No, it’s not; it just seemed that way. After a 5-week break, we’re back at it. I didn’t do a lot during that five weeks due to all the rain we got. The Mekong is quite high, but it’s not at a dangerous level. We’re nearing the end of the rainy season, so the level should start dropping. I did get into Nongkhai, across the river in Thailand, and I stayed in Vientiane for a few days last week during the ASEAN summit that was hosted by Laos from September 6-8. I was hoping to see some of the high level dipolomats that attended, including President Obama. I didn’t see him, but I did see his motorcade-very large, with about 15 vehicles and an extensive police escort in front and back. I waved, but I doubt that he saw me.
So, classes have started and, again, I’m working full-time, six days a week. It’s not so bad except for the ride in and back, a total of 50 kilometers (30 miles) every day. The pay is quite nice, however, and I need to save up some money for the holiday break in December, when I plan on going to Phuket in Thailand. I’ve already bought the airline tickets because they were on sale a few weeks ago, but I haven’t booked a hotel yet. I’ll do that in a few more weeks, perhaps in October, unless I find some discounts now for booking early.
Let’s see, what else has been going on? Mostly, I just sat around reading and putting on weight over the break, and I find myself getting winded going up the stairs at the school, so I’ve decided to join one of the fitness centers in Vientiane, Sengdara Fitness. It’s on my way in to school, so I’ll stop there in the mornings and do some treadmill running and weight training. I’d jog out here in the country except for the dogs that chase me, the large sand and gravel trucks that take up most of the road, the constant flow of motorbikes and the general crappiness of the road that runs through the village. It’s quite a hassle, so using a treadmill is the next best choice. I’m starting this Saturday, after classes, so I can take my time and get a feel for the place.
I also bought a new refrigerator to replace our small, worn-out old one. It’s a good-sized Samsung, but I hope there are no exploding batteries in it!
Despite the rain, we’ve had some very nice sunsets. Here are some photos of recent ones.
I like the silhouette of the palm trees and part of the temple on the road running through the village against the backdrop of the rays from the setting sun.
Another closer view of the palm trees and the temple.
Here’s one from Nongkhai that I took with my pocket camera. I was sitting at an outdoor restaurant near the river. It was getting too dark to hold the camera steady, so I set it on a flat spot on a metal railing and set the self timer to 10 seconds.
This one was taken the next evening from the same location.
From the same spot a few nights later, I took this shot of an approaching rainstorm coming in from Laos. It hit Nongkhai about 15 minutes later and it rained quite heavily for about 10 minutes, then stopped.
The Internet connection out in the country has been complete crap the past couple of months, so being away from the school for five weeks has led to zero posts. Now that we’re back in action, I can use the school’s internet (most of the time, not much better than the one out in the country) to get more posts up. More later.
A couple of weeks ago, after a week of clear skies and hot days, I began to wonder how short the current rainy season might be. The Mekong, rising steadily before, began to recede, little by little. But, of course, rainy season wasn’t ending early. It proceeded to rain quite heavily for a few days, turning the dirt road of the village into a quagmire. However, it’s now been another week of clear skies and plenty of sunshine. Thankfully, the road has dried out, but that means I have to ride through a cloud of dust when I go to work. We’ve had a few nice sunsets, shown below. Nothing spectacularly beautiful, but there are usually some awesome sunsets at this time of year, when a break in the rain allows for it.
Speaking of breaks, we’ve got a long one coming up at the school. Right now we’re doing final grading, filling out reports, planning for next term, etc. This term ends on August 4th and we don’t start again until September 12th. We were originally supposed to start on the 8th, but the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said we wouldn’t be good to go until the 12th. Why? President Obama is visiting Laos sometime during the week beginning on September 5th, so security will be insanely heavy and many roads will be closed, I presume. I’m going to try to get into the city to see him, but most likely I’ll be unable to get anywhere near where he might be giving speeches or whatever. I might rent a cheap guesthouse room in the city that week to increase my chances. I’ll let you know what happens.
This is a small (usually) drainage channel from the rice paddies to the Mekong. During the rainy season, though, it becomes quite a torrent. As the river rises it will fill this entire ravine.
We’re having a short mid-term break of nine days before starting again on July 4th. (Obviously, not a holiday here) Nai and I are staying a few days across the river in Nongkhai. I’ve got to do some shopping at Tesco-Lotus, a French chain that’s similar to Wal-Mart, more or less. My old computer bag is literally falling apart, and I’m in the market for a new compact camera, probably a Canon Ixus (Elph, in the ‘States.) I’m also looking for an e-book reader, but I’m not sure what I can find in Nongkhai.
