Mr. Inpong

One of the essences of traveling is going back home.

Imagine a scene of your old days, in the future.

What could possibly appear? I picture myself in a very warm living room, sitting in the middle of beautiful photographs of my younger years. I will sit in a super comfy sofa, relaxing, listening to good music and enjoying the rest of the day with absolute joy. Of course, in my old days I already achieved all of my dreams and ambition. Raised a good family. No need to be filthy rich, as long I fulfill everyone’s need.

Yea, I think that kind of scene is everybody’s kind of old days. Days when all of your worries are gone. Days when there’s no wrong decisions, and days when everything is just alright. I never met everyone close enough to my kind of old days, until i met Mr. Inpong.

It was mid oct last year, an overland expedition from Singapore to Shanghai with natgeo when I met him. We managed to crossed Cambodia and went straight through Laos. It was the last country in South East Asia, before the team entered China Mainland. There were so many nice and cool things I found in Laos, including the surprising overland border. It was far from what i recognized as a border. It was more like a gate, than a border. They haven’t got any toilet, and i ended up peeing in a tree. A very Indonesian style. One of my “Same-same but different” experience (if you had enough of South East Asia, you will understand what this phrase means). Despite the funky border, the rest of Laos is indeed, beautiful.

Our first stop in Laos was Pakse District which famous with its landscape and waterfalls. We visited one of the waterfalls (forgot the name, but it was mentioned in the article haha). The waterfall is located below a coffee plantation, where we found Mr. Inpong’s coffee lounge. It was raining hard, and our ‘only option’ is to wait in his cafe. Turns out the decision to wait for the rain become one of the best moment from the entire journey.

It was weird for me even before I entered the cafe. First, the cafe built in the middle of a coffee plantation, it was covered in good quality woods with a very decent taste. Definitely an European taste, and i could hear tunes from the 50s from the speaker. Sounds like a fantasy for me. I believe it was Benny Goodman’s Elmer Tunes i heard.

“Welcome to the paradise,” a man welcome us. Inpong Sananikone, a Lao greeted us and keep mentioning me and the rest of the team as Malaysians. Understandable, it was his first time to actually talked to Indonesians. So we talked a lot about his life. It was his 3rd year staying in Laos. Before that, he spend most of his time in France. Back in France, Inpong was a successful financial consultant. His family, Sananikone family is rich and famous in Laos. Most of his family in Laos involved in the government, until now.

During his life in France, Inpong often underestimated Laos and the people of Lao. He saw Laos as a poor country and he was never admitted his Lao blood. That perspective haunted him. Plus, the long and dark history of Laos ( and countries in SEA) made him even more shame for being a Lao. He moved to France since he was still kid and grew up as French. “I thought that being a Lao is a shame thing, i always identified myself as a French,” he said. He married a french girl, raised two kids and live happy.

The denial goes on and on, until one day he found her lovely wife caught a heavy heart attack. Her last word in her final seconds was, “go back home, discover yourself, Inpong.” He was never realized what it meant until he saw a photograph of his childhood in Pakse, Laos. Long story short, he went back to Laos immediately. He went straight back to Pakse province, use his retirement money and bought a coffee plantation. “The funny thing about living in Laos is even though i was born here, this place feels like an entirely new place, with pile of new experiences.

Inpong dive deeper into Lao daily life. Surprisingly, he found many familiar new things that he never met in France. It’s like opening a treasure chest. The culture is beautiful, far from what i used to have in France. It is new, but it is so familiar!” He discovered another part of himself Laos. He called Laos as “a familiar new place called home”. He bought a coffee plantation and decided to spend the rest of his life in Pakse, Laos. Never thought i would heard that kind of story in the middle of a coffee plantation.

Lesson learned. We often embrace ourselves to leave, go to new places, meet new people, new culture, new comfort zone, and forget our home. Never forget your home.

photo: Me & Mr. Inpong with some local wine. Daylight booze, indeed. Surprisingly, that day was his 70th birthday!

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