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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.

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.

Bits and Pieces

Festival Time in Laos

Along with the Vientiane Boat Racing Festival (see previous post), there have been a few other celebrations recently.

Just after the boat race, from Nov.23rd through the 25th, was the That Luang Festival, which honors Laos’ national symbol. Below is a night photo of That Luang (not my photo).

That Luang at night. Not my photo, but one I pulled off the internet from an Italian site, www.orientamenti.it

That Luang at night. Not my photo, but one I pulled off the internet from an Italian site, www.orientamenti.it

Next was the huge Laos National Day on Dec. 2nd, kind of like the U.S.’s Fourth of July. This year marked the 40th Anniversary of the founding of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic. (Why is it that whenever you see an official country name that includes “People” or “Democratic Republic” it almost always seems to be a dictatorship or a Communist country? It’s neither democratic nor does it belong to the people. If the U.S. were named the “People’s Democratic Republic of the United States of America,” don’t you think it would be a completely authoritarian government? /end of opinion)

There was an enormous parade at the That Luang esplanade that involved 15,000 people from 45 different government and private sectors. The Vientiane Times reported that “National Day is a landmark date to reflect on the history of Laos and the ethnic Lao people fighting bravely against foreign colonialists and imperialists to protect their territory and bring independence and freedom to the Lao people.” (emphasis mine-who do you think they might be referring to?)

Along with all the parades and celebrations of National Day, Vientiane city or the Laos government decorated some of the main avenues with beautiful lights in the trees and along government ministry buildings. The lighting is a pale bluish-white color and it resembles Christmas tree lights. Riding my motorbike along the main avenue, Lane Xang (lahn zahng), is like riding in a winter wonderland. Well, except for the fact that there is no snow to enhance the scene, though it’s still beautiful. I hope they keep the lights up until after the New Year holiday.

Laos, a mainly Buddhist country, doesn’t officially celebrate Christmas, but New Year’s Eve and Day are celebrated, with January 1st being a national holiday.

A Beautiful Automobile

I was cruising down the main road along the Mekong last week when I spotted a gorgeous blue and white automobile. I couldn’t take a photo of it (ain’t gonna try that while riding a motorbike), but as I got closer I saw that it was a Rolls Royce. Later, I looked on the internet and found that it was probably a Rolls Wraith. Here’s a photo from the ‘net that looks exactly like the automobile that I saw. (I dare not call it a “car.” That seems like the wrong description of this beauty. “Automobile” sounds classier, and I suppose I could also call it a “motor vehicle.”) As I rode alongside it (it was parked), I told myself “Don’t scratch it. Don’t hit it. Don’t even breath on it.”

Totally awesome-looking automobile.

Totally awesome-looking automobile.

Down to Bangkok

The school term finishes in a few days, so Nai and I are travelling down to Bangkok for several days on the 22nd of this month. We’re going to take the overnight train from Nong Khai and are staying in a mid-priced hotel in the Silom section of the city, withing easy walking distance of the Sky Train and Underground system. Hope to have some fun, but have to be careful with the money. I don’t get paid again until January 29th. (An exception to spending too much is in the next section of this post, below.)

The Cosmos Beckons

With the beautiful weather we’ve been having lately, the clear night skies have reawakened my interest in astronomy, one of my main hobbies when I lived in the ‘States. However, I don’t have a good pair of binoculars to satisfy my star gazing hunger. So, while I’m in Bangkok, I’m going to see if I can’t find a pair of binocs or perhaps even a small telescope. I know of a couple respectable places in Bangkok to go shopping. I want a pair of Nikon 7x50s or a pair of Celestron 15x70s or 20x80s. They’re all relatively cheap, so any of the three would be nice. A good 4 or 5 inch ‘scope would do nicely also, but I’ll probably have to stick with the binocs, unless I can find a good price on a telescope.

Vientiane Boat Racing Festival

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.

Sandals for sale

There were lots of items for sale by the vendors at the usual night market, including these well-manicured feet. The sandals came for free. Most of the vendors along the main road were hawking products like TVs, mobile phones, and household appliances.

Children's Shoes

Need something else to put on your newly-bought feet? Try this whimsical collection of tiny sandals. Whoops, you might have to downsize those feet.

Stuffed Toy Animals

For the child in all of us. Would you like the baby chick, Garfield or the platypus? I had to ask another teacher what she thought the green animal was, so blame her if it’s not a platypus. Any other guesses?

Usa Laundry Soap

USA! USA! USA! Well, not really. It’s actually Lao lettering on bags of laundry soap. Quite a resemblance. You can try to make your own caption, something like “America: We ______” (then add a reference to cleaning up or something similar.)

Fabric for sale

These look like they would be used in making traditional Lao dresses. I don’t think they are genuine handicraft items–there were just too many of them and they were too cheap.

Phone case vendors

Selling is hard work. These two guys, one alert and one not, were trying to peddle mobile phone cases.

