The splashing of water lures me out to my stern balcony. They must be diving under the ship to fix the faulty propeller, I think. As I lean over the edge of the railing, I discover I am wrong: four Lao children are swimming gleefully around the boat on a competitive circuit, the weakest swimmer ending up dangerously swept downriver by the strong Mekong current before grasping the stern of a longtail boat docked nearby. He struggles hard to keep up and eventually disappears with the others upstream again.
The clean, sandy beach where we have docked for repairs presents cameos of life along this mighty Indochinese river. A woman in a straw hat busily plants her vegetable seedlings, while keeping an eye on her nearby toddler, who happily digs her own holes. Another woman waters her sandy field, and scolds children who come too near as they practice their somersaults, cartwheels and handstands. Three children emerge from the water and run to join the gymnastic group, one of the littlest pausing to remove her chafing, sandy underwear and continue on unimpeded.