MontanaRon

An English teacher's blog about his travels and his digital art.

Category: Vientiane (page 2 of 5)

Freakish Storm

Downed trees that dragged and snapped power lines, collapsed buildings and homes, crushed billboards and damaged transmission towers were the results of a freak storm that passed through a small section of the Vientiane area this past Wednesday morning. The Vientiane Times reported that

The rain and wind blew down trees and felled utility lines creating traffic difficulties in the morning commute.

Roofs of houses and buildings and advertising signboards along the roads were blown over.

The cost of damage bill is estimated over 10 billion kip, Mr Bountham said.

[Note: $1 US = 8,000 Laos kip]

The storm just missed our small village, but the power was out from about 5 a.m. until 6 that evening. We only had a small amount of rain and moderate winds that morning, so, as I rode my motorbike to work on Thursday morning, I didn’t realize what had happened until I was a couple of kilometers outside the village. Then I started to see large trees snapped off near their bases and power lines down. Once out on Thadeua Road, the main road that runs from the border into Vientiane, I noticed more debris on the road, a few buildings that had been knocked to the ground, many trees swept over, and a main transmission tower that had been damaged by a large billboard smacking into it (this was probably why we lost our power). Crews were working on getting the power lines back up, and they were still going at it yesterday morning (Friday).

It was a frightening and disastrous storm for many people, but, luckily, there were no reports of deaths. The storm path was about 5 miles long and it ended near the new American embassy, after which I saw no damage as I made my way into the capital. As I said, our village was spared, but it does illustrate the randomness and localized nature of these sudden storms, much like tornadoes in the U.S. Midwest. Where’s the next one going to hit?

Old Cars in Vientiane

I’ve spotted quite a number of old cars in Vientiane recently. Usually I see them while I’m riding my motorbike and they’re moving along a block or so from where I’m at, so I don’t get a good look at them to see what make and model they are. However, I have seen quite a few old VW “Beetles,” the originals from what I guess would be the 1960s. Most of their exteriors looked quite aged, but they were still running.

Over the past few weeks, though, I saw these two old-timers, one parked on the side of the street and the other passing close by a few days later. I didn’t have a camera with me, so I’ve taken these photos from the Internet. While not exactly the same color, both of the old autos resembled the photos.

First was a cream-colored Studebaker Lark convertible with a black top. While not in “classic car” condition, it still looked like it was being carefully kept in good shape. Perhaps it belongs to an expat, maybe an embassy employee. My former boss in Morocco, John, the Regional English Language Officer at the American embassy, had his car shipped over, a 4-wheel drive Subaru, which he believed was the only one in Morocco. He told me that embassy personnel get a shipping allowance of 20 TONS! Small wonder that he’d brought the car with him.

John and 4-wheel drive Subaru.

Here’s John and his 4-wheel drive Subaru, the only one in Morocco, as far as he knew.

Here’s the Internet photo of the Studebaker. It’s a bit lighter colored than the one I saw, but it’s still a good resemblance.

Studebaker Lark Convertible

The other oldster that I saw was a Pontiac Tempest, sporting a faded and chipped pale blue exterior. It didn’t look nearly as well kept as the Studebaker, but it was still running. I’ll definitely keep my eyes peeled for other old timers now that I know there are at least a few on the roads in the capital. I wonder where they get the parts to keep them running? Here’s the Internet photo.

1966_pontiac_tempest_side_view

Vientiane Boat Racing Festival

The rainy season has finished and the Mekong is receding, so we’re into, what else, the dry season. Those are the only two real seasons in Vientiane, though there might be a decent autumn farther north in the country, but nothing like New England, for example. It will start to get quite cool at night next month, a faux winter compared to more northern climes, but if you’re used to low temperatures in the high 70s, then the low 60s and mid 50s seem quite chilly.