On our last visit there, we found out about a great little bar and restaurant called Baannakee, which means “The House of the Dragon,” according to the owner, a Thai man named Toom. He’s very friendly as well as being an excellent cook. The food, mostly German fare, is great. A local German expat makes a variety of sausages at his home and sells them to the restaurant. Though I’m not particularly fond of sausage, what I’ve eaten at Baannakee is not bad at all. Some of my favorite food that’s served there are the fish and chips, and the mashed potatoes, which come with a variety of dishes.
The fish ‘n chips come with very hefty proportions as well as with a generous-sized side of salad. You could almost share an order with another person, and the price is right-about six dollars at the current exchange rate. The mashed potatoes are some of the most delicious I’ve ever tasted; I have to see about getting his recipe. (UPDATE: The secret ingredient is a bit of nutmeg, believe it or not.)
The other food is superb as well, with pasta dishes, a variety of sausages, sauerkraut, pork knuckle and tenderloin, and a large selection of Thai food.
Another nice thing about Baannakee is the atmosphere. The place seats about 20 people, though it’s never been that busy, and the crowd is made up of mostly older expats, Germans and Northern Europeans, so it has a fairly laid back atmosphere. Toom has a huge, eclectic selection of cd’s, but the music is always played unobtrusively in the background; it never interferes with conversation. Also, there’s no pool table, which, it seems to me, always creates a noisier environment.
If you’re ever in the area, give Baannakee a try. It’s right near the start of the market along the Mekong, just down from Daeng Vietnamese restaurant. I’m sure you’ll like it.
Here’s the entrance to Baannakee. Just to the left and up the street is the beginning of the covered market along the Mekong. In the opposite direction of the market is Daeng Restaurant.
Here’s the restaurant at night. Toom will usually stay open until at least 11 pm, but if it’s busy, he’ll stay open until the wee hours. The kitchen closes at 10.
Here’s the Vietnamese Restaurant. Baannakkee is behind us, to the left.
This is Toom, the friendly proprietor, who’s restaurant has been in Nongkhai for 13 years. It used to be called DJ Thasadej, and Toom had a German partner. He’s returned to Germany and Toom changed the name to Baannakee.
Nai, looking dapper, vouches for the quality of the Thai food. I’ll vouch for the Western offerings. Neither of us has had a bad serving yet.
This is a single serving of fish ‘n chips, but it could feed a couple of guests. Most of the portions at the restaurant are very well-sized and priced lower than what Toom probably could charge.
This is pork tenderloin smothered in a curry-cheese cream gravy. The mashed potatoes are to die for.
The small bar at the restaurant seats five patrons and serves up a variety of liquor and beer, though the selection isn’t that extensive.
Part of the interior. This part seats eight people or twelve, if it’s really crowded.
The following are various photos of the odds and ends and paintings scattered throughout the restaurant. Not much to say about them, but they do contribute to the eclectic and cozy atmosphere of the place.
A display to the left of the bar. Toom lives up the stairs.
Another display near the kitchen area.
The area just in front of the bar.
Another area near the stairs.
One of the paintings, which were created by a local artist.
And another painting.
What does it say about my “exotic” life in another country when the most exciting thing to happen in the last several months is that the local authorities finally decided to bring in a scraper and level off the rutted, pot-holed dirt road that runs through the village? A luxurious motorbike ride was in the offing, a ride that wouldn’t bounce me up and down and shake me up, causing my internal organs to become displaced. A ride that I wouldn’t have to make at 10 kilometers an hour in order to prevent my motorbike from shaking apart. I was looking forward to it. I was excited!
That was last Sunday. For all of one day, Monday, going to and from Vientiane, I enjoyed the level road. That all changed on Tuesday, when we had some heavy rains. When the road was horribly wash-boarded and pot-holed, the dirt was at least hard, compacted. The scraper tore up all that hard dirt and left a loose mess that the rain turned into a 6 kilometer long mud pit, from the village all the way to the main road. What a nightmare ride! I really had to watch where I was riding. In the worst area, not too far from the main road, vehicles had to stay all the way to the left, trying to avoid oncoming bikes and trucks, because the right hand side was, and still is, completely impassable due to the deep mud there. Not even the big sand- and gravel-hauling trucks will attempt passage on that side.
At this time, Thursday, the condition of the road is similar to what it was before it was scraped. It won’t be long until it’s back in the same condition. The forecast isn’t calling for much rain in the near future, so the mud should dry up soon. I’ll still have to make a few more night rides before it dries, which can be a nightmare on that back road. Even at 10 kilometers an hour. Who said my life wasn’t exciting?
Finally, any remnants of a drought have been shattered, at least near Vientiane. Just a few weeks ago, there were rocket festivals going on in various parts of the country, where rockets were fired off to summon rain from whatever spirits might be responsible for the weather. These homemade devices aren’t weak, either, with some of them able to take down low-flying aircraft. Local officials have to inform government authorities when the festivals are taking place so that they can warn the airlines and other aircraft to steer clear of the areas.
