Bumped into this old hippie who just sat there quietly with his Beerlao watching me and the Israeli Amid have a dinner of baguette, spring rolls, a big bag of vermicelli which we ate using his metal spoon bought from the the Chiang Mai night market - of which he had a long story to tell, and piping hot Lao coffee with milk in the night market, seated on the raised wooden platforms of the night market, which served as stalls earlier in the evening.
He whispered "Boy, you are Malaysian ah" out of the blue (we had thought he was Lao) in his raspy, sandpaper voice, from which one could hear the years of experience and travelling, which also evident in his appearance. Dressed simply in an old shirt, unbuttoned, shorts, and flipflops, he just sat down with his can of beer, smiling serenely and returning our sabaidees.
Apparently he was one of them hippies who plied the Hippie Highway from Oz to London, him making his way on a ferry from Penang Island in Malaysia bound for Madras, India, before making it to Italy overland, working when he ran out of cash. It was 4 years later before he finally went home to Malaysia.
He said he had worked as an actor in Italy, acting in stage productions. "Perlakon (Malay for actor)", he intoned when i couldn't catch him when he whispered "actor", or maybe because i was actually coming to terms with this chance encounter with a fellow Malaysian backpacker in a marketplace in Laos.
An old hippie, a fellow solo traveller, an aged vagabond, who probably have seen it all, just sitting down sipping his beer with no hurry and watching the world go by. He probably saw in me himself some 40 years ago, as i did see in him as possibly what i would be like in 40 years.
The irony of the situation (or is it fate) is that now, as i'm typing this entry, i'm headed the same way, to Madras, now Chennai, a booming industrial city from the sea port of the British colonial empire, newly independent, 40 years ago.