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New House, New Location

The school has been closed since April 8th, but we go back to work this week, with a teachers’ workshop on Thursday and regular classes on Friday and Saturday. I’ll be quite happy to be starting up again. The break has seemed interminable with several “disasters” punctuating the time off.

First, my computer crashed and I had to get Windows reinstalled. Unfortunately, I lost some data and applications that I hadn’t backed up, but, thankfully, most of the important data (photos, documents, etc.) were saved. Then I had trouble with my debit card at the ATM and had to straighten that out. A few nights ago, Nai had an altercation with a couple of guys who tried to rob him and he got knocked around pretty badly, but seems to be OK. He told me he gave as good as he got. The cops arrested the thugs. A few other nuisance situations also occurred to make this a less than enjoyable break.

On a more positive note, though, I’ve moved into a, literally, new house in a new location. I’m the first one to live here and the owner is still upgrading the surrounding “yard.” (Not so much a yard as a weed patch; he hauled in a bunch of dirt to cover a lot of it, and I hope he plans to add some real grass.)

Here’s why I made the move. The old place, which I used to think was paradisaical, had gradually been degraded over the last year. The owner took out the entirety of the banana grove that had surrounded the house, erected fences that encompass the land, and started raising goats. Goats, goats and more goats. There were 13 of them on the tract that the house is on, and they had free run of the place, meaning that they crapped and urinated everywhere when I couldn’t chase them off–on the front porch and the concrete walkway surrounding the house and anywhere else they could find. The smell was atrocious and the noise they made destroyed the tranquility of the place. Not to mention that the neighbors had some parties at which they used huge concert-appropriate speakers and amps and cranked up the music until it was pulsing through your body; you couldn’t escape the noise and it was impossible to sleep or to even carry on a conversation. It was like a torture chamber. A few times I just gave up and rented a guesthouse room in Vientiane for the night. Then the owner said he wanted me out by May 1st because he wanted to move back into the house. Absolutely. No. Problem.

So, Nai found this new place and it’s much nicer than what the other place had become. It’s 30 minutes closer to town and I don’t have to ride my motorbike over that completely sh**ty dirt road leading to the village. For that reason alone, I am grateful to have made the move. The house is located about 100 yards off the main road that runs between Vientiane and the border crossing between Laos and Thailand. It’s a bit noisy at times, being located near a couple of karaoke restaurants, but it’s not that bad. It’s a heavily traveled road, so the traffic noise can be disturbing. However, the karaokes are good neighbors and close when they’re legally supposed to close (11:30 pm), which not all similar places do, and the traffic settles down at night.

I was disappointed, though, when I found that the device I was using in the countryside to connect to the internet rarely works at all here. I thought I would have better reception, being closer to town, but most days I can’t connect at all. Lo and behold, there’s an internet cafe which has extremely good, fast internet right in front of the house on the main road. Not only that, since I’m near the main road, one of the local internet providers is going to run a fiber optic line to the house in a couple of weeks, so I’ll have my own connection, always on. Hooray! It costs about $37 a month and I hope it’s worth it.

Of course, since the house was unfurnished, I’ve been spending money hand over fist buying furniture and what-not for it. (Another good reason to be getting back to work, earning money again.) We hired a pick-up truck to haul our other stuff (refrigerator, stove, bed, personal items) here. There are still a few more items I have to purchase, so more money will be leaving the coffers before all is said and done. Oh, yes, the old place cost $50 a month; this one is $200. But, I guess that’s the price to pay for leaving “paradise.”

The beneficial things about living here are that it’s much closer to Vientiane, it’s on a paved road and I’ll have a nice internet connection. Being closer to the city, I’ll probably be much more inclined to go to the movie theater or to take in some cultural events on the weekends.

Not beneficial–the cost and the noise (at times). Mostly, however, the noise won’t be a problem since I’ll be at work during the day and into the early part of the night. So far, it’s not been a big problem.

We’ll see how this new place works out. I signed a six-month lease, so I’ll have lots of time to either get to like it or to hate it. More later.

House

This is a view of the front of the house. In the back there’s a very large field (see previous post), and behind me and to the right of the house there are some other houses-not too close, but not much to see. To the left of this photo are some fish ponds. See the next photo.

Pond

Here’s one view of the fish pond. There’s another larger one beyond it. Yes, it is stocked with fish, which the vendor in front of us grills and sells. I might end up stuffing my self too often.

Pond

Here’s another view of the pond.

Health Benefits of Traveling

It’s an agreeable morning in Laos. The last few days have been quite hot and humid, but there’s a gentle rain falling and a cool breeze is blowing through the open windows and front door. In the kitchen of my new house that I’m renting (more on that in a later post), I can look out at a small herd of cows grazing on chaff from the newly-harvested rice field that stretches into the distance. Very relaxing. Quite agreeable.

Rice Harvesting

A modern harvester works on a field of stick rice (glutinous rice). Many farms in Laos still use the old method of harvesting by hand with machetes or scythes.

Cows Grazing

After the harvest, the chaff is left for a few cows to enjoy.

You never know what you’ll run into while you’re traveling or after you’ve settled in somewhere. Vientiane can be hectic sometimes, but not far from the city you can find some bucolic scenes like these. It’s a bit like Frodo talking about his Uncle Bilbo in The Fellowship of the Ring.

“Certainly it reminds me very much of Bilbo in the last years, before he went away. He used often to say there was only one Road; that it was like a great river: its springs were at every doorstep, and every path was its tributary. ‘It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out of your door,’ he used to say. ‘You step into the Road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there is no knowing where you might be swept off to.’ ”

So, traveling can lead to some interesting, exotic, adventurous locales. Traveling’s good for you. There are a lot of advantages to be had in traveling. What are they? Head over to Positive Health Wellness to read “8 Reasons Why Traveling is Good For Your Health.” It’s an interesting and informative article, and maybe it’ll set off your wanderlust. Do some traveling and exploring, if you can. Steer a canoe down a scenic river, enjoy the grandeur of majestic mountains, or just watch the cows. The benefits are many.

Pi Mai Lao 2017 Photos

The Lao New Year celebration (Pi Mai Lao) finished last week. It was a five-day observance this year due to the weekend, so that gave people more chances to party, and most Lao folks DO party! Compared to celebrations in Vientiane, where water gets thrown with abandon and parties are raucous, the countryside festivities are a bit more subdued. Here are a few photos of some of the goings-on.

Pi Mai Lao 2017

Just up the road a bit at one of the small markets, children are having some light-hearted fun dousing passing motorbikes. Most of the riders didn’t seem to mind getting wet, and, unlike in some places, the water wasn’t ice-cold. I didn’t ride my ‘bike, so I was able to stay dry, if I wanted to. But, after setting my camera aside, I submitted to the water-tossing ritual.

Pi Mai Lao 2017

Here water is being tossed at a couple of youngsters. Notice the red hair of the driver. The style is . . . how do I describe it? . . . mutton, I think, with the sides cut very short, but the top left alone and dyed. This is the current most popular style among Lao boys. I don’t know what the more conservative older folks think about it, but mom and dad apparently don’t care. Did the water get to these guys? See below.

Pi Mai Lao 2017

Yeah, they got pretty soaked.

Pi Mai Lao 2017

The kids seemed to have tossed their water a little early at these two blondies (orangies?). Oh, well, hit a few, miss a few.

Pi Mai Lao 2017

These are two things that shouldn’t go together–beer and motorbikes. Most people who drink (and get drunk) aren’t too concerned about the danger of riding their motorbikes or driving their cars while intoxicated. It’s the number one cause of traffic accidents and deaths on the roads, most of which involve motorbikes. As an aside, I was in Vientiane this past Saturday, the 22nd, and I saw the results of four accidents, FOUR, in the span of about 30 minutes, all of them in, more or less, the same area of town, and all of them involving motorbikes. Just amazing.

Pi Mai Lao 2017

At the Pi Mai party at Nai’s sister’s house, Go, Nai’s niece, pours a bit of water down the back of Guay, one of Nai’s brothers. She got me wet (wetter, really) also, and the water WAS ice-cold. Quite a shock if you’re not expecting it!

Pi Mai Lao 2017

A few of the neighbor ladies, cousins, enjoying the party.

Pi Mai Lao 2017

And a few more celebrants. That’s Guay’s wife, Vee, on the far right. There were three different parties going on at the same time, all withing walking distance of each other, so people would go from party to party. Most of the people in this area are related–cousins, nieces, nephews, brothers and sisters.

Pi Mai Lao 2017

Noy and Nui enjoy each other’s company. Nui is Nai’s sister and Noy is her husband.

Pi Mai Lao 2017

Noy holds Namo, the young daughter of Lot, one of Nai’s sisters. Noy always gets along very well with the children in the area and they enjoy teasing and playing with him.

Pi Mai Lao 2017

This is Meow, Guay and Vee’s daughter. She’s quite the sweetheart and she seems to always have a nice smile ready for the camera. In this shot, I couldn’t get her to give me an open-mouth smile. Why?

Pi Mai Lao 2017

I finally got her to laugh, and, aha, her shyness is caused by the loss of a couple of baby teeth. Very cute.

Pi Mai Lao 2017

OK, so we’ve got people and beer, but what’s a party without lots of delicious food? Guay is working on that. Here, he’s stir-frying a panful of . . . what? Beetles, of course. What a treat! Uh, no thanks; I’m feeling kind of full.

Pi Mai Lao 2017

Here’s the finished dish. Just dig in . . . use your hands . . . dip them in chili sauce.

Pi Mai Lao

Notice that the grilled fish is just below where I’m sitting. Guess who’s been chowing down on that.

Pi Mai Lao 2017

Surely, there has to be something else to eat. How about some soup? Is there any soup? Of course there is. How about some awesome frog soup? Here’s some. Dig in. Looks like one of the little critters is trying to climb out of the bowl.

Pi Mai Lao 2017

No thanks on the frog soup. Anything else? Sure. Still hungry? Try some of this snake meat soup. Uh, I’ll pass on that, too. Thanks anyway. I’ll just finish this fish and have some rice. No problem.

Pi Mai Lao 2017

Well, that finishes this year’s Pi Mai Lao celebration. One more photo to show. Here are a few friends posing for the camera. Nai’s on the left and a friend, name unknown, is on the right, but who’s the old fart in the middle? Got his face and clothes powdered, I see. He looks fairly full from eating all that fish and rice. Guess he had a good time. See ya next year, sport.

It’s Time For Pi Mai Lao 2017

The end of the first term of 2017 is near–this coming Saturday, in fact. So, I’m free from April 9th to May 5th, the start of the next term. What to do, what to do? Next week is easy–it’s Pi Mai Lao or Lao New Year, the biggest Lao holiday of all. It’s a five-day affair this year because of the weekend, so the official date of the holiday is April 13th through the 17th. I’ve posted about it before here, and here, with some videos on this post. In Thailand it’s called Songkran, the Water Festival.

In both countries, devout Buddhists visit the temples, clean their houses and honor their elders. That’s the traditional part. Then there’s the water-throwing aspect. Most of the young people and many older people toss water on their friends and on strangers, along with flour, and smear faces with soot from smoke-stained pots, all in good fun. But, it can get out of hand, with people using super-soaker squirt guns or small buckets to soak friends and passers-by alike. It’s not too bad out in the countryside, where the population seems a bit more conservative than in the larger cities. In Vientiane and Bangkok and in other metro areas, it’s like a small war. The danger is in throwing water at motorbike riders and causing them to have an accident. There’s also the usual carnage on the roads caused by drunk driving, but it’s multiplied at this time of year because of all the parties. (As if Lao people needed a reason to have a party.) Below are a few photos from a couple of years back.

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.

Nai powder face

Nai after his face has been powdered, one of the rituals of Pi Mai. Sometimes lipstick and soot from the bottom of pans is also applied.

Suwon and friend

Suwon and friend, the lady who grilled most of the food. Suwon’s quite a camera hound, so she’s in lots of the photos.

Suwon and Noh

Suwon and Noh enjoy a real soaking.

Thankfully, I won’t be riding my motorbike back and forth to work because of our time off, but I still have to be more than extra careful because the partying starts well in advance of the official holiday. But, I have only a few more days of riding until I’ll put the bike away, mostly, until after the holidays. I’ll visit some friends on a few of the days and celebrate the New Year with them. They’re within walking distance!

So, that’s next week’s plan. After that, I’m moving into a different house. It seems that the guy we’re renting from has given us until the first of May to move out because he wants to move back in. He’s going to refund May and June’s rent money to me. Fair enough. I’ve already put a down payment of 50% for six months’ rent on another place, one that’s in a much more favorable location. Nai and I are going to start moving in around April 20th or so. We’re both sick and tired of our current house, so we think the fellow is actually doing us a favor by moving back in. When the time comes, I’ll have a longer post about why my current residence, which I used to think was wonderful, is less than optimal and about why the new house is much more to my liking. More later.

Supermoon

Here are a few shots of the setting supermoon this fine Tuesday morning, as photographed from the front porch and the living room window of my house near Vientiane, Laos.

The moon was 99.7% full and moving away from earth, according to my planetarium software, Stellarium. It’s a great open-source (free) piece of software that you can find here.

The photo with the temple was taken from the porch and the other was taken about 20 feet to the left, from a window inside the house.

This is the start of my favorite time of year in Laos, the beginning of the cool season. Crisp nights, pleasant days and mostly cloudless nights, which means I can get in some good star watching with my binocs.

Supermoon on Nov. 15th.

Supermoon on Tuesday, Nov. 15, about 6:15 a.m.

Supermoon on Nov. 15

Supermoon on Tuesday, Nov. 15, about 6:15 a.m.

School’s Out Forever

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.

sunset

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.

sunet

Another closer view of the palm trees and the temple.

sunset

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.

sunset

This one was taken the next evening from the same location.

Rainstorm and sunset

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.

Rainy Season?

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.

Sunset

Sunset

drainage channel

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.

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.

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.