Lao time

– Vientiane?

– Bus?

The man looks at me with eyes that seem to only exist in, and care for, this specific chunk of time and space. Getting away from here or how long time it would take was never anything they cared to reflect on. He points across the street, to the bus station I just came from.

I raise my eyebrows so as to look like a question mark, and point at my wrist, a sign for time that works everywhere there are watches. When?

The man takes up his calculator.


A hard blow to my sense of urgency, and one that means that I have to spend 14 hours in Udomxai, a dirt-road town in northern Laos filled with Chinese road workers and development. I had rather spent them on the road away from there.

– How many hours does it take?

No response.

I can’t think of a way to signal the difference between a specific point in time and a stretch of time with my body.

– Parlez-vous francais?

– 你会讲汉语吗?

The man shakes his head, then states the obvious.

– Lao.

Silently we both agree that I don’t speak Lao.

I try the word “Vientiane”, followed by my hand moving away from me, and one, two, three, four, five? fingers. Question-mark eyebrows.

The man picks up his calculator.


I resign to my fate of not getting anywhere fast, and pay for my room.