LOOK-ALIKES

By Edward Wilkinson-Latham

Vientiane was quiet apart from the sound of the odd scooter horn and dog bark. At one time this city was a wonder of South East Asia, like Saigon and Phnom Penh bathed in tropic fumes of the exotic, but on that New Years Eve afternoon the streets were empty and every hotel claimed to be full. My travel companion and I searched on with failing enthusiasm. His name was Bruce Lee, a gregarious Chinese chef from Guangxi who did in fact resemble the 70’s Kung-Fu star himself.

He had been given the name Bruce by some travelers back in China, where he ran a cafe. Unable to repeat his Chinese name which literally meant ‘Muddy Bridge” they had decided on Bruce and it stuck. With stories of shady deals back in China he had entertained me on the bumpy drive south from Van Vein. He called me ‘Lama’ because of my shaved head, and sunglasses, he said looked similar to those specs worn by his holiness.

In a back street, off the main drag we found the ‘Golden Tiger,’ complete with unstable looking whicker furniture, a karaoke machine and five girls who immediately set on us like we were Bruce Lee and the Dali Lama.

Trying not to make any replies that would encourage conversation, we shuffled past the party girls and walked along a long turquoise painted hallway towards the reception. The desk was enclosed in reinforced glass with a sliding window. Sat inside, counting out a stack of dollar bills was the spitting image of Pol Pot, dressed in a black shirt with the same short back and sides hair cut. I almost felt I could put in a quarter somewhere on the desk and try to grab him with a large pair of pincers like in one of those amusement arcade games.

Bruce started to giggle and I tuned round to see a heavily made up Laos Joan Collins pawing for my companion's attention. We settled with Pol on two rooms with hot water for $10 a piece. Plus as it was New Years Pol claimed we had to buy the girls a drink.

All that remained of the hot water heater was a stained outline on the bathroom tile and a sticker next to it in Russian. Strangely there was also someone’s make up bag sat on the back of the toilet. The windows however opened onto a wonderful view of pagodas and palm trees and I sat for a moment watching the sun set. As we crawled towards midnight on New Years Eve, the Dali Lama, Bruce Lee and Joan Collins took turns in butchering the songs of the seventies on the karaoke machine. Pol emerged from his moneybox at the stroke of twelve with a bottle of scotch to share and then graced us with a rendition of "California Dreaming". Afterwards I asked him if the hotel was like this every night and to my horror Pol replied. “Sure, but we only rent rooms to tourists on New Years because there are not enough hotels in the Vientiane.”

EWL©2006