We had developed a weird tendency to severely underestimate physical challenge. Our bus from Chiang Rai deposited us somewhere nondescript in the Thai border town of Chiang Khong, and we half-remembered assurances from the internet that the Lao border was eminently walkable. Tuk-tuks swarmed us the moment we disembarked our bus and scooted impatiently alongside us for the first ten minutes of our walk.
“It’s hot,” they noted, although clearly we felt it more than they. We had our backpacks, and we had just been on a bus for three hours, and also it was noon. Didn’t we want to rest our weary, shambling corpses in this trundling convenience wagon?
“No thanks!” we chirped. “We love walking!” We were idiots.
About six kilometers and several soaked t-shirts later, we arrived at the border and shakily produced our exit cards, dripping and stained with sweat as they were. We could barely lift our arms, and wondered if we could pay anyone to drag us physically down to the water. From the border we were directed down to the banks of the river, where people took our ridiculous bags onto their canoes and rowed us across to a new land. We were in Laos.
It's so pretty! Now where can I buy some soup?
We had been at Angkor Wat since sunrise. Bobby and I had seen light and clouds pour over the ancient structure, illuminating the landscape, soundtracked only to the natural chorus of birdsong. It was now 4 p.m., and we had eaten two meals in the shadow of centuries of history, walked amidst great carved stone faces, touched slabs of rock placed there hundreds of years before. It was beautiful, and stunning.
Also, it was hot, and we were out of water, and we had been walking and sight-seeing for nearly 12 hours. Neither of us wanted to say aloud that we were now kind of bored.
For foreign English teachers in South Korea, “desk-warming” is a very particular and horrifying phrase. It describes a time during the year filled with nothingness, with utter, unrelenting boredom. It is a black hole of time and space where one’s brain slowly degenerates into something resembling seaweed soup, where one’s buttocks begin to develop bedsores from sitting for so long, when all joy seems to seep from the world. I never thought “we will now pay you to sit around and do nothing” would actually fill my very soul with dread, but here we are.
Just an innocent shopkeep.
In my efforts to entertain myself and to read into things too deeply while having to watch the same government generated English videos multiple times per week, I came to a single discovery. There is a random white male strewn about the videos amongst the regular characters. He is nameless, always in the background, ominously ever-present. Over time, I realized I was mentally building a criminal case: it is incredibly easy to read these ESL clips as narratives about a pedophile preying upon children eager to demonstrate English grammar and syntax. Suddenly, the bright, sunny world of this textbook becomes a dark tale of deception and creeping, unknown danger.