We staged a coup this morning. It was over in a few hours and was mainly bloodless. But there was some major loss of face, and, I think, some hurt feelings. Our leader was a 60-something woman from Amsterdam.
The slow boats down the Mekong have an official capacity of 70. The captains don’t count though. They just eye it up. Everyone gets in and piles to the back so that they can sit on the mats, and it leaves all the seats empty. The captians just keep piling them in to get the extra fares.
After about 90 people were on board, an English lady took a head count and started yelling, “we’re full, we’re full,” which got the whole boat going. The captain kept trying to pull in passengers, though, and the woman from Amsterdam finally got out of the boat and stood on the gang plank, turning people away, even though the captain was shouting at her. She was an imposing woman, with long, gray hair pulled back in a pony tail, and I think that if she’d told me to take a hike, I would have. The captain and another worker kept pointing to the empty seats and waving in the folks from shore, but we kept yelling “full, full,” and our coup leader would not move off the gang plank. Even the folks on shore were cheering us on.
Our leader made a tactical mistake, though. She had asked one of the shiphands to tie her bicycles down, and then followed them to make sure they did it. Once satisfied, she went back to her station. The standoff went on for over an hour, and everyone started yelling, “Let’s go. We leave. Come on, man, let’s get the hell out of here.”
When it looked like we could finally leave, the captain walked up to Ms. Amsterdam and yelled in her face, “You have to pay for bicycles.”
He struggled to pull something out of his ass. “Two, four, five … four hundred baht. Each.”
There was a moment of silence when everyone, including the captain I think, ticked off the conversion in his mind–kip, dollars, pounds, euros (about $25 dollars total–more than the price of a ticket). Then everyone started yelling, “No way, no, come on man. That’s not right.”
“Four hundred baht each,” the captain yelled. “You no pay, we no go.”
So we sat there a while. There was a lot of shouting and another ship’s hand came on board and told us we had to pay the 800 baht or we weren’t going. Meanwhile the overflow got in another boat, and we were all wishing we’d arrived late and got on that one.
So we were at a standoff. Discussions broke out about taking up a collection, but everyone was pissed, and there was no graceful way out.
They made us wait for another half hour, and then cast off without so much as a word. As we pulled off our mooring I caught a whiff of pot smoke from the Irish travellers we’d met the previous day who were already huddled in a circle, passing around 32 oz. bottles of BeerLao and getting high. And then we began to float downstream. We were on the slow boat to Pak Beng.
posted Tuesday January 2008