Big red balloon

I didn’t know exactly what these folks were doing. I figured the red object was some kind of balloon, and I was curious where it was going to be located. See the next photo to find out.

Overview of the festival

There’s the red balloon overlooking the crowd on the main street of the festival. The boat race itself was held a couple of kilometers upstream, to the right. It was a hot, dusty walk to the racing venue, and the umbrella vendors were doing a brisk business.

Women's boat racing

It wasn’t only men racing. Here a couple of women’s boats compete for the top spot in their category. I think there were eight ladies’ boats competing this year.

Meeting of boats

A few of the boats, after finishing their races, head back upstream to continue in the competition. The runaway winners of the traditional men’s category, the shimmering white-clad Luang Prabang crew, are quite noticeable in the boat at the top of the photo.

Boat race spectators

A crowd of spectator and sponsor boats watched the race from a distance. If you look closely, you’ll notice several people standing on the river bottom in the shallow water.

Boat race team

This is a fairly new team from the village where I live. The village used to be part of Sithanthai village, but was split off from it. Thus, the talent of Sithanthai was diluted. Most of these guys, though, are new to boat racing and they finished near the bottom of the competition. Their enthusiasm was not outdone by anyone, however. Here they enjoy a few post-race beers.

Boat race team

The other half of the Khokxay team. Two of their members are Nai’s brother-in-law, Aik, and Aik’s 14-year old son (not pictured here), neither of which had raced before.

Paragliders

After the race, Nai and I walked backed to the main festival area and climbed the stairs to the Bor Pen Yang rooftop bar to take in the view. Several motorized paragliders graced the area with some beautiful flying. See the next photo, also.

Paragliders

The same three as the above shot, coming in outta the sun.

Solo paraglider

The last glider aloft tries to beat the sun in setting down. I think there were five gliders in all, and you can usually see them above the Mekong on Saturday evenings during good weather.

My friend Nai

Nai contemplates the view from Bor Pen Nyang. (Or, perhaps he’s just tired.)

Taking down the festival

The next day, the welders were out dismantling the stalls of the larger vendors, like Huawei, Samsung and, yes, Apple. So, another Boat Racing Festival comes to a sparkling end.

Boat Races and Tragedies

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.
Lao crawfish

These small crab-like delicacies resemble southern crawfish, if I remember that long ago correctly. They’re freshwater creatures taken from the Mekong and boiled. For me, they’re too small and not worth the effort of digging out the meager amount of meat in them, but they were selling like hot cakes.

Grilled fish

Fish on the barbie! Man, these things are delicious, fresh from the Mekong and stuffed with herbs. I can, and sometimes do, eat a couple of them at one sitting.

Insect larvae

Many Lao people eat these insect larvae, as well as crickets and grasshoppers, like popcorn. Lest I be accused of stereotyping, I’ll say that not everyone cares for them, including me. I’ll have the grilled fish, please.

Suwon and friend

Our friend Suwon tries to interest a young girl in eating one of the larvae. The youngster looks somewhat less than enthusiastic about the idea. If my memory serves me correctly, she turned down the “delicacy.”

Entertainment–I think half the people come to these festivals to enjoy the free concert that is always held in conjunction with the racing.
Singer and dancers

The stage was set up about 50 meters from the riverbank, and there were a number of singers and dancers who entertained the crowd, when it wasn’t raining. During a couple of different downpours, everything was covered with tarp.

Nai singing

A couple of times during the entertainment, my friend Nai got up on stage and belted out a few popular songs. Normally a fairly shy guy, he lights up when the opportunity to perform in front of a crowd presents itself. He’s fairly well-known locally and performs at weddings, birthdays, anniversary parties and other events. He isn’t paid for volunteering to sing at events like this, but the crowd loves him and they come to the bottom of the stage and hand him several thousands of kips (and cups of beer) while he’s singing.

Nui dancing

Nui, Nai’s sister, on the right, and a few of her friends do a little dancing at our table during one of the performances.

People–here are some shots of kids at the event.
Four young girls

Four young friends enjoy each other’s company. These festivals are very family oriented, and there are lots of kids running around. They’re normally well-behaved and are hardly ever a nuisance, but what I like is that they’re almost always eager to have their pictures taken, though some are shyer than others.

Smiling boy

This youngster sat across from me at our table and he spent a lot of time eating. This is one of the rare occasions he didn’t have his hand at his mouth, chomping on chicken or fruit or crawfish. Very friendly, though, as you can probably tell by his radiant smile.

Shy boy

Not all the kids were interested in having their photo taken. This boy wouldn’t hold still for his picture, but he wasn’t totally against me taking it. He laughed and ran every time he saw me holding up the camera. I finally caught him hiding behind his mother.

Young girl

Not everyone seemed to be all that happy at the festival. I sat near this youngster for about an hour, and I never saw her crack a smile, even though the rest of her family — mom, dad and a brother, it appeared — were laughing and enjoying themselves.