This image taken from intellasia.net
After several days of often heavy and lengthy rainfalls, some folks (our neighbors, for example) are setting off bottle rockets and a few more powerful “bombs” to get the rain to let up. You just gotta be careful what you ask for.
We had some of these heavy rains over the weekend, and they finally quit just as I was preparing to ride in to work this morning. I was a bit leery about riding on the back road, mostly dirt, thinking it would be a mud pit out to the main highway. It wasn’t as bad as I expected, but I did have to wend my way slowly and carefully in some places. I was too busy threading my way through the mud to notice how much the Mekong might have risen, but I’ll take a gander tomorrow.
Not your typical breakfast, but I guess it’s the season for ant larva out here. Nai’s brother, Guay, came over and “shook down” some of the smaller trees and bushes for the “eggs,” of which he got thousands. He sells them for 50,000 kips a batch. That’s about $6, which is pretty expensive, in my opinion. They get eaten as a snack, boiled first. Throw in some hot chilis and you’ve got yourself a… well, the Lao people like them, but no thanks.
Here they are, thousands of the little critters, long dead. They’ve been boiled, but you can see some of their progenitors in the mix. They get eaten too. I’m adventurous in many things, but I’m not much of a food explorer. I’ll pass on these.
Well, you sure can’t eat ’em just plain. Let’s throw in a few chopped up chili peppers for the heat and the color. Dig in.
Nai digs in. Looks like he’s thrown in a few chopped green onions, too. Happy eating, Nai, but I’m certainly not going to drink from the same glass. The same rule as when you’re eating crickets!
Just a few photos from the recent Laos New Year (Pi Mai Lao), a holiday called Songkran in Thailand, where there are huge waterfights to mark the three-day event. Here in the village, the water throwing was much more subdued than elsewhere. Most people ask first if they can pour cold water down your back in a ritual cleansing, so to speak. It can get a bit out of hand, with water being slung about to include any bystanders, but it’s nothing like in Bangkok or even Vientiane, where there were some large-scale water fights on the main streets.
It’s also a religious celebration, where Buddhists go to their local temple and cleanse the Buddha statues, and it’s a time for house cleaning. Most people will do a thorough cleaning of their homes, sweeping, mopping, dusting and even a bit of painting to spruce the place up.
There were a few parties at Nai’s family compound, just a five-minute walk from where we live. Lots of food, beer and loud music (too loud). And fun.
P.S. I’m just now getting this posted due to a couple of factors. First, I couldn’t get any posting done at the farm because of the extremely crappy internet connection. Finally, the new school term started, so I can make use of the school internet, which is mostly…hmmm, just OK, I suppose, but it works. However, I’m teaching on a full-time basis this term, six days a week, so I’ve been quite busy at the start. I’m finally up to par on everything, so I’m able to get this up today. Enjoy. More later.
Nai’s niece, Seo (pronounced, approximately, Saw) tends to some grilled duck. She and her husband, Khoon, live not too far from Vientiane.
The duck’s grilling and it’s just the start of all the food that’ll be eaten today.
Squid, cut up and almost ready to grill over an open fire. I don’t much care for it, so I’ll wait for the grilled fish.
Now it’s ready to grill, after marinating in a spicy chili sauce for a few minutes. Too hot for my taste buds.
Nai takes charge of grilling the squid. He’ll end up eating the most, since he loves it.
It’s finally been grilled and cut into pieces. Ready to eat!
Nai’s sister, Awl, enjoys some of the squid. She’d better get her share before Nai starts digging in.
One of Nai’s numerous cousins shreds raw papaya in preparation for making another staple, papaya salad.
Nai prepares the extremely spicy hot fixings that the papaya goes into. The mixture includes very hot chili peppers (the more, the better), tomatoes, lime juice and a fermented fish paste, which looks just awful. This concoction, when mixed with the papaya , is extremely hot, much too fiery for me. I nibble a little, but I soon rush to find some cold water. Whew!
Here, Nai uses a mortar and pestle to mix all the ingredients together. Next stop, mouth.
And, finally, everyone (except me) enjoys the papaya salad. I don’t know how they can eat something this hot and be so nonchalant about it. I guess it comes from a lifetime of eating it. Bon apetite.
Now this is more like it. I love this fresh fish from the Mekong, grilled over a charcoal flame and stuffed with a few herbs. Simply delicious. These cost about 25,000 kips each, around $3.
Nai’s brother, Guay, enjoys a couple of beers with some duck blood soup, kind of a staple (both beer and soup) on Pi Mai Lao.
Khoon, Seo’s husband, has been out running around the village, meeting friends, drinking beer, and getting his face coated with baby powder, another Pi Mai Lao tradition.
