My friend and I were driving through north Laos at the end of my trip, and I asked why there aren't any homeless people. He told me that the Lao people are heavily devoted to their families. What money is made from working at the market or fields is then used if a family member is sick or needs a better place of shelter. It struck me how compassionate that is and something I don't see enough here in the states.
I’ve had so many thoughts and conversations since that day on the Finley River, some 40 years ago. If you haven’t read the story yet, click here. In the moment we realized we were okay, relief followed fear and peace followed panic. In the hours and days that followed, I was thankful to be alive and unharmed. It took some time to process and draw conclusions about that experience. It’s not a story that follows, but rather groupings of thought.
The first difference I noticed was they drive on the flipping wrong side of the road! It took me weeks before I could drive anywhere without holding the steering wheel in a death grip. Second, they have a pub in every village where the locals go to hang out at the end of the day and blow off steam, which does wonders for human relationships within the community. Third, the English language is a lot different over there. You quickly learn that asking for French fries will get you dirty looks, and you best adapt to the local custom of calling them “chips.” They call semi-trucks “lorries,” and a whole host of other small vernacular variations.
It was the summer of 1975 and my best friend Vickie and I had just turned 16. Vickie invited me to come to Lindenlure, a popular swimming area on the Finley River situated between Ozark, Sparta and Rogersville, Missouri. Vickie’s mom, Nora, drove us along with Vickie’s sister Elaine, to the river just 20 minutes from our hometown of Springfield. Lindenlure Lake dams up the Finley River but then pours over the edge with varying flow volume depending on current water levels, creating a cascading 8-ft waterfall from river’s edge to river’s edge. From the waterfall, the river flows below the Highway 125 bridge and continues downstream beside several hundred feet of some of the best “beach” a river can tout.
What was the most interesting thing you saw or visited and why? The most beautiful thing I saw there was a giant fountain in Parc de la Ciutadella. We went on a bike tour of Barcelona and while we were biking around we stopped in a park to walk around. There was a fountain in the middle of the park that was very elaborate and absolutely beautiful. One of my other favorite stops was La Boqueria. It's a famous market on Las Ramblas that has all kinds of different stands. Some have exotic fruit, some have hand-made candies, and some have different smoked meats and local cheeses. The whole place was filled with vivid colors and amazing smells.
What differences stood out to you the most? One evening, right before we were about to explore the night market, we had to have a group meeting. Everyone met in the 16th floor lobby of our hotel, and immediately you could sense that something was wrong. Our group leader explained to us that the government banned singing for an unknown amount of time. This was obviously disappointing, as we went to China to tour and sing in various locations, but it was much more than that. Our leader explained to us that we were not to talk about singing or if anyone asked why we were visiting that we had to make up an alternate excuse. He explained to us that the communist government is notorious for placing cameras behind mirrors and various places inside of buildings.
What differences stood out to you the most? Quality of life. Our tour guide took us through an area that we would certainly consider the "slums" of New Delhi. But for them, it was just a normal neighborhood. It was massive, and the streets were so narrow that only about three people could walk side by side. Certainly no cars (not that it matters, no one living there could afford a car). Our tour guide was taking us to visit his grandmother's home, which was large by the "slum" standards. There are about 16 people in his family living in a space of probably 1600 square feet. One sink, no mirror, and the kitchen the size of a coffee table. But I experienced zero pity - everyone looked happy.