Monday, February 15, 2010

That pointed finger - Vientiane, Laos

A knobby vehicle stops by the curb. It's a modified motorbike, with added wheels. The guy who drives it, bony and dark-skinned, gets off and starts to move on all fours. He hangs about the tables of an alfresco café, stops near the customers and waits for their charity. People don't mind him and keep on chatting. A tourist who notices him puts a hand in his pocket, fishes out a note and hands it to him. The beggar doesn't take it and shakes his head. The tourist waits, then puts the money away. The Laotian snorts and makes for the bike, then stops, turns around and starts to yell. He's speaking English, insulting, swearing. People fall silent, the waiters come out. The tourist is stunned, he takes all the abuses, nailed to his embarrassment by that pointed finger. It's a delicate situation, the circumstances are odd, every reaction at hand is a double-edged weapon. He looks away hoping that it will end soon. It was a small denomination note, but it was the only one that was offered to him. 
Why that scene? There can be many reasons. This kind of people have complicated issues: they sink in the abyss of synthetic drugs and alcohol. Another explanation, more general and just as sad, is that Vientiane is no longer a remote destination. Expensive cars, modern gadgets, fashion clothes, new trends. On the other side of the river the lights of Thailand shine. Organizations and tourism bring in money and globalization. Along with living standards, vice and confusion increase. A city beggar is not a montagnard from a village: he can turn down a tip and angrily shrug, point a finger at you and start swearing in English.

Photo of a beggar in Bangkok, by Fabio Pulito

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