It’s been very hot lately, so what better way for the kids to cool off than to hop in a small wading pool. The boy in front on the left is Leo, Nai’s two-year old nephew. Whenever he sees me taking photos, he makes this little square with his hands, which represents the camera, I suppose. He’s quite a ham. To his left is Guay’s daughter, Muoy. I’m not sure who the boy is in the back, just that it’s another one of the cousins.
This is Pang showing obeisance to her mother, Awl, by washing her feet at the end of the day. When she finished the washing, she bowed down and placed her mother’s feet on the top of her head to show further respect. She did the same for her father’s feet.
Gaith, Pang’s father, and Awl enjoying the end of the day. I think the look on Gaith’s face was caused by little Leo, his grandson, pouring some ice water down his pants.
Gaith and Awl enjoy a happy moment. I love Awl’s smile.
Gaith, Pang and Awl pose for a photo. The end of a long day for everyone. Bedtime.
Cripes, it’s been hot here lately, at least over the last month or so. The maximum temperature is breaking records almost every day, though official record keeping goes back to only 1999. Daily highs have been ranging from 100 to 106 degrees (38-42 C.), while the average high this time of year is around 91 or 92. Here’s a Weather Underground blog entry about the extraordinary heat wave in this area of the world.
We did get some heavy rain, winds and lightning this past Friday evening and the forecast is calling for a bit of rain over the weekend and into next week, so temperatures should drop a bit. However, due to the lack of advanced weather monitoring devices in the area, I take any forecast with a grain of salt. So often there has been a 100% chance of rain and . . . then, no rain at all. Or, the forecast calls for 0% or 5% and we get a deluge. Hopefully, we’ll get some more rain to relieve the heat and the ongoing drought that’s been deepening over the past few months.
Forgive the paucity of posts lately, but my internet connection out here at the farm has been horrendous the past few weeks. I can barely check out my email, let alone upload any photos to the blog or, indeed, even get access to the blog. Right now, the connection isn’t totally crappy, so I’ll do this short post. The new school term begins next week, so I’ll have better access at the school than I get out here.
Ghosts in the Village
Well, something has the villagers upset. The monks at one of the temples said that people should be very cautious about “spirits.” It seems that 15 villagers have died in their sleep over the past week. Nai tells me that we must be careful of “Dracula.” Because his English is limited, that’s his word for anything that might be monstrous or ghostly. I’m skeptical. Where did the monks get this information? I’ve seen nothing in the Vientiane newspaper that mentions the deaths, which surely would have caused a stir with that many people dying mysteriously in their sleep in such a small area. If true, it should have raised an alarm outside the village. The monks urged people to visit their particular temple to seek guidance, protection and advice to stay safe. I assume people donated money to the temple. Sounds to me like a racket. At any rate, the neighbors and Nai encircled the house with twine that had been blessed by the monks. Whew! We’re safe until the next money-raising scheme.
Postscript: I rode my motorbike to a neighboring village to buy a few things at one of the chain store mini-marts and I noticed that the protective twine was strung along both sides of the road, running uninterrupted from house to house up to the end of the village, the “spirit line network” emanating from the temple in question. Our house is connected to the main line, as are other homes that are located beyond the road. It must have taken a lot of time and twine to connect everyone. I might not take this seriously, but the villagers do.
Coming up (when I have a better connection): Laos New Year (with photos), a visit to Nong Khai (with photos), the extremely hot weather we’ve been experiencing, and another Laos delicacy–ant larva (with photos). Stay tuned.
Next week, folks here in Laos (and in Thailand) will celebrate the traditional New Year. I’ve posted about the event a few times before, most notably here, with lots of photos. The holiday is known as Pi Mai Lao here, and Songkran in Thailand. Thailand’s celebration, especially in Bangkok, is renowned for its huge water fights, but it’s a bit more sedate out in our rural area in Laos.
This year, the authorities have designated Tuesday, the 12th, as part of the holiday, and the official celebration takes place the 13th through the 15th. That’s Wednesday through Friday, so there’s the weekend, too. All told, the holiday lasts 6 days. But, when you include this coming weekend, some people who are lucky enough to get Monday off could have a 9-day holiday. Impressive!
The parties have started already, though. The neighbors had a big blowout yesterday while I was working. I noticed three cases of empty Beer Lao bottles stacked on their patio this morning, so I asked Nai if they’d had a party. Yes, they had. Why now? The new year isn’t until next week. They started early. And so many other people, too. I’ll have to take extra care in riding the motorbike home tonight, Friday, since a lot of people will be out, many of them drunk. The traffic has been horrendous the past few days, and today at lunch time, when I came to the school, it was as bad as I’ve ever seen it. Wish me luck in getting safely home tonight.
Tomorrow is the last day for classes this term, and we have a nice break until we start up again on May 5th. I’ll be out with my camera next week, taking photos and videos of Pi Mai Lao. More next week, then.