Above our aforementioned Scratch Map sits a hand-written sign: “Adventures are never safe.” After a most unsafe experience here in Kuala Lumpur, these words were a strange kind of comfort to me.
About two months into our stay in KL, my two children and I were walking back to our apartment along a very busy road one afternoon and my son (about 3 ½ years old at the time), got very upset about something and in a burst of energy, sprung from his small stroller and ran towards twelve lanes of afternoon inner-city traffic. The potential danger of the moment didn’t really hit me until we were back in a safe place – our 24-hour guarded and gated condo apartment. At the time, I did what any mum would do and instinctually rescued my son from oncoming traffic. I don’t think it even occurred to me at the time, how truly unsafe my son’s actions were.
When we arrived back at our apartment, I sat down and sobbed. I guess at moments like that, living in a foreign country, I didn’t just reflect upon the danger of that blur in time, my mind then diverted off on tangents like a pinball machine, rebounding from one unsafe moment, to another unsafe situation until I found myself thinking, this would NEVER happen in Australia. It was at that point that I became waylaid with homesickness for the first time in KL and I felt so stuck and full of regret with our choice to bring our small children to a developing country to live. Then I remembered that my dear friend, Anne, had written me a “To be opened on a day when you miss everyone,” letter which I had carefully packed to bring to KL. I immediately went to my beside table and opened said letter and the most comforting line shot straight to my still beating heart, “Adventures are never safe.”
It’s true. And yet again, my husband and I reminded ourselves of the reason we moved to KL: life in Australia was easy and, to an extent, “sama sama” (to use a Bahasa Malay term). I remember hearing more comfort from home when my Sister In-Law who said her friend, who had embarked on a similar pursuit with young children, felt permanently exhausted from wariness and the need to be high alert mode EVERY TIME she took the kids out. I could relate and I found “safety in numbers,” interestingly from my ex-pat friends who shared the same woes.
For good reason, I don’t think I’ve become accustomed to the dangers of living in a big, developing city but when we travelled to Luang Prabang in Laos, I guess I expected the sleepy little town to present us with fewer risky pursuits. It didn’t – because adventures are never safe.
I have realised that risk and safety (if the two terms are opposites, which I don’t believe they are), are both relative. You see, on our second morning in Luang Prabang, we were taking things slow at our Guesthouse and the kids were playing outside in the garden (the main reason I booked said guesthouse) whilst I sat in a bamboo reclining chair and my husband hung in the hammock. My bug-loving four year old, happened upon a millipede and I encouraged him to pick it up (and be at one with nature!). My husband quickly interjected and warned that it was potentially venomous. I thought all of God’s good creation was to be touched and explored but I heeded his warning (with an ounce of arguing!). My thoughts were: this is what we came to Laos to do – be in the outdoors, after spending most regular days indoors in the concrete jungle.
Fast forward, a few hours to the late afternoon when we were returning from seeing the Tad Sae Waterfalls, which we accessed by a quick long boat river ride, no PFDs (personal floatation devices) and a 45 minute Tuk Tuk trek. As the Tuk Tuk veered off the two-lane road, on a sharp bend, to make way for an overtaking local bus and another vehicle heading towards us, I began to wonder whether the boat and Tuk Tuk rides were more risky than a four year old playing with a millipede…safe…relative…???
Fast forward to the following morning at our Guesthouse when we were instructing our four year old not to touch the mouth and other orifices of the little monkey named, “Bon,” who had (for reasons I just can’t explore here) become attached to our son, and all manner of things foreign to his natural habitat. We told our son it wasn’t safe to touch wild/adopted(?) monkeys because they might have rabies but then, fast forward to just after midday when we boarded a long boat (with seemingly no PFDs either) for a two hour long Mekong River journey to the Pak Ou Caves. Unlike the monkey safety briefing at breakfast, there was no safety session conducted by the Captain as we boarded the old long boat. Needless to say, I spent three quarters of the journey planning my swift water rescue of my two children who are only just learning to swim – in a 1.2m pool, not a 100m wide, murky whirlpooling river!!!
That night, when we arrived safely back on the banks of the Mekong as the sunset, we returned to our Guesthouse and, for some strange reason, I began to google the average life expectancy of Laotian people versus Australians or Malaysians. When I found myself on worldlifeexpectancy.com, I felt like my predominantly left-brain-loving friend called Logic, helped allay some of my fears about the nature of the safety of our trip.
When I’m in Australia, I tell people who are too scared to swim at an Australian beach that they have more of a chance of dying in a car accident driving to the beach than dying of a shark attack. It’s a fact. So, there, on my two-star hard bed in Laos, I discovered that two of the top reasons people die in Laos (Tuberculosis and Influenza) are things that a) I have been vaccinated against and, b) Survived just last flu season. I discovered that the top nineteenth cause of death in Laos is drowning and the seventeenth is road traffic accidents. If I applied logic, the Tuk Tuk was far less safe than the long boat – and we didn’t think twice about going on a Tuk Tuk!
When I compared this research to Australia, I found that if I were adventuring in my home country, the top nine leading causes of deaths, statistically, are medical so I should just be concentrating more carefully on my lifestyle, exercising and my eating habits. The first non-medical (in the physiological sense) to make it to the top ten causes of deaths in my own country is suicide. We, Australia, is ranked 84th in the world for the suicide death rate per 100,000 people. We are shaded green on the world map. Laos, however, is shaded red and is ranked 38th in the world for this horrible statistic. Very quickly, the dangers of the long boat and the Tuk Tuk soon brought me perspective.
More than vast bodies of water, seemingly risky modes of transport and the germs carried by certain animal species, perhaps the biggest danger we as humans face is our own thinking and mental state of being. In a month (June, 2018) where suicide appears all too frequently on our news feeds for celebrities we didn’t know and those we once held dear, let’s embrace the greatest adventure and risk we’ll ever be presented with: life itself.
– Dedicated to our loved ones whose life adventure ended far too soon
When we visited Tad Sae Waterfalls in May, there was barely any water in the pools. In fact, they were pumping water from one of the bottom pools to make the water, well, fall! We went with the intention of seeing elephants which we did see, albeit briefly. I imagine it would be very beautiful at the right time of the year. See an upcoming post on the beauty of the Kuang Si Waterfalls.
Pak Ou Caves – a two hour boat journey is needed to get to the caves. It’s a quicker ride on the way back due the fast current on the Mekong River. The caves were dark with Buddhist statues in them. There wasn’t a lot to see. Some tours include a few other things along the journey. We didn’t do this but it might be worth a shot to break up the boat ride. Our kids LOVED the two hours on the boat. It was definitely a case of journey being more worthwhile than the destination. NB: When we went in May, there was no food to buy at the caves, only souvenirs. There are some really nice places to sit and eat a packed lunch if you plan ahead.