4.09pm - Pink To Make The Boys Recoil In Horror

Trip Start Jan 07, 2010
Trip End Dec 13, 2010

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Flag of Lao Peoples Dem Rep  ,
Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Wednesday 8 September, 4.09pm, The Apsara House

Luang Prabang is beautiful. They've been having boat races all day today, so I’ve been hanging out by the river, wandering around the markets, and eating plastic bags full of noodles. My body is thanking me profusely for having a couple of days off the booze and instead carefully treating the six thousand ant and mozzie bites I procured in Vang Vieng.

So why am I still thinking so fondly of old Spicy?

Ah well, in a couple of days I’ll be back there at their Chiang Mai base. Lovely Laos is nearly at an end, which is terribly disappointing, because it is now jostling with Cambodia for my favourite South East Asian country. Sometimes I think I prefer one, then the other springs back to mind. But either way, shiny shiny Singapore is now relegated to third, and poor old Malaysia is puffing along bringing up the rear. And the less said about the Philippines or Indonesia, the better.

After the intensity that is tubing, we were none of us good for anything the day after. Fortunately, Vang Vieng is liberally littered with tiny restaurants, all with basically the exact same set-up. A girl actually came to the hostel and said she’d left her mates at this place with a load of couches, and they were showing Friends, and everybody burst out laughing, because that description covers every place in town. They’ve all got these little benches you climb onto and sit (or lounge) on with a few cushions. They all have little low tables on the benches. And all the benches are usually facing the same way, towards one or two flatscreens at the front of the bar which show nothing but Friends or Family Guy. I heard a rumour that if you look hard enough, there’s a place that shows The Simpsons, but I question its veracity, because I saw nothing but the first two. The staff pretty much leave you alone as long as you order something once in a while, so the morning after the night before, Sasha, Alex and I stumbled into one of these places and set up camp at the front of the room, and basically didn’t move for about six hours. We watched the entire fifth season of Friends and about eight or ten episodes of the sixth before Sasha noticed Grace and Susan in the bar across the road. So we slowly finished our drinks, painfully gathered our stuff, and dragged ourselves over to where they were... doing the exact same thing. Except that their TV was showing season ten. It was quite a headfuck for everyone to age four years in the time it took us to cross the road, I’ll tell you.

River Song is full of shit. No, not the annoying Doctor Who character (although that statement really could apply to either). The river to which I refer is the Nam Song, which runs through Vang Vieng and is the very same river upon which we had thrown our tender bodies the previous day. In the rainy season, this experience is much improved, as the water level is higher and the current faster; however, the downside is that all that rain tends to wash the, ah, animal matter, shall we say, from the surrounding fields and houses and into the river. Hence my earlier statement: to swim in the Nam Song is to swim amongst tiny particles of faeces. Not that it stops any of the drunken Western fools from tubing and ziplining and rope swinging and water sliding into it, but it does mean that one of the occupational hazards of this trade is catching a good dose of pink eye.

If you’re anything like me, you probably thought pink eye was a bit of a joke – the only times I’d ever heard of it were in references from things like Judd Apatow films or South Park. Well, it turns out that acute bacterial conjunctivitis, to give it its proper name, is no laughing matter. Half the people in the hostel already had it, and it had been a running joke from the moment we arrived that you can’t escape Vang Vieng without it. Grace didn’t even go tubing, and she still caught it, because it’s so freaking contagious, and we’re all touching the same door handles, the taps on the sinks, the flush buttons on the toilets, and as our resident wiseass Daniel put it, "The bottle opener is ground zero for pink eye."

