communicate with, we both sat down.

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Shirtless man was smiling, offering us more and more; gesturing with his hands, before I had even taken my first bite. I felt so guilty for intruding on their beautiful morning, but so lucky and so welcomed by these two generous strangers. I looked at the rice; so sticky and fresh, and the cabbage – coated in just the right amount of chilli… and then I looked more closely at the brown goo. I looked from the goo, to my buddy, to the goo, to the young Lao guy. He put his hand to his chest, where his heart was, and the smiling shirtless guy grinned and nodded proudly. Oh shit, it’s heart.

They watched us, almost proudly, as we sat there with our bowls. Shirtless man must’ve thought I didn’t have enough food, as he quickly came over, took my chopsticks, and quickly added 6 or 7 more pieces of heart to my bowl. Excellent, I thought, I was hoping he’d do that!…
They smiled and ate, and smiled at us some more, and as travel buddy and I anxiously looked at the heart, the supportive nods from the two Lao men told us that we were not leaving without eating some heart. So, with a foolish thought of “ah, fuck it, let’s just eat it’ (that’s not a good attitude to adopt when eating foreign foods abroad in developing countries), we put the chopsticks to our mouths, and swallowed whole, the goo-looking heart.

The two men were pleased, and chatted together. Whilst they wern’t looking, with skill and grace, I swiftly removed the other pieces of heart from my bowl, and placed them back into the communal pot of goo. I did, however, finish off my rice and cabbage. Delicious, I must say.

We continued to sit with them, eating and smiling. Jake finished his bike repairs, and we finished our rice bowls. We thanked the men over and over again, and offered them money for their generosity and food. It was met with refusal; they wouldn’t take our money. We left them with smiles and waves, and we rode away with full stomachs and full hearts… literally.

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We carried on our journey and arrived at the wet market, bike drama-free. Exploring the market lanes, we came accross all sorts of foods and things we’d never seen. It was amazing to see; we never get tired of visiting wet markets. The fresh produce was astounding, fruits, vegetables, dry goods, tofus, rice; such an abundance of food!… we got to the fish and meat section…. and that’s where I saw it. The heart. It was there, just staring at me… I imagined it beating wildly. I patted my stomach, which seemed to have quietly shat itself, and gently cooed to it “Shhh…It’s okay my love, mummy will get you a yakkult and an iced tea. That will solve all your problems…”

And it did.