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Ducking in Laos

No ducks were harmed in the telling of this (true) story.

By Sherry Lowell-LewisPublished 4 months ago 5 min read
Ducking in Laos
Photo by Trang Trinh on Unsplash

For some reason, I was mesmerized by the painting hanging in the National Palace Museum in Taipei, Taiwan. The information card said it was titled, "A Tall Pine and Daoist Immortal," painted by Chen Hongshou in 1635. It is simple yet detailed. The "Daoist Immortal" stands near the bottom, at the foot of the "Tall Pine." He seems pleased.

I imagined myself standing next to him, discussing philosophy. In a moment, we would sit at the foot of this impressive pine for a picnic of wine and little pockets of dough, filled with delicious meats and steamed. I was told they were called "Jao-Tse" and I thought they would fit in nicely. I wondered what a picnic would have looked like in 1635. The Americas had been discovered by Western Europeans and colonization had begun. It seemed vaguely possible that I might have found myself in mid-17th century China.

Then, as I stood pondering the vegetation, I flashed forward. Way, way forward, to my own future. The vision hit me with such force that I turned to find a bench on which to sit, before I fell down. I looked around as I sat to see if I had made an American fool of myself, but the others nearby seemed unaffected. I looked down at my lap, bracing myself.

I lost focus on the bench I thought I was sitting on. It seemed to dissolve. I felt the ground beneath me dissipate and I felt spacebound rather than earthbound. It all shimmered and slowly I came back to earth. I continued to stare at my hands in my lap. I told myself to breathe slowly in and out, to prove I wasn't really floating in space. Breathing helped settle me and I glanced to my left and right. I found myself in a canoe with a motor that pushed us along a river. Both sides of the shore were festooned with lush vegetation. I wondered where and how we would dock. We must have very far to go, I surmised. I also sensed I was not alone. The canoe's motor alerted me to minor adjustments, meaning someone was piloting. I was wearing a wide-brimmed hat which protected me from the hot sun. I had to twist around to see behind me. There were four others in this canoe. I was seated a bit forward. There was a young woman, about my age, seated directly behind me and an older couple near the aft. At the very back was the pilot, aged somewhere between we two girls and the older couple. The girl was very fair with hazel eyes and a sweet smile. I knew somehow, as one does in a dream, that she was my friend, Auralee, and the man and woman behind her were her parents. The pilot was Asian. They all smiled at me and began to chatter and point towards different parts of the shore.

Our guide steered us toward the shore and I looked for a landing spot. He called out, "Get down! Get down in the boat! Get down, get down!"

I decided he must have his reasons, so I bent at the waist, but kept a lookout for a place to land. I worried a little that snakes were known to hang from branches and fall onto their prey, so I kept a sharp eye, squinting into the sun.

After two or three minutes, he said it was okay and steered us more to the center of the river. Although I somehow recognized Auralee and her parents, I still had not reasoned our whereabouts. It was hot and humid, but it didn't feel like Taiwan, exactly. Before I had time to worry more, we pulled into a small cove and moored the boat to a tree. There was an open area, filled with boulders and a small, clear stream. The trees here were not as heavily burdened with leaves. Our guide--whose name I could not recall-- helped us set up a picnic. He apologized because we would not be able to swim. The pond that had been used for that was dried up. He explained that this area had been used for Boy Scout camping in previous years, but the camp had been closed. The shade provided some protection from the hot sun and a very light breeze held off the worst of the heat. We all dozed for a while and then packed up and departed our little haven. As we pulled away, I noticed one very tall tree, much taller and with fewer leafy branches. I felt it reminded me of something but couldn't muster the curiosity.

We were sailing along, trying to bear up against the heat when we were greeted by some dragonflies, whizzing past my head, zipping near my ear with such speed, I was impressed. That was when our guide admonished us to "Get down! Get down!"

I looked up at the low-hanging branches, but we were not in danger of getting swept overboard or anything, so I asked, "Why do we have to get down?"

Auralee's father, usually a genial fellow, pushed down on my back and said, "There has been some gorilla activity in this area. Just get down in the boat."

I leaned all the way down, almost disappearing into the canoe's belly. Yessir, I can get very low in the boat. I stayed well down low, longer than necessary, just to be sure. Upon further reflection, I realized that the dragonflies had brought friends of the bullet type and we had been fired on from the shore. Now I knew it was the shore of the Mekong river and the gorillas were from a disgruntled army of revolutionaries. Maybe they didn't hate us, but they wanted us to butt out of Vietnam and Cambodia.

From the time I admired the bucolic charm of "A Tall Pine and Daoist Immortal" to my adventure on the river between Laos and Thailand was only a year. I had forgotten about my flash of insight into the future until long after the adventure had ended. I only wish we had taken pictures of our little spot at the Boy Scout camp. Maybe I should try my hand at painting it. What do you think?


About the Creator

Sherry Lowell-Lewis

Actor, writer, voice-over artist, teacher, author, mother and Grammy of 4. I've done a lot. I grew up in Bolivia, Laos and Taiwan. Married 25 years, widowed. Please read my stuff and leave a comment! Thanks.

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  • Sherry Lowell-Lewis (Author)4 months ago

    I messed up this submission. I didn't clearly read the instructions about including the art piece with the entry. Oops. Please see the other entry, with a Chinese painting, not a photo of canoes on a muddy river. Sorry to all.

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