Chapter 29 – The Press-Up Fiends From Down Under
The day after our visit to Samlo Pub, our posse set sail for a backpacker haven in the northern part of Laos known as Vang Vieng. With its seemingly endless supply of booze and drugs, Vang Vieng is a hotspot along the Southeast Asian tourist trail that tends to attract degenerate dickheads and waste-o bitches from every corner of the world who gather to tie one on while floating down the Nam Song River from one bamboo bar to another on rented inner tubes.
After hopping on what the hotel management had referred to as a bus but in reality had been no more than your standard-sized molester van, we departed Vientiane around mid-afternoon on a cramped, sweaty, four-hour journey to Vang Vieng. The way the cookie crumbled, I ended up getting wedged in the middle of the back seat with Tim Osh on my right and some random dude wearing a throwback Blue Jays hat to my left. Since half of my body was going to be pressed up against his for the next several hours, I decided I might as well get to know a little about said stranger at my side. Following a little baseball talk spawned by his cap, I learned the left half of the T. Lal sandwich had been a twenty-six-year-old Toronto native named Chris.
“I got a girlfriend back home,” he said with ostensibly mixed emotions. “We’ve been dating for a pretty long time now.”
“What,” I asked in return, “she didn’t wanna come with you?”
“No, she begged me to come actually. I just wanted to do some traveling by myself.”
“Oh yeah?” I laughed. “What, is she expecting a ring or something?”
“Okay. So, what’ve you been doin’ down here – bangin’ other chicks?”
“No, not really. It’s not even that I want other girls. I’ve just been trying to get my mind clear, sort things out so I can find out what I really want out of life. I actually just came from doing some volunteer work in Indonesia for the past couple months at an animal refuge.”
“Oh yeah? That’s cool dude,” I responded. “From what I heard they could use all the help they can get down there.”
“Yeah,” he nodded. “Animal trafficking is a pretty huge problem down there so, yeah, it was nice to take part in the fight and do what I can to make a difference.”
I nodded and glanced out the window before imparting…
“Yo, this dude I know told me that some Indonesians in Kalimantan were shaving orangutans completely bald then drugging ‘em up and renting ‘em out to perverts to have sex with. Is that true?”
“Well, hmm,” he paused, “not that I know of, but they do have plenty of abuse and exploitation issues that we deal with. Are you interested in doing any volunteer work with animals?”
“Eh, not on this trip dude. I only got a couple weeks down here and my itinerary’s pretty much jam-packed as it is.”
“Oh, okay, nice. Where have you guys been so far?”
“Well, we were in Vientiane obviously ‘cus we just left there, and uh…” my booze-fried brain struggled to remember from where we’d just come, “…before that we were in Cambodia for a while and uh…”
“Oh yeah, Cambodia? How’d you like that? I was actually thinking of heading there next after Laos.”
“Yeah man, Cambodia’s pretty cool ‘n’ shit.”
“What’d you do while you were there? Angkor Wat looks amazing.”
“Oh, well, yeah, of course – Angkor was great. The ruins were really cool and afterwards we partied with our tuk-tuk driver…”
“How was Phnom Penh? Did you make it down to Sihanoukville?”
“We didn’t have enough time for Sihanoukville, but I liked Phnom Penh. The riverwalk’s pretty tight, a couple cool temples there and uh…what else, what else…oh yeah! We didn’t have enough time but I heard they got these ridiculous gun ranges run by the government where you can go shoot monster weapons – heard they even let you blow up cows with rocket launchers if you show ‘em enough cash. Five-hundred bucks I think.”
I laughed as he appeared flummoxed by the comment previous.
“Why would anyone wanna blow up a cow?”
“Pfff, I dunno – maybe ‘cus it’s fuckin’ hilarious!” I fired back without thinking and laughed again.
After that, Chris decided to turn his attention out the window. There had been no more follow-up questions about future travel destinations. The conversation had become as dead as a heifer at a Cambodian firing range. In fact, we didn’t even acknowledge each other for the remaining three-and-a-half hours on the road to Vang Vieng. I guess, apparently, people who volunteer to help animals don’t think it’s as funny as I do to imagine them getting blown up by loser tourists who can’t find a more worthy cause on which to spend their money.
The awkward ride eventually came to an end and we got into town just as the sun began to set behind the jagged karst mountains overlooking the Nam Song River. We checked into our hostel and in the room we discovered a complimentary guide to the village of Vang Vieng. The guide supplied all types of advice on sights, activities, restaurants and even offered some pointers on where to get a decent rub and tug. As if that weren’t enough, there’d also been a whole page dedicated to drug safety advising visitors not to be like the idiots from years past who they’d found dead in their rooms or floating face down in the river after helping themselves to a bit more than their personal allotment of opium products.
“You guys see this shit?” Tim asked when reading the substance abuse page. “Some pussies just don’t know how to handle their drugs.”