In the afternoon of our tubing recovery, my eyes began to feel like I had something in them, and I couldn’t blink it away. Sasha had been mothering all of us and insisting we put antibiotic eye drops in all day whilst tubing (“okay, we’ve got our drinks, now line up for your drops!”), so I put some more in, but I began to feel a stirring of anxiety. As my eyes began to get more bloodshot and feel itchier and more uncomfortable throughout the rest of the afternoon and into the evening, I went to buy some drops of my own, and then eventually decided to go back early and shower, to try and cool down my itching, burning face. After the shower, I had half a mind to go back out and meet everyone, but I just didn’t feel any better, so decided to have an early night and keep my eyes closed for a bit in a darkened room. I thought that would be the smart, careful thing to do.

Worst. Decision. Ever.

It’s Laos in the rainy season in the middle of the jungle, so it goes without saying it’s hot at Spicylaos. But I hadn’t really computed how hot it got in the bedrooms at night (there’s no fan, never mind air-con, because the rooms aren’t really sealed – they’re more just walls with a roof kind of half perched on top, a curtain over the doorway and a blind over the window), or how thin and uncomfortable the mattress was on my wooden bed, because the first two nights I’d gone to sleep, I’d been drunk. That third night was utterly horrendous. Stone cold sober, not especially tired after the complete lack of doing anything all day, and with the pain in my eyeballs increasing by the hour, I laid awake for what felt like half the night. Every time I dropped off, I would wake back up again. Tears leaked from between my squeezed-shut eyelids, and even moving my eyes slightly underneath them felt like someone stabbing me. It wasn’t that the pain was so bad – it was that it was in my eyes. If you’ve ever got something caught under your contact lens, you know how maddening it can be, and how all-consuming. We’re hardwired to protect our eyes, and so our brain immediately flags any danger or distress in that area as being top priority. All the painkillers in the world won't shut it down completely, and handily, I couldn't find my ibuprofen anyway.

When I woke up the next day, I’d already placed a packet of wipes next to my bed so that I could just reach out of my net and find them without trying to open my eyes. I wiped gently for a few minutes and felt a lot of gunk come away. They felt sore and swollen, but the pain was more of an ache now rather than the sharp stab of the night before. But when I tried to open them for the first time, nothing was happening. I could hear Grace lift up my net to take a look at me, and I heard her gasp.

“Oh, god. Do they look that bad?” I asked fearfully.

“Erm... you better have a look at yourself. Can you open them?”

Using the wipes and my nails, I managed to pry each eye open until I had a slit of daylight showing through on each side. I stumbled outside to find the mirror, only for a bunch of guys stood outside to spot me and all shriek in unison.

“Oh my god!” one cried.
“You must be in agony!” another yelped.
“Can you see anything at all?” they all chorused.

Starting to get truly concerned, I made it over to the mirror, and stopped in horror. Because more or less, this is what I saw:

“I look like an alien-human hybrid,” I moaned faintly.

“You got fucking raped,” a nearby Irishman agreed.

After immediately locating my sunglasses, I decided that my vague plan to spend my last day on a second round of tubing was CLEARLY not going to come off, so I just retreated to the common area and opened a beer. (The no-drinking-in-the-mornings rule is suspended in cases of eye AIDS.) And that’s pretty much where I spent the rest of the day – amusing friends who’d just walked in and hadn’t seen me yet, terrifying new arrivals who had barely even thought about pink eye, and feeling very sorry for myself. Fortunately, if you’re going to have pink eye, Vang Vieng is the place to do it, because as I’ve said already, everyone’s got it. Nobody is going to laugh at you or think you’re unhygienic in some way. It’s just a fact of life. A little Laos rite of passage. And nothing made me feel better so much as comparing tales of woe with my fellow sufferers - the aforementioned Irishman, Tom, knew of what he spake, because he too had been fucking raped by the river the day previous. I took great heart in the fact that he had improved mightily in just one day.

And indeed, as the evening rolled around, I was beginning to look and feel much better, so I went for dinner with Susan, Canadian Michele and Aussie Mike, and another Canadian who was new to our room, called Maddie. (I know. I know.) We were supposed to be going to meet Grace and all the other Spicy Irish contingent at the Irish pub, as they were showing the hurling game, and the Tipperary boys and Grace had been trying to explain it to me all day. (“It’s like our version of football.” “Oh, so it is like Aussie rules?” “No, I just meant it’s as popular as football. You play it in the air.” “So it’s like... Quidditch?” “No, the ball is in the air.” “Ah, so it’s like netball!” “NO!”) Somehow though, and I’m not quite entirely sure how, we just ended up back in Q Bar as usual, where the whiskey buckets are 10,000 kip (the princely sum of 80p) and the music is made for dancing. Some of the gang who’d been hanging around during the day, including Scottish Ryan, Norwegian Liev and English Kareena (who’d been amusing herself all day by calling “Susan!” and then giggling when we both looked round), turned up too, and of course there was Alex and Sash. We passed round buckets, Alex and I got very excited discussing the Cadbury campaign with the gorilla, and Sasha dropped her cig in my bag and burnt a large hole in it. So all in all quite a good time, until it started completely belting it down, anyway. It’s rained before, of course, but never this hard and for this long whilst we’ve been out, so eventually the inevitable happened, and Q Bar’s power died.

And that’s where things got even better, because Susan and I had been thoroughly enjoying ourselves arguing about music for an hour, and I’d been making the case for guitar pop as the thinking person’s music choice. And what happened? The power died, the lights went off, the music stopped... and everyone started singing Don’t Look Back In Anger and Come Together. It was like the weather was conspiring to prove my point: a decent guitar tune brings people together. 

Over me.

I think a few too many beers and buckets had begun to take their toll at this point, because I’m not surely exactly WHY we left Q Bar, or why we didn’t all go, but we did, even though the rain was still pouring. Even though it was only five minutes’ walk to Bucket Bar, we hailed a tuk-tuk, and Ryan, Liev, Susan and myself headed out. Bucket Bar is on the other side of the river, so you have to go over this rickety wooden bridge to get there, which in the rain and dark is no joke (I think actually maybe we left to find somewhere with power, but it turned out everywhere was similarly afflicted), but after wading through a puddle six inches deep in my flip flops, we arrived. I started flirting madly with a Welsh guy that worked at the bar, who unfortunately disappeared to go do bar things after a bit. (I choose to believe he either genuinely had stuff to do or was repulsed by my pink eye, and not that I was just a drunken, sodden mess.) After that, I’ve no idea what went on, because I completely blacked out until the following morning, when Grace was shaking me awake because my alarm had woken everyone in the dorm except for me. Still drunk, still soaking, still wearing last night’s clothes, I leapt up in a fit of drunken panic, packed at light speed, and tripped off out of the hostel to catch my bus... pausing only to laugh at Daniel the Wideboy, who after three days of tubing and no pink eye, had finally fallen victim to the curse of Vang Vieng.

PS - For those of you with strong stomachs, you can click the picture below to see what I actually looked like when I woke up with pink eye.
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adatherton on

Oh dear daughter. You look terrible. But in a strange way, you look slightly oriental, which is in keeping with your locale. Hope you recover soon. Love Dad x

Lou on

My dear you look a treat.
As you can now imaging the thought of Vang Vieng fills me with a deep seated horror that no amount of Pringles and wine from melly could coax me out of. You are clearly far braver than me!
Are you human looking again yet?

Jane on

Pink Eye - - I feel your pain. Have had it and it HURTS. I was hoping for gory photos... xx

dini123 on

haha puffing along in the rear. Funny. Honestly, legs and eyes and you are worried that I will get on the wrong plane, at least my legs and eyes will be working, well, as much as they ever do. Please stop hurting yourself until I am there to look after you. love mummy. x

Pater Deux on

Where are adventures with Mummy?

Jan on

Happy birthday to your mummy!

suzloua on

Dad - thank you. As usual, you are convinced I am Chinese. That's just swollen eyelids.

Lou - thank you also. I feel the love in the room! And yes, swimming in poo would not be for you.

Jane - it did hurt, but it's all over now. Thank goodness.

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