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Meeting the Dutch in Thailand and Laos


I studied Dutch in College because I had to fulfill a foreign language requirement and believed that learning Dutch would somehow differentiate me from my peers, which it didn’t. In the three years since I finished my studies, I had met two people from Holland, and neither was interested in helping me practice the language. Then I went to Southeast Asia, and people from Holland were, unexpectedly, everywhere. A summary of interactions with a portion of those I encountered:

-Chiang Mail, Thailand: Pretty girl in hostel getting ready to start University. Couldn’t understand why I spoke Dutch. Traded family and academic histories, moved onto Dutch politics (immigration paranoia) and strange holidays (Sinterklaas: Saint Nicholas comes with horse on boat from Spain with blackface elves). English woman hung over from two nights before lingered behind describing headache. All went to Tiger Kingdom attraction later that day where the English girl discovered Wifi at the front entrance and paused to check in and smoke cigarette. That night, listened to the girl from Holland video-chat with boyfriend, realized she was five years younger than I was. In meantime, Dave, new friend from California, split a bottle of whiskey with me while carrying our team to third place finish in hostel Southeast Asia trivia contest.

-Chiang Mai, Thailand: Engineer and Student together in the back of a truck on our way to Elephant Trek. Spoke of Dutch Cities and where I should live the following summer to avoid the Texas heat. They suggested Utrecht. Asked if it was expensive and they said yes. Asked how they met each other and they said previous night, at our hostel.

On the elephants (two to an elephant, shared mine with a French man who was also alone) another Dutch couple joined our group. Dismounted in an unsanitary stream, washed the huge animals, engaged in water-fight full of shouting, giggling, bacterial paranoia. Wondered about my contact lenses as heap of water from somewhere slapped my face, spat repeatedly hoping not to swallow any. Imagined open blisters on my feet becoming infected with whatever parasites or disease strains thrived in elephant feces. Launched water towards my Thai guide

Staff gave me certificate of completion with picture taken near the beginning of our tour. In it, I stand in denim uniform meant to protect me from elephant’s rough skin. Green mountains behind me and smoke in the air lends picture an authentic feel. Grin is goofy, eyes are closed. At the spring roll and noodle lunch provided after short trek, engineer offered to store certificate in his backpack for safekeeping. Never remembered to ask for it back.

-Reggae Bar, Chiang Mai, Thailand: Married couple only Dutch people and only people over age thirty in bar. Very short, shouting discussion over the upcoming transition from Queen to King in Holland.

-From Chiang Mai to Chiang Khong via Chiang Rai in a Van: Deranged Australian man with grey hair spoke at length about his thyroid problems, held court on the subjects of vacation photography and nether-region perspiration. Wore large designer sunglasses and badly misinterpreted the mural on the wall of the temple in Chiang Rai as celebration of the Western Film industry. Name was Harry, spoke some Dutch because his Grandma lived in Rotterdam when he was a child.

-Chiang Khong: Boy walked up behind us as we bought strawberry fruit shakes at guesthouse/café. Was from Utrecht and named Stewart and we spoke, though he answered all my questions in English. Out of high school and working at the post office for half a year to save money, was touring Asia alone, but had plans to go elsewhere with friends. Told him I was from Michigan, he said his entire family had once visited because his father enjoyed vacationing in desolate places. Family had also gone to Newark.

-Chiang Khong: Negotiated the purchase of a Pit Bull poster that the owner of a bar had printed onto a piece of tarp and hung on the wall. Cost the US equivalent of three dollars. Joined a Jenga game for one round, caused the tower to fall over during my third turn, chugged a glass of Thai Whisky that man handed me as punishment. Owner of bar from Northern Belgium, had long gray hair and many tattoos on arms, spoke at length in Dutch. His best friend in town, bald man from Liverpool, attempted to coax present Americans into confrontation by complaining about various US cities and people. Was universally ignored. Owner handed me business card that read “Danny Belgium,” spoke with me about the minor differences between Dutch and Flemish languages before I left.

The Laos Side of the Border: Had conversation with Dutch woman on truck-bed while riding to border crossing as sun rose. Following hours leading up to boat ride not surprisingly characterized by dehydration and lethargy, treated with juice bottles and complaining. Sat by side of road and waited. Repeated same conversation due to not remembering earlier conversation due to fog of hangover. Afterwards Thyroid Harry, still lingering, demanded I take pictures and said these were the moments I wouldn’t forget.

Two Day Boat to Luang Prabang: Man Harry’s age approached with a Beerlao in hand. Glasses, cut-off shirt, English Football Club tattoo. Rambled about Northern England and critiqued a guest house in Chiang Khong. Mentioned that he once lived in Rotterdam. Before I could speak full dutch sentence, cut me off and pointed.

“You see that man in the sweaty button up shirt?” Was talking about Harry. “We chatted for a bit. He said he’s from Manchester. He said it like this—Manchester. I hate that prick.”

Luang Prabang: Bumped into Stewart the young ex-postal employee several times a day. He had joined with another young guy from Amsterdam named Julius. Three of us and 24 year old Swedish-Belgian man named Carl who played American Football in college attempted to find the popular pool (described as having a spring break atmosphere), walked for an hour, ended up at a mostly vacant private resort. Swam in their pool, were confronted on way out, paid 20,000 Kip (just under three US dollars) apiece to avoid trouble. Found real pool the next day, ate Ham and Cheese sandwiches there.

Luang Prabang: All bars closed at 11:30. Went to the bowling alley which serves beer and stays open. Stewart, Julius, Carl showed up late, watched me roll six consecutive balls into the gutter. Stewart, thousands of miles from home, sweating furiously while drinking Beerlao in a brightly lit bowling alley in North-Central Laos, suddenly recognized group of guys he went to high school with several lanes over. I spoke with them incoherently and finished with an almost impossibly low score.

Siem Reap Cambodia: Alone, all friends still back in Laos or Thailand. Sat at restaurant, talked to bartender, ate Khmer Curry dish, drank beers. Walked to Angkor What?—popular backpacker pub. Sat at bar, talked to bartenders, drank more beers. Same situation in Texas would have probably felt weird, lonely. In Cambodia, just sat waiting for some Dutch people to walk in. Thought one did—ended up being Siberian.

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