“To the city center,” I said to the tuktuk driver when he asked me where I was going. The bus from Vang Vieng arrived in Luang Prabang much later than scheduled and I did not anticipate reaching the city at this time. It was already evening and my awkward social qualities made sure I didn’t make any friends during the 7-hour trip. So there I was in another foreign city, alone, and wandering in the dark.
“Where exactly?” the driver wanted an answer fast. My brows met as I started to rummage through my head for any place that I could go to. I had not even booked a hostel yet. Sure, I had read about the city before, but for some reason, my tired mind was failing me. Perhaps it was the hunger. Perhaps it was the exhaustion. The other passengers had started taking their seats inside the tuktuk and I needed to say something.
When the tuktuk driver, asked me again, I answered without thinking, “by the Mekong River.” It was one place I had wanted to see since I learned about it in High School. It was the one place that came to my mind at that point. Satisfied, he pointed to the empty space where I would be sitting on and drove to the city.
“This is it?” I asked myself in disbelief as I stood on the bank of the stream whose water was flowing across a series of travertine terraces. A crack of disappointment slowly and silently crawled across my chest.
Although I did not say anything out loud, my being underwhelmed must have been so clear that Charlotte, a solitary French traveler whom I met along the way, tapped my shoulder. “I’m sure this is not the main waterfall yet, silly,” she said while pointing at a trail that goes deeper into the park.
And she was right.
Imagine being imprisoned in a small cell where you could not do anything but stay alive and every now and then, someone would come to you to prick you with a needle so deep and extract bile from your tortured gall bladder. For some bears, they do not have to imagine; they’re living it.
I still remember the pain and pity that I felt when I saw earlier this year a documentary on TV about bear bile farming, a practice of collecting bile from bears in captivity in many parts of Asia. I can recall how angry I felt seeing the constant harvesting of these hormones. Worse, the living conditions that these poor bears have to endure. In many bile farms, these bears are kept in small cages with no space to move in.
Patience is a funny thing. It is that one trait that for the longest time I had wondered whether or not I possessed. While I have no patience with incompetence and other annoyances, I have no problem waiting. Part of the reason is that I always find a way to spend my time wisely. I use waiting time to read books, write blog posts and poetry, and even build a life plan for the rest of the year. In that sense, I believe I am patient. But then, it had never been tested. Until this bus ride.