“Yeah, I saw that,” I said while digging out from my bag a change of clothes for the evening. “Bet they found one of those drugged-out dead guys in your bed – naked with diarrhea spouting out his ass.”
“Ew you guys,” Kathleen jumped in the conversation before it had the chance to blossom into a full-blown, truly disgusting back-and-forth hypothetical. “Let’s not sit around and talk about naked dead guys in the bed. C’mon, let’s go get something to eat. I’m starving.”
Soon after, the three of us walked back down the main street towards where we’d been dropped off by the bus in search of a place to grab dinner and ended up at some nameless pizza lounge where they’d been showing a replay of the Super Bowl.
Once inside, we claimed an open table and piled into the booth. The seats were elevated and covered in pillows leaving only about a foot-and-a-half for our legs to fit underneath. A little unclear on the concept, I looked around to see how other people sat at these tables and noticed a few shirtless hippies completely sprawled out in the spacious booths not doing too much of anything. It felt a bit unnatural, but I did my best to get as comfortable at the awkward table as everyone else around me had seemed.
A waiter came to greet us and left a one-page menu which immediately explained the sluggish incoherence of our fellow diners. Apparently, by merely pointing your finger at the menu you could have weed, mushrooms and/or opium delivered to your table in the form of teas, shakes, pizzas, pancakes or good old fashioned joints for a very reasonable price. As tempting as the house specialties sounded however, none of us were in the mood to trip balls on a fuckin’ pizza.
When the waiter returned we asked him for the G-rated menu which he quickly retrieved. After selecting a pie that I felt would hit the spot, I flipped to the drink menu which had been titled “Let’s Get Wasted” and upon reading it was immediately convinced to do just that. All venturing away from beer for the evening following the arduous ride from the capital, we each decided to put in an order for sand-pail-sized helpings of low-grade booze locally known as “whiskey buckets.”
While sucking down the unhealthily absurd portions of iced-down whiskey and waiting for our pizzas, we peered out into the street to observe the ebb and flow of daily life in Vang Vieng. Unlike every other stop we’d been at before, nary a local was to be seen – just hoards and hoards of wasted-ass Westerners. Directly across the street from “Happy Pizza” had been an Australian pub named Q-Bar that some German couple we’d met in Vientiane recommended we visit. From our booth we watched as wasteoids flocked from every direction and packed this place until the party had been spilling halfway into the street.
At some point, a shirtless, shoeless moron either jumped or fell off a passing tuk-tuk he’d been standing on the bumper and clinging on to the back of and rolled down the street like a fuckin’ stuntman from an action film. After dusting off his now-bloodied torso, this party animal hobbled up to Q-Bar and joined a group of similarly shirtless Aussie bros who’d been doing push-ups and counting in unison near the pub entrance.
Although the first Vang Vieng injury we witnessed had only resulted in minor road rash, a scraped-up chest and a possible bruised shoulder or two, while sitting in Happy Pizza we observed a couple hardcore motherfuckers kickin’ it by Q-Bar who continued to party despite having obviously broken limbs which I’m guessing they’d fucked up during a day of debauchery on the Nam Song River. Even though I’d personally never do it, I greatly admire that type of perseverance and dedication to the cause. With forearms limply dangling, these guys had been like the Cal Ripken Jr., never-miss-a-game, Iron Men of alcoholism.
Back when I was in college, my roommate Zaid told me a mythical tale of similar devotion shown by one of his high school buddies on a weekend road trip from Chicago up to Wisconsin. According to the Z-Man, he and his crew of Gordon Tech flunkies had been in the early innings of a mailbox baseball match when a kid named Valez stepped up to the plate with all intention of knocking a few outta the park. As Valez leaned out the passenger window with baseball bat in hand, the driver neared the side of the road while keeping up a steady driving pace to facilitate the swinging of the club, the contact with the roadside mail receptacle and its consequential destruction. With his eyes on a big fat juicy mailbox right in his wheelhouse which he envisioned shattering to pieces, Valez gathered all his might and took a monstrous cut. At the last moment, he must’ve realized that the box had been a little bit further away from the car than he’d originally thought and tried to adjust his body position accordingly. Whiffing horribly on his intended target, Valez was thrown off balance by the force of his own swing and took a tumble out the car window onto the fast-moving pavement which resulted in his arm looking something like the letter “Z.” Despite his obvious need for it, the strikeout king decided to postpone seeking medical attention for his severely broken arm in favor of drinking by a campfire with his buddies all weekend long. That was the first time I’d ever heard of such blatant disregard for one’s well-being in order to get fucked up and a great tale it was, but to actually be in the presence of these all-stars while they’re doing their whole boozing-with-a-mangled-appendage thing had been a truly humbling experience.