Though there are more boat races leading to the national championships in Oudomxay (far north of here) in November, the big Vientiane Boat Racing Festival was held on Thursday, October 9th. Almost all of the city shut down for the day: the banks were closed; the Laos government offices were closed; the public schools were closed and even the U.S. Embassy was closed. I say almost all, because at least one institution was open for business as usual-Vientiane College. Yeah, we had to work that day. I was deeply disappointed by the college’s decision to not take the day off. It wouldn’t have been all that difficult, in my opinion, to tack on an extra day at the end of the term to make up for the lost time, but that wasn’t done. I still enjoy working there, but my formerly high opinion of it has gone down a few notches.

Despite that, I did spend a few hours at the festival area along the Mekong before I had to show up for my classes. It was hot, noisy, crowded and dirty, but I enjoyed it. I didn’t actually get to see any races, but the spectacle wasn’t confined to the boats. Fa Ngum road, the one-way street along the Mekong, is usually congested with vehicles, but on this day, and the preceding three, it was closed to normal vehicular traffic, leaving pedestrians the freedom to stroll on the pavement.

Well, not quite. It was extremely crowded, so a stroll was more like a crawl. On both sides of the road, vendors of all sorts of products were allowed to set up under awnings to display their goods. Many sold mundane items like shoes, shirts, hats, brassieres (!), and housewares, while others noisily hawked cosmetics, cell phones, computers and various items of high-end fashion. The cacophony of the hucksters and ear drum-busting music coming over the high wattage speakers was almost unbearable in places. It took around thirty minutes to make the half-a-kilometer-long walk.

Brassieres for sale

Brassieres for sale along the main road of the festival. Other items for sale included purses, handbags, book backpacks, wallets, watches, clothing and umbrellas.

Food vendors on the main street

Vendors sell grilled chicken, beef and fish, corn on the cob, noodles and other food along the main street of the festival.

Balloon popping booths at the festival.

There were quite a number of carny-style balloon popping booths set up. They all had yellow balloons, which may or may not signify something.

There were a couple of good places to view the races. One was the VIP viewing area, closed off to all but high-ranking military personnel and government officials. The other good spot was at the roof top Bor Pen Nyang bar, four floors up, overlooking the river. However, 50,000 kip (about $6.25) was being charged to go there. I think there were a couple of drinks and snacks included in the price. I suppose I could have paid and sat up there in the shade for a few hours, but I wanted to walk around the festival area. I did manage to persuade the two guys collecting the payment to let me go up for a few minutes to take a few photos.

VIP pavilion at the race

The VIP pavilion at the boat racing venue. Mostly military personnel and government officials, I suppose, were seated in the shade here. It was one of the more comfortable areas to watch the race.

Overview of festival

This is a general over view of the festival from the Bor Pen Nyang bar.

The main street of the festival.

Looking east down the main street from the Bor Pen Nyang rooftop bar. I had to lean over the protective railing to get this photo and the one below.

The main street of the festival

From the Bor Pen Nyang rooftop bar, looking west down the main street of the festival.

At another area of the Mekong, a bit removed from the race area, a few stages with seating in front had been set up. On one stage, a band composed of westerners was playing rock music to a full house sitting in the shade of umbrellas, and on another a Lao band was performing Lao pop music.

People sitting under umbrellas to watch a band

Quite a few people sat under umbrellas and ate food or drank beer while watching the Western rock band perform at the festival.

People watching a Lao band perform at the festival.

Other people were enjoying a Lao pop band under the shade of an awning. Of course, you could buy food and beverages while enjoying the concert.

Past the stages, a carnival midway of sorts featured various rides, including four bumper car setups, two small ferris wheels, a small kiddie roller coaster and other attractions.

Carnival rides at the festival.

This is part of the carnival rides area at the festival. There were a couple of ferris wheels, several bumper car tents, a merry-go-round, a small roller coaster and a few carny-style game areas.

Children ride small roller coaster

Not many kids are riding the small roller coaster, probably because there’s no shade. I imagine it was much busier in the evening.

I don’t know when the festival will be held next year since it is scheduled according to the lunar calendar and is held near the end of the Buddhist Lent period. The race itself is held on the day after the end of Lent. This year the final day of Buddhist Lent, Boun Awk Phansa, was on Wednesday. During this final day of Lent, most people visit the temples, bringing food for the monks, and make “fire” boats with banana trunks and leaves, flowers and candles to float at night on the Mekong. I have some photos of these small boats which I’ll put up on my next post in a few days.

Hot and Busy

Yes, it’s quite hot in Vientiane today. According to Weather Underground, it’s 38 centigrade (100 F.) right now at 4 p.m. on Monday afternoon, but the other part of the current temperature, the part titled “Feels Like,” states that it feels like 46, which is 115 F. Hot. Very Hot. I’m glad that I’m at the nicely air conditioned school, working on my lesson plans and preparing to teach.

I was teaching just three days a week-Tuesday and Thursday evenings and Saturday morning-but one of the other teachers went back to England for a 3-week vacation, and I was asked if I’d like to cover his classes until he returns. Never one to turn down some extra money, I agreed. So, I’m now also teaching on Monday, Wednesday and Friday evenings. That’ll keep me pretty busy, so I’m not sure when I’ll get some more extensive posts (with photos) up. I want to do some posts that cover driving a motorbike in Vientiane (never a dull moment), harvesting green onions (very dull for me, but an interesting process), and a temple visit Nai and I made during the New Year celebrations last month. I’ll probably get the temple visit posted sooner than anything else, so stay tuned for more later.

In Laos

I’m heading back out to my friend Nai’s farm, which is about 10 kilometers outside Vientiane. I’ve been in Laos for about a week now. I was at The Farm for a few days, and then I came into Vientiane to look for a job.

I became a “farmer” at Nai’s place. One day I helped to twist the stems and leaves off of red and green cherry tomatoes. Thousands and thousands of cherry tomatoes. I helped out for about three hours on a hot afternoon, sitting under the shade of a tree, twisting and pulling and culling. There were several family members and neighbors pitching in also. It was boring work, but satisfying. Nai’s sister took all the tomatoes to the morning market in Vientiane, where they were bought in quantity by restaurant owners. Nai told me that they use them in making papaya salad, a staple dish that’s generally served at every meal.

The next day was Green Onion Day. Again, uncountable numbers of green onions. Nai and other family members went into the fields early in the morning and harvested the crop, then hauled it to the house on two-wheeled pushcarts. I was alerted that they had arrived by the aromatic smell of green onions floating on the breeze throughout the family compound. It’s quite a wonderful odor. They spent the rest of the morning and most of the afternoon pulling the debris and outer skin from each onion. I was going to join in, but this chore required some expertise, so I sat this one out.

The last three days I’ve been in Vientiane, and I’m pretty sure that I got a job working at one of the local colleges. I’ll find out this coming Tuesday. The director is going to phone me and let me know what he might have open for me. I won’t say any more about the job until I officially get it.

So, I’ll be out of Internet and email contact until the middle of next week. I’m taking a bus to the Friendship Bridge around noon today, which is the border-crossing point over the Mekong River between Laos and Thailand. Then, I’m going to give Nai a call and have him pick me up on his motorbike. The Farm isn’t too far away from the bridge. I talked to Nai earlier this morning to let him know my plans. He was harvesting more green onions.

Two Riverfront Parks-Nongkhai and Vientiane

Both Nongkhai, Thailand, and Vientiane, Laos, have nice riverfront parks along the Mekong. Whereas Nongkhai’s park is more of a walkway, Vientiane’s is a large park and walkway, and is frenetic with activities, in contrast to the sedateness of Nongkhai.

I like the quiet of Nongkhai. It’s a small town that shuts down about 11 p.m., except for a handful of mostly expat bars near the river. I’m sure there are other venues that Thai people frequent later at night, but I’ve never been to any of them, except for a hotel karaoke now and then. The river walk reflects that quiet. Here’s a shot I took of it a few years back, to give you some perspective.

Nap time at Nongkhai river park

Nap Time

New to this walkway and off to the right are some added items of whimsy that I found amusing–lawn ornaments. Here are a few of the new denizens of Nongkhai’s river walk. There are several more, but I don’t want to spoil your fun should you ever get there.

Lawn ornaments in Nongkhai river walk

River Walk Whimsy

Lawn ornaments at Nongkhai river walk

River Park Whimsy

Lawn ornaments at Nongkhai river park

River Park Whimsy

Lawn ornaments at Nongkhai river park

River Park Whimsy

Lawn ornaments at Nongkhai river park

River Park Whimsy

Lawn ornaments at Nongkkhai river park

River Park Whimsy

Here’s a fella I found who was caught between a rock and a hard place, between two dragons. Hey, guy, are you another lawn ornament?

Nai at Nongkhai river park

Caught Between a Rock and a Hard Place

In contrast to the Nongkhai walk, the Vientiane River Park is busy, busy with activity during the evenings. Here’s a short video showing a small slice of the action along the Mekong–aerobics classes, the night market, kids doing tricks on bikes and skateboards, and families out for a stroll. For once, it wasn’t raining.

Vientiane, Laos, Mekong River Park from Ron Anderson on Vimeo.

Whichever city you visit, be sure to take some time to amble along the Mekong. I’m sure you’ll enjoy yourself.

A Temple Visit

I’m back in warm, humid Yeosu, working (hardly working, actually–we don’t have that many classes right at the moment). Kind of dull, so let’s continue with my recent vacation in Thailand and Laos.

On one of my final days in Vientiane, Nai needed to visit Wat Si Muang, a Buddhist temple, where he wanted to pray with a monk. One of his brothers is going through a rough time, and Nai wanted to seek the help of Buddha. Nai went into the main temple building, and I waited around outside for him. I took these photos while waiting. (I also have another post about this wat from 2010.)

I don’t know why this great-looking car was parked in front of the temple. Was it for a blessing? Did someone get married and leave the car outside while they went inside for a blessing? It seems a bit incongruous, the old and the new together.

Car at temple

Car at Temple

Here are a couple of shots of the details on one of the outside walls of the temple. It’s interesting to wander around any Buddhist temple and discover all the intricate little things that you might not notice at first glance.

Temple wall

Temple Wall

Temple wall detail

Temple Wall Detail

Temple wall detail

Temple Wall Detail

And the statuary is also fascinating. I believe these are mainly supposed to protect the temple from evil spirits. Here’s one of them.

Temple statue

Temple Statue

Next to the main temple, I spotted this building, which might be an administration building or the living quarters of the monks. I didn’t dare go inside; there weren’t any signs forbidding entry, but it looked like more of a private place than one open to the public.

Adjunct building

Adjunct Building

Our trip to the temple finished, we went to one of our favorite eateries, an outdoor restaurant near the river. I can never remember the name of the place, so I should write it down next time I’m there. It’s the something something Beer Garden, if memory serves me correctly. The lady and her family who run the place are all very friendly, and the food is pretty decent, too. Just outside the restaurant is this jackfruit tree. One of the large fruits had fallen off, and the owner had cut out the fruit. She gave us a generous dish, on the house. I didn’t take a photo of the fruit, but below the first shot is what it looks like. (I “borrowed” the photo from the internet, where it appears on several other websites.) And, no, I’ve never seen any birds in the cage hanging from the tree.

Jackfruit tree

Jackfruit Tree

Jackfruit

Jackfruit

Hey, what are you smiling at, buddy?

My friend Nai

A Smiling Nai

After leaving Vientiane the next morning, we went to Nongkhai to spend a few days before heading down to Bangkok. I’ll have a few photos from Nongkhai in my next post. More later.

Laos Awarded World’s Best Tourist Destination

Recently, the European Council on Tourism and Trade (ECTT) awarded Laos the “World’s Best Tourist Destination” for 2012. In part, the award presentation stated that:

I must say what a privilege is for our delegation to honor a country that is becoming a WORLD BEST TOURIST DESTINATION.

It is also a great pleasure to address our salute to the great people of Lao, a people that had build throughout centuries a perfect civilization, with hundreds of monuments of historical and civilization relevance ,a people that had offered to humanity countless riches: from religious temple and scriptures to literary texts and historical writings.

You can read more about the award at the ECCT website here and here. Coincidentally, I’ll be traveling to Laos (and Thailand) next month, and I’m really looking forward to getting back there. I guess the continuing popularity of Laos, and its people and culture, is a double-edged sword. Hopefully, the influx of tourists will help increase the standard of living of the population and raise cultural awareness, but, alas, more tourists and more money coming into the country means, many times, an increase of traffic, pollution and infrastructure problems, as well as a loss of the old values and charm that have made the country such an attractive area to visit.

As an example, my first visit to “The Land of a Million Elephants” was in 2005. I remember Vientiane as being a very laid-back city (it still is, in many ways) with bicycles and motorbikes outnumbering cars by a wide margin. Now, traffic jams are common in many places and life seems more frenetic. Still, it’s a great place to visit–succulent, spicy cuisine, stupendous scenery and friendly, welcoming Laotians. Give it a try if you’re ever in the area.

Congratulations to Lao PDR!

Laos Friends

OK, one final post with photos from my vacation in Laos and Thailand back in December. I put up some children’s photos last time, so this one has a few photos of adults.

Most of these were taken around the New Year holiday, but the Lao people like to start celebrating several days before and continue for a few days after New Year’s Day. Here’s lunch at Nai’s house on Dec. 31st, eaten by about 7-8 family members and friends. Let’s see, what do we have here? Looks like the remains of some fish, deep-fried chicken feet, various greens, a veggie salad and, of course, Beer Lao.

Lunch at Nai's house in Laos

Lunch at Nai's House

While some of us were eating and talking (with me pretending to listen–I don’t speak or understand the Lao language, yet), other folks, including Nai, were playing cards. It looks like a Lao version of gin rummy, I guess, with small wagers included.

Laos card game

Afternoon card game

These are a few of Nai’s brother’s friends, who are working on a good-sized platter of semi-congealed cow blood soup. Various herbs are thrown into the soup, along with a couple of hands full of peanuts. Yummmm! Nai’s sister Nui is on the left.

Next are Nai’s brother Pui (Poo-ee), in the center, flanked on the right by cousin Mot (Maht) and on the left by another lovely cousin, whose name I’ve forgotten. Mot’s mother (one of Nai’s sisters) and father live and work in Thailand, but he was visiting the homestead for a few weeks. I mentioned to Nai that Mot didn’t appear too happy to be here, but Nai told me he wasn’t happy to be going back to Thailand (and to school) soon. The young lady asked me, through Nai, to find her a Western boyfriend. I told her I’d put her photo on the internet, so here it is.

Laos friends

Laos friends

The day before, on the 30th, Nai and I were in Vientiane visiting a Lao friend’s pub. While shooting pool, Nai introduced me to a friend of his from Nai’s village. He’s a policeman in Vientiane, I believe, and a very friendly fellow. Here he is, posing with Nai.

Nai with his friend

Nai and Friend

I really love this guy’s expressive face. To me, he looks like one of the characters in the early-60s hit TV comedy “Car 54, Where Are You?” Actor Joe E. Ross played my favorite character on the series, Officer Gunther Toody. Mr. Ross is on the right. On the left is Fred Gwynne as Officer Francis Muldoon. Gwynne was also famous for the Herman Munster character on “The Munsters.”

Car 54, Where Are You?

Fred Gwynne and Joe E. Ross

What do you think–resemblance or not? To help you decide, here’s another photo of Nai’s friend with me, an obligatory shot, I suppose. Nai took the photo, but he did such a lousy job. It makes me look too fat! Where’s my chin? I DO have a chin. (I must have had my head tucked into my neck on this one!)

Ron and Nai's friend

Ron and Nai's Friend

We also took a walk along the Chao Anouvong Park along the Mekong. One of the signature features of the park is a larger than life statue of King Anouvong, the last ruler of the Lan Xang (Million Elephants) Kingdom. The Vientiane Times of June 15, 2010 (by way of LaoVoices) states that:

“Since Chao Anouvong is remembered for reuniting the country, his statue will depict the strength of his leadership, and should be as close to lifelike as possible,” said Head of the Ministry of Information and Culture’s Fine Arts Department, Dr Bounthieng Siripaphanh.

The statue, which is costing about 5 billion kip to make, will stand about 8 metres high and 3 metres wide. The king will be represented holding a sword in his left hand while gesturing with his right.

One of the greatest achievements of Chao Anouvong’s reign was the construction of Vat Sisaket, Vientiane’s oldest standing temple today.

This Wikipedia article, however, is not so kind to the king:

Modern Lao nationalist movements, on the other hand, have turned Anouvong into a hero, even though his strategic and tactical mistakes combined with his hot temper led to the end of the kingdom of Lan Xang (Million Elephants) destruction of Vientiane, and a permanent division of the Lao people between the country of Laos and the Lao-speaking provinces of northeastern Thailand.

Hero or not, it’s still an impressive statue.

Chao Anouvong statue

King Anouvong Statue

That wraps up my vacation to Thailand and Laos, so we’ll be goodnight and adieu, until next time.

Photo of the Moon and Venus

The Moon and Venus at Dusk From Nai's House

Vacation Time

It’s the end of the fall semester, so, as usual, I’ve been busy with final assessments, grading, paperwork, meetings and other duties. But soon, however, I’ll be vacationing in Laos (mainly) to visit with my friend Nai and his family. Korea’s weather is starting to turn wintry cold, so spending some time in a more tropical clime is very appealing, of course.

I’m not going for a long time–just a bit more than a few weeks. My Air China flight to Bangkok leaves next Monday around noon, and I’ll be back in Yeosu on January 5th. I got a pretty good price on the flight about a month and a half ago, but that price came with some long layover times in Beijing, five or so hours going and more than seven hours coming back. Going to Bangkok will be the worst leg of the trip. I’ll be leaving Yeosu on the 11 p.m. bus to Incheon Airport, which arrives around 4:30 in the morning. Since my flight doesn’t take off until around noon, I’ll have a long wait. Incheon, however, is one of the top rated airports in the world, so I don’t mind hanging around there for that amount of time. Then, I go to Beijing and have a wait of about 5 hours until I go to Bangkok. I don’t arrive in the “City of Angels” until around midnight. From there, I’ll take a taxi to my hotel, probably not getting to sleep until 2 a.m. A long day, indeed.

After goofing around in Bangkok for an all-too-short while, I’ll take the overnight train to Nongkhai on the evening of the 21st, arriving there the next day around 8:30 in the morning. I’ll spend a few days in Nongkhai with Nai, then we’ll cross the Friendship Bridge into Laos, and . . . hmmm, not really sure. We might head up to Vang Vieng or Luang Prabang, or we might decide to stay at his family residence for Christmas and New Year. Christmas in a Buddhist, Communist country–an interesting place to spend the holidays, to say the least.

Finally, after whatever adventures and strange situations that occur in Laos, I’ll take the train back to Bangkok and take a flight back to Incheon on the 4th of January, including another long layover in Beijing. Such is the cost of cheap airline tickets.

Hopefully, I’ll be able to keep you posted about the trip, so stay tuned for more later.

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