It was inevitable what was to come next. A smoking vegetarian was a contradictory statement of a person. It would have been senseless of me to tweak myself into improvement and ignore the main issue. It was time to face the big guns. Lodged next to my vegetarian mind niggle (deceased) lived a very loud and abusive heckler. For 15 years straight this individual spewed obnoxious insults at me all day long yet still somehow I managed to ignore it. This vile and lethal addiction which has inspired millions of intelligent people across all nations to purposely inhale poisonous fumes on a regular basis and providing them with not one positive element, had me in it’s convincing embrace and I felt powerless to know how to stop doing it. The incident that shot my stop-smoking decision into action took place on a sweltering day on a street corner in Savanahket, a town in the South of Lao. Flicking my smouldering butt into a gutter and exhaling a plume of noxious gases I looked up and noticed the innocent bright eyes of two young boys contemplating me. I felt a wave of influential impact surge out of myself and into the lads and I saw my cool, rich foreigner actions generate the dirty smoking disease in these poor young boys. I was OK with slowly suffocating myself to death but now I had been sucked into a vortex of responsibility and become aware of how I was influencing others I felt very uncomfortable. A feeling that forced me to consider change in something that up until this point I was unwilling to even try. That very afternoon as I sat writing in my diary I made a vow that I would never ever smoke another cigarette ever again. I screwed up my cigarette packet making sure I crushed the cigarettes inside and hurled it into the bin. Seven hours later I found my desperate self scrummaging through that bin looking for any part of a salvageable cigi. Seven hours! Shit!
The south of Lao didn’t disappoint. Lao’s Si Phan Don (Four Thousand Islands) formed by the Mekong River was magical. I stayed in a basic hut and spent a lot of time reading in my hammock sitting on my own private balcony and overlooking the river, watching sunsets and coughing up a mere fifty cents per night for the pleasure. It was so peaceful, there was no electricity, I washed and laundered in the river, went for walks and gave advice to my guest house proprietor Mr K, who, new to the backpacking game, needed it. Surrounded by the village life, farm animals and Lao Lao, the dog who slept under my bed and escorted me everywhere I went, I felt completely at home. Although the island food was like living on greasy cardboard the coffee was scrumptiously delicious and I sucked down that sweet brown liquid as often as possible. Apart from the very painful bite from a centipede in my bed and the fright of bumping into a water buffalo in the pitch black of night it was mostly uneventful. Except for one night.
Two days before my visa was due to expire and I was to leave the island I was invited to a Lao party by the big chief, Mr Cum. Arriving at the party I spotted Morgan from the UK, a semi-local who used the islands as a second home, and sat down beside him. Morgan was extremely good looking and we’d been spending a fair bit of time together. I daydreamed through Mr Cum’s prayer utterances while the rest of the party sat in a circle and watched. Candles were lit, more words were uttered, the Lao’s waved pieces of white string up and down my arms, tied them around my wrists and wished me luck on my travels. Being the only falangs (foreigners) at the party I expected the extra attention and was served up a celebratory dinner of, you guessed it, greasy fried rice. I snuck out of the party early to avoid drinking Lao Lao (the potent local rice wine – also the dogs name) and went to bed. The following morning Lao Lao the dog and I stopped by Mr Cum’s shop to buy some cigarettes and a one use only lighter and learnt the meaning of the previous night’s ceremony. It was a marriage ceremony and it was revealed to me then that it was I who was now married. I discovered later the cheeky, lovable locals were apparently serial foreigner matchmakers. How ironic to escape married life in Australia only to find myself unsuspectingly married on a river island in the south of Lao. Following this news I went to check on my new husband, Morgan, who on this morning was crippled with an ear infection. Considering the almost non-existent medical facilities available in Lao I decided to be a good wife and escort him to Bangkok for proper medical attention.
My initial itinerary skipped Thailand. In my ignorance I imagined it as a holiday destination jam packed full of embarrassingly drunk Australians tainting the traveller name. Upon arrival in Bangkok I was surprisingly impressed. The locals were lovely and everything looked shiny and new and modern. I dropped my hubby off at the hospital and, putting a feeling of being slightly off colour down to coffee withdrawals, took off to indulge in civilisation: pizza, cheesecake and as much western food as I could fit in my belly. We went to the movies, saw the golden buddha, took a boat ride, shopped and enjoyed. On the third day I awoke to, covering every millimetre of my entire body, including the palms of my hands and the soles of my feet, a very uncomfortable prickly red rash. Morgan took me to the hospital. After registering I entered the doctors office and lifted my tee-shirt for her professional rash inspection. The doctor’s shocked gasp and horrified expression was far from comforting and so was her diagnosis of bird flu. After several tests and ruling out bird flu (phew!) it was discovered I had a highly contagious virus needing only some cream and a few days bed rest to let it run it’s course. The hospital was 5 star and so was my husband, he fetched me food and encouraged me to go to the park for fresh air each day. He even read me stories and although I felt horrible it was awesome lying there listening to his gorgeous accent. One day he turned up at the hotel with a new book, Allan Carr’s Easyway to stop smoking. Of course I was skeptical but was more than happy to lie there listening to his soothing voice while he read the entire book to me. I smoked my last cigarette after he finished that book, an amazing feat executed with ease.
As I began to heal and tire of the big city life eating into my savings I was ready to move on. Leaving Bangkok I was rather pleased with my personal progress and even though there was still so much to improve on I felt myself fall into a slipstream of human upgrading. With Morgan by my side the future was looking very bright and I was excited by the world of possibilities that Cambodia held. What fulfillment was I going to be struck down with next?