Friday, March 26, 2010

What to Expect for $3

'When you are sleeping do not smoking' announces an inscrutable 'Law in Guest House' sign on the door. The room's the size of a milk carton and as sturdily built. As if to confirm the metaphor, part of the wall has been repaired by inserting a sheet of galvanized iron, stamped 'Siam Box Company'. Other walls are haphazardly hammered, rough wooden planks whose mosquito tempting gaps previous occupants have attempted to plug with assorted rags and grimy wads of toilet paper. In a different context this would be a contender for the Turner prize. But if you're crossing the room don't look up to admire. You'll need all your concentration to negotiate a safe path across the rough bare floorboards with the minimum of splinters -- another inappropriate house rule is 'no shoes'.

The bed seems clean enough: the under sheet is discolored, but by years of hand-washing rather than by anything more sinister. Of course if you want a top sheet you bring your own. This being a relatively luxurious place there's an attached bathroom. Once you've stepped across the malarial pond at its center theres a slip seated western toilet and beside it a bucket into which soiled toilet paper should be thrown to prevent blocking the cantankerous sewerage system. The droopy showerhead has fallen from its dangling hook and nestles unappetizingly against the grimy bog-brush. The water pressure is far too low to make the jerry-built water heater funtion, but who cares -- the engrossing ant and gecko show is performed free, 24 hours a day.

I had to share this hilariously vivid account of budget accomodations in Lao from our Graphical Guide to SE Asia (a collection of hand drawn maps of towns). It was written in 2003, and while its wildly accurate, it's also been seven years. And most of these places haven't changed - they've merely added perks such as rat nests (with occasional appearances by said rats), roosters living under your floorboards -- a bird that is quite challenged with being able to tell when the sun actually rises, and light-magnet bugs (bugs that swarm around lights in masses only to have nowhere to go but to you when you turn the light off) - we should be so grateful for the electricity.

Yes folks, there is a difference between 'cheap' and 'getting what you're paying for.'

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