Baby

The youngest members enjoy the festivities, too. Lots of babies here today, who mostly slept throughout the fun.

Hot Times in Vientiane

The sizzling hot season is here again. From around November through the middle of March we had some very mild and enjoyable weather, with low temperatures, crystal skies and no rain. Now, the temperatures are in the upper 90s to mid 100s fahrenheit (40C), the skies are hazy with all the burn-offs of the stubble in the rice fields and the rainy season is not all that far ahead of us. The current hazy and dusty skies lead to some incredible sunrises, and I’ll try to get some photos of the crimson sun when the opportunities arise. The sun comes up around six o’clock and its color is sometimes unbelievable. It’s already hot at that time on most mornings, but the afternoon heat is much worse and leads to lethargy on everyone’s part here at The Farm. It’s as if the place is deserted, with the kids usually in school and the adults (including me on my days off) laying somewhere in front of a fan. Quite peaceful, but just too hot to enjoy. Thankfully, the college is air conditioned.

Coming up next week is the Lao New Year, Pi Mai Lao. Thailand celebrates this also and there it’s known as Songkran. I’ve written about this before, so see Sabaidee Pi Mai Lao and Bangkok. Because it’s so hot this time of year, the modern day practice of dousing people with water is quite refreshing, but over-done at times. In older days, it was a more understated, but quite important, part of the rituals of the New Year than it is now. Still, it’s a bit of fun for a few days, and I hope to get more movies and photos of the rituals and merriment than I did last year.

My opportunites should be greater because the first trimester of the school year ends next week, and then we’re off for a month. (Which, unfortunately, is unpaid.) I might spend a couple of days in Vientiane away from The Farm around Pi Mai and then, perhaps, take the train down to Bangkok, a city that I love, and goof around for a few days. Songkran in the City of Angels is absolutely chaotic, so I think I’ll go after the celebration and avoid all the insanity. Whatever happens, I’ll keep you informed. More later.

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.

Dragon Boat Racing Begins

Our timing was quite bad last Saturday in going to see the first dragon boat races of the season, which ends, I believe, sometime in late October or early November. We arrived at the National Cultural Park, which is a few kilometers from the Friendship Bridge, around 3:30 in the afternoon. We were just in time to catch the finish of the final race. Not that we were able to see much, since the banks of the Mekong were packed with spectators. This is the only photo I was able to take of the competitors. The near boat is from Nai’s village, and though they usually finish at the top, this day they took second place.

Dragon Boat Racing

And the winner is . . . the boat at the top, just barely.

Crowd of people along the Mekong River.

It was difficult to get any kind of view of the race due to the large number of people lining the Mekong riverbank. That’s Thailand on the far bank.

The races usually take place on Saturday, but since that’s a working day for me, we can’t get to the events early enough to secure good viewing spots. However, during the major, important national championship race later in the season, the college is cancelling classes on that particular Saturday; not many of the students would attend. That race takes place in Vientiane, so there will be quite a large turnout, with a myriad of activities, parties and what-not. I can hardly wait.

There’s always a carnival- or festival-like feeling at these events. Plenty of food, beer, live bands and other diversions can be found at the site. In fact, just as we left the area around 7 o’clock, we stumbled upon a bumper car ride, and, of course, we had to give it a try. I haven’t smashed around in bumper cars since I was a teenager. Tons of fun. Unfortunately, I didn’t get any photos; kind of hard to do while your bashing and getting bashed. Here are some other photos from the day.

The House of Horror

This must be a “fun” house type of attraction, the “House of Horrors.” It’s one of the first sights at one entrance to the Cultural Park.

The crowd at the boat race

Part of the throng at the Cultural Park for the first boat race of the season.

People eating and drinking and listening to a live band.

Other folks were taking in the live band and eating and drinking with their friends and family.

Dragon Boat Racer

One of the racers was happy to pose for this photo. I believe his team finished in 3rd or 4th place.

Grilled squid

Lots of food at the event. Grilled squid, anyone?

Roasted grasshoppers

If squid isn’t your thing, how about some roasted grasshoppers?

Laos food for sale

This type of food is more to my liking than the squid or the grasshoppers.

Grilled chicken

The grilled chicken was outstanding. I ate of couple of “sticks” of it.

The Cultural Park is a bit run down, with a very small zoo that includes monkeys and ostriches, some dinosaur statues and a display of traditional Lao houses. I was previously there in 2007. Now, a large swimming pool with an encompassing restaurant (it literally surrounds the pool) has opened right next door. I think most people are more attracted to the swimming area than to the park, but the park is still worth a visit, in my opinion. I think there’s a small entrance fee of a dollar or two.

I was disappointed that I captured only that one photo of the race itself, but there will be plenty more races later. I’ll try to attend as many as I can; they’re quite fun, and if you’re in Laos between the months of August and November, try to take one in.

Yeosu’s Turtle Ship Festival

Starting with a parade and fireworks this evening, the Turtle Ship Festival, