The plan was to cross from Boten in Laos to Mohan, in the Xishuangbanna County of the Chinese province of Yunnan. The province’s name, meaning "South of the Clouds," sounded more like "Away from the Problems" to me.
Here, the Communist regime was fighting a semi-secret civil war with the Hmong people. The government was paranoid about any foreign government intervention, a situation that suited me fine. The Hmong people were an ethnic group living across sections of Vietnam, Laos, Thailand and China. During the Vietnam War they helped the Americans, who quickly forgot their promises after their defeat. Since then, these poorly equipped warriors were fighting a hidden war against the communist regime in Laos, and had only made it in the international news once in a while over the last few years. Even after two foreign journalists died in a sporadic attack against a local bus, the event was hardly mentioned and quickly forgotten. The regime wasn’t feeling very secure in other areas either. The press was heavily controlled, and there was neither political nor complete religious freedom...
Bus fourteen took me from the bridge to the bus terminal and from there it was a five-minute walk to Sabaidy. The owner’ wife was attending the reception desk. Since the Nita event, I slept in the cheapest dormitories available. My logic was that in a big and densely populated room, it would be much more difficult to search my baggage or to attempt any other dubious action. The owners
knew me well, and I provided the husband a rare opportunity to practice his Spanish. They welcomed me with a wide smile and offered me a low berth in the dormitory, my favorite choice. One year before, they had exchanged all the thin, old mattresses with new ones that were thick, bright and springy. By now they appeared completely stained and deformed, while the sheets were too short to cover them completely, and thin enough to see through them.
While putting my things inside the tiny wood locker, I noticed that two beds from mine a young, shirtless man was sleeping. He was very dark and, judging by his hairstyle, his clothes around the bed, the luggage he was carrying and his general look, he was an Israeli. Two people entered the room, awakened him loudly and started talking to him while rolling marijuana cigarettes. That was a popular tourist occupation in Laos and in that place specifically. The local authorities were much more forgiving than the neighboring Thais. Yet, it was always done in a careful fashion, not in the exhibitionist fashion I was witnessing.
Listening to their discussion, I learned that the newcomers were Swiss and that later today they were leaving to return to Thailand. The Israeli looking guy presented himself as the Pakistani born Mohammed Aman. That was a good joke. Aman was the acronym of the Military Intelligence in the Israeli army.
Twice during the conversation he said, "Each time I need to fill an official form, I write that I’m a professional football player, while really I’m only a professional gambler on the internet." He seemed never to tire of the joke.
"Where are you from?" I asked.
"I’ve been living in Laos for one year on a business visa and I’ve invested some money in a restaurant."
I wondered why he would be sleeping in the dormitories if he owned a restaurant, but I chose to keep my thoughts to myself. The whole situation felt like a setup. During their conversation they described themselves and their occupations with great detail, too detailed for normal chit-chat among tourists, especially since it was obvious that they had already met...
(Excerpt from Chapter 67. Mohammed)
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