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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I bought a pair of Olympus 10×50 binoculars on my trip to Bangkok back in December, primarily to use for star gazing. I got in a few nighttime sessions and was able to pick out some star clusters and galaxies that you don’t ordinarily see with the naked eye. However, I needed to get a tripod adapter to hook the binocs up to my camera tripod. I purchased one on my recent stay in the United States, so I was ready for steadier viewing.
Unfortunately, the skies have been extremely hazy lately, mainly due to farmers around Southeast Asia burning their fields in preparation for another growing season. I can’t see the sun until way after sunrise as it tries to plow through the haze on the horizon. At night, only the brightest stars shine through the murk, which means that viewing those fainter cosmic sights is next to impossible. The only good thing about the haze is that it makes for some beautiful red sunsets. Guess I’ll have to wait until rainy season to get in some more good nighttime sky-watching.
Once again, the brilliant, white-clad crew from Luang Prabang won the traditional boat race category at the Vientiane Boat Racing Festival. Defending their championship from last year, they swept through the other competitors, winning races by large margins. At times they appeared to reduce their effort to save energy for the next race because their lead was so big. They’re an awesome crew, and the other teams will have to improve vastly to give them a challenge next year.
Thousands of people attended the festival, lining the banks of the Mekong or strolling on the car-free main road, which was closed to all motorized traffic. Because of the massive throng of people, it would have been impossible to drive a car or even operate a motorbike on this vendor-filled stretch of the normally traffic-heavy road. Nai and I walked the two kilometers from this area to the boat racing venue upstream. We found a small, covered food and beer booth where we watched the races out of the sun (but still in the heat) for a few hours, and then we walked another half a kilometer to the Kong View Restaurant and Bar, kind of an upscale place with upscale prices, but we could sit in the shade of trees with fans providing a welcome cooling breeze.
At day’s end we walked back to the main road in the cooler air of twilight and hung out at the Bor Pen Nyang rooftop bar and restaurant and watched the parade of people traveling up and down the main road.
Here then are a few photos of the festival–goods for sale, people and even a couple shots of the race.
Coming up next week, from the 26th to the 28th, is the annual Vientiane Boat Racing festival, with the boat race itself taking place on the 28th. Nai and I are going to Vientiane for the three days to take in the action and the controlled (somewhat) chaos of the festival. Last year, I had to work on the day of the race, but I managed to spend a few hours taking some photos.
This year, our mid-term break of nine days occurs next week. How nice! We’re going in on the 27th, and I plan to spend most of the day making some photos of the goings on, and, of course, catch some of the boat racing action the next day, so stay tuned for a future post.
The Saturday before last, on the 10th, we took in another boat race, the Laos-Thai Cultural Festival and Boat Race, near the Friendship Bridge, which straddles the Laos-Thailand border over the Mekong River. It was held next to the National Ethnic Cultural Park, and it had a good view of the river when I scouted the location the weekend before.
However, on the day of the race, I didn’t see a single boat! It was so crowded that I could barely see the river. We got a table next to a small food stall and we were only about 30 feet from the river, but there were so many people watching the race that it was impossible to see anything from where we were. I was suprised that some of the spectators didn’t get shoved down the embankment and into the river; the area was packed. Our location proved to be beneficial later when it started raining buckets. We were able to duck under the small restaurant’s awning, and we found a table with our friends Suwon and Noh.
It continued to rain off and on for much of the rest of the afternoon. I found out later that a Thai team had eventually won the race, though, tragically, another Thai boat team member collapsed and died in his boat during the race.
This particular race has a catastrophic history. Back in 2004, 15 Laotian women and one man drowned in the river when their boat overturned in the rough waters of that day. This was the first year the race had been held since then, and, even though many safety precautions were being taken, the collective breath was held that nothing tragic would happen. Unfortunately, the Thai man’s death has blighted this race again.
We didn’t find out about his death until a few days later, so our mood wasn’t dampened by the misfortune. Eventually, the rain let up and we sat ouside near the concert stage and watched the performers for a few more hours before finally calling it a day. Here are a few photos I took of the event.
Food–Some of the stuff that people were stuffing themselves with.
Entertainment–I think half the people come to these festivals to enjoy the free concert that is always held in conjunction with the racing.
The first boat race of the season in this area was held last Saturday. It was in the village where I live, the first time I’ve been to a race here. It was hot and crowded, and the view of the race was not very impressive. I didn’t get a lot of photos of the race itself, but I got a few interesting, I think, pictures of other things. Nai and I sat in an open-air tent and watched the races from there. The start line was far to our right and the finish was a ways past us, so it was sometimes difficult to see who the winners were. Still, it was enjoyable, despite the heat, the crowd and the music blaring from a loudspeaker not more than six feet from our table. Here are a few sights from the race.
Our long break is over and the final term of the year begins today. The break was relaxing, but boring at times. We don’t get any paid vacation here, so I’m grateful to be making some money again. Back, happily, to the grind.
Just another ordinary English teacher eclectic expat blog about nothing in particular.