After eating our pizzas and polishing off our first set of drinks, the consensus was that none of us had felt nearly drunk enough to join the broken-limbed push-up madness across the street but in hopes of soon achieving that level of intoxication, a subsequent round of the devil’s piss in a bucket had been demanded of the waiter. In the meantime, we just lounged around like all the drugged-out hippies with whom we’d been keeping company and continued watching the Packers go up against the Steelers in Super Bowl XLV on the big screen projector TV.
After swilling the second round of the excessively powerful buckets and not sticking around to find out which of the two teams I despise had won the big game, we took a BeerLao to-go and headed for Q-Bar. Not shirtless and screaming, not fall-down wasted and with no permanent marker penises drawn anywhere on our bodies, I’d felt out of place before even entering Q-Bar proper. Not in the mood to wriggle into the over-packed interior just yet, we stood outside sipping our Beerlao whereupon we’d been quickly accosted by three shirtless Aussies.
Without offering a greeting, one of them began asking, “Can you tell me where to find the…” and then trailed off mumbling something inaudible.
“Help you find the what?” Tim asked.
“Oh! Oh! He said it!” they all cheered and began giving each other celebratory high fives. “Look, he said it!”
“I said what?”
“Ohoho!” they cheered. “He said it again!”
“You used the forbidden word, mate,” another one said as a group of shirtless circle-jerkers began to surround us. “Now get on the ground. You owe us twenty push-ups.”
“Twenty push-ups for what?”
“Look mate, ya just said it again – now it’s thirty push-ups!”
“Pff,” Tim shrugged, “I ain’t doin’ that shit.”
Everyone around was appalled and began hissing at his response.
“You said the forbidden word. You have to do your push-ups. Everybody does their push-ups when they say the forbidden word,” he explained, pointing all around him at his bros who chimed in with a slew of “yeah”s and “that’s right”s.
“Dude, I’m not doin’ it. Get the fuck outta my face.”
Reluctantly recognizing that homey don’t play that, the fifteen or so dickheads moved along in search of the next victim they could trick into using the word “what” and subsequently force to exercise. Not standing too far away from them, we could hear the group of staggering drunkards all makin’ fun of us for not joining in on their little game of grab-ass and doing shirtless push-ups in the street.
“Jesus dude,” I said to O’Shaugnessy, “that was some of the gayest shit I’ve ever seen.”
“I don’t even think dudes on Jersey Shore are that gay about doing push-ups.”
“I hope it’s not like this on the river tomorrow. I won’t be able to handle it.”
“Nah, I don’t think it will be. Not everyone’s like that. These guys are just fuckin’ assholes.”
“Yeah, well, I hope you’re right,” I said while slamming the rest of my beer. “I’m gonna go take a piss.”
After shoving, squeezing and weaseling my way through the obnoxiously hammered crowd and then standing in line to enter, I finally reached the john. From just outside the door, I thought I heard the echo of group counting over the music but ultimately decided it was all in my head. Ready to freak my leak, I swung open the door and stepped into the facilities only to find an entirely different pack of douchebags doing push-ups on the soaking wet bathroom floor.
“…seven, eight, nine…” they counted.
I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.
Trying not to trip on any of the psychotic press-up fiends, I hopped, skipped and jumped my way into a vacant stall and purposely floored half my stream in hope of it eventually running out and finding its way onto some of those dudes’ hands. Once again stepping around them on my way to the sink, I felt the time and place were right to go ahead and pop the bothersome whitehead that’d sprung up in that hard-to-get-to little crease between my nose and my cheek. As I handled my business, the guys finished their push-ups and reassumed their verticality.
“Look at this guy,” one Aussie said, nodding his head at me as two other dudes laughed. “You really doing that right here?”
“Yep,” I said while squeezing out the pus. “I’m doing it right here.”
“Seems kind of strange to be doing that sort of thing at a bar, dontchya think?”
I laughed as I wiped away some secreting zit juice while looking at them in the mirror.
“Yeah, ya know what – you’re right,” I imparted while turning around and opening the door to leave. “It’s definitely not as normal as doing shirtless push-ups on a piss-soaked bathroom floor at a bar.”
They had nothing to say in response.
“Yeah,” I nodded, “you guys enjoy your night.”
Not at all digging the hostile environment of Q-Bar on our first day in Double-V, the three of us decided to get the fuck outta there. Before heading back to our hostel however, we went to buy some beers from a local shop. While there, we met a comparatively super chill hodgepodge of backpackers from all over who were also stocking up on supplies for the evening. After a brief chat, they invited us to join them and we ended up spending the rest of the night playing card games with these folks at their lodging while I blacked the fuck out, switched over to auto-pilot mode and was informed by the O’Shaughnessy’s the following day of all the horribly stupid, racist and/or embarrassing shit spewed from my mouth during this time frame of which I have no recollection.
Menus at “Happy Pizza”…