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Chili and (Ant) Eggs

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.

Ant larvae for eating

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.

Ant larvae with chili peppers

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.

Eating ant larvae

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!

Pi Mai Lao Holiday

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.

Seo, Nai's niece

Nai’s niece, Seo (pronounced, approximately, Saw) tends to some grilled duck. She and her husband, Khoon, live not too far from Vientiane.

Grilled duck

The duck’s grilling and it’s just the start of all the food that’ll be eaten today.

Squid, ready to grill.

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.

Squid in chili sauce

Now it’s ready to grill, after marinating in a spicy chili sauce for a few minutes. Too hot for my taste buds.

Grilling the squid.

Nai takes charge of grilling the squid. He’ll end up eating the most, since he loves it.

Cut up squid.

It’s finally been grilled and cut into pieces. Ready to eat!

Awl eats squid.

Nai’s sister, Awl, enjoys some of the squid. She’d better get her share before Nai starts digging in.

Shredding papaya for salad.

One of Nai’s numerous cousins shreds raw papaya in preparation for making another staple, papaya salad.

Preparing the 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!

Mixing the papaya salad.

Here, Nai uses a mortar and pestle to mix all the ingredients together. Next stop, mouth.

Eating papaya salad.

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.

Grilled fish

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.

Guay and blood soup

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 and powdered face

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.

Kids in a wading pool.

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.

Washing mother's feet

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.

Awl and Gaith

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.

Mother and father enjoy a happy moment.

Gaith and Awl enjoy a happy moment. I love Awl’s smile.

Family pose.

Gaith, Pang and Awl pose for a photo. The end of a long day for everyone. Bedtime.

Very Hot in Vientiane

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.

Evil Spirit Loose in Village

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. ┬áIf 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.

Laos New Year

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.

More Gunk in the Air

Here are a few more sunsets that we had over the past few days, and the sunrises are equally picturesque. The second photo shows some clouds in the evening sky, and, in fact, we finally had a bit of rain the day before the shot was taken. It was a very small amount, barely enough to dampen the ground out here, but Vientiane received quite a bit more, enough to create some large puddles. Any amount is welcome, of course.

Sunset

A nice sunset from last Sunday evening. Clouds! Rain! But not much.

Red sunset

Another crimson sunset behind the temple across the road from the farm.

The beautiful beginnings and ends of day aren’t without drawbacks, though. The sun is very red due to the haze in the atmosphere, which is mainly being caused by farmers burning the stubble off their fields in preparation for rainy season planting. I smelled smoke the other evening and stepped out onto the porch and noticed a heavy smoke cloud drifting in the fields near the house, caused by someone burning a nearby field, either across the river in Thailand or here not far from the house. Not pleasant at all. Hopefully, the burning will cease and the haze will clear soon.

Smoke drifts over farm fields.

Smoke drifts over nearby fields not far from the house. Where there’s smoke there’s fire, but I couldn’t see where the smoke was coming from. Not a pleasant smell, and it just adds to the hazy skies. Lots of rain soon, please.

Mekong Rising and Red Sunrise

As I posted previously, the Chinese are releasing water from a dam upstream from us to help out during the current drought. Riding into Vientiane today, I noticed that the Mekong had, indeed, risen about 3 to 4 inches. Just a wild guess, but the water level has gone up since last week. I hope that helps out the farmers downstream, especially the Vietnamese.

I’ve put up a photo of a red sunset before, so here’s a somewhat similar red sunrise. Morning and evening, with all the haze in the atmosphere, we’ve had about a month of these colorful risings and settings. About the only time the sun casts dark shadows is when it reaches its zenith, around noon or so. The weather forecast is calling for a small chance of rain this Friday. Hopefully, we’ll get at least a few showers.

Red sunrise

A red sun rises over Thailand and the Mekong River (unseen in this shot) from my front porch.

Mekong Water War?

According to an article on an Australian news site, Thailand is diverting some of the Mekong’s water to refresh it’s own rivers and streams. This is not making downstream neighbors, especially Vietnam, happy at all. The Thai government says that what it’s taking from the Mekong is not having a “significant impact.”

It’s an interesting article that also goes into the regional drought and the record low level of the Mekong River. I rode my motorbike by the Mekong this morning on my way to work, but I forgot to check if the level had risen due to the release of water by the Chinese dam upstream, as I mentioned in my previous post. I’ll try to remember to check it out on my way home today. More later.

Boom or Bust-Dammed If You Do, Dammed If You Don’t

There was an article in the Vientiane Times today stating that an upstream dam in China will increase its water discharge to help alleviate the drought in countries lower down the Mekong River, specifically Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. We’ve got a fairly severe drought going on here in Laos, and the Mekong is at a very low level. However, Vietnam, according to the article, is suffering through its worst drought in 100 years. You can read the article here.

There is a bit of history with this dam. Back in September of 2014, during a very rainy season in Southwest China, countries downstream from China were placed on high alert due to an increase in discharge rates from the dam that could flood large areas of those countries. I remember the warning, but, though the river rose near the house, we never got any flooding. You can read that warning here.

So, through drought or excessive rain, that one dam and others upstream from us, the first ones built along the once free-flowing Mekong, have the potential to play an important part in the daily lives of millions of people living downstream from it. Could China use that as a political weapon? Possibly, but I don’t think it has done so yet.

A Few Things for Your Perusal

Laos Hosts ASEAN Summit

Laos is hosting the summit meeting of the Association of SouthEast Asian Nations (ASEAN) this year, which is quite an honor for the small country. The government has been tidying up the capital for the last several months, painting the lane markers on the roads so that they’re visible, putting up Christmas-like lights on the trees on the main roads and on government buildings, installing new traffic lights and making other less noticeable improvements. The importance of the meeting will be emphasized by the arrival of President Obama in the capital in September. I imagine security will be over-the-top, but I think our school will be on break at that time. I might try to come into Vientiane while Obama’s there, just to record the scene.

Already, though, there has been an increased security presence, with armed military and police patrolling the sidewalks along the main roads, something that was rarely seen in the recent past. I’ve noticed the increase especially along the road that runs next to the Mekong River, one I travel most days when I come to work. There have been groups of three armed (Uzis, AK-47s ??) military personnel meandering along the sidewalks, which are not normally packed with people. I don’t know what they expect to happen, but I assume they’re prepared for anything. They mostly look bored. When Obama arrives, I suppose most of the military and police will be present, or at least it will seem that way. Anyway, congratulations to Laos for being chosen to host this event.

A Better Red Sunset

Here’s a better photo typical of the red sunsets and sunrises we’ve been getting due to the extreme haze lately, mainly caused by farmers burning the stubble off their fields. One of the Thailand news agencies reported that the haze has been caused by fires in Myanmar, Northern Thailand and Laos.

red sunset

I purposefully underexposed this photo to bring out the red in the sun. The color of the sun here pretty much echoes what I see at sunset and sunrise.

Crop Diversity

I’m surprised at the number of different crops that are planted in the fields near my house. In the panorama photo below, you can see corn, marigolds (made into garlands and used in the Buddhist temples) and other crops (see the photo caption). Right now, we’re in the dry season and it hasn’t rained since I don’t know when. Everything is very dry and the temperature is forecast to be above 100 F (39 C) for at least the next week, with no rain in sight. The house I’m renting is far enough away from the very dusty road that runs through the village that we don’t get too much of the dust. Along the road, however, almost everything is coated with a layer of brown dust. Whenever we do get any significant rainfall, there should be dancing in the streets. But, until then, how many of these crops are going to make it? Most of the farmers here, near the Mekong, have wells that can be used to water the crops, but elsewhere, the dry season rice growers are having big problems with this drought. Hopefully, the rain will come sooner, rather than later.

Crops in Laos village

Some of the crops near the house. Starting at the left, from front to rear, are marigolds, an unknown crop (that’s really helpful, eh?) and corn. Then moving to the right, there is a crop of basil (I think) and another unknown crop. Then, there are a couple of fields, the front ready for planting and the back one with a plant just starting to come up. To the right is another corn crop, and in front of it is a hazy, green something. Again, not very helpful, but I’m not much of a plant and flower guy. Don’t forget the banana grove, also, in front.

banana grove

The banana grove that surrounds the house on three sides is growing and seems to be doing well. Hope it doesn’t block the sky later. And, you might notice the other farmland beyond the banana grove. Many more crops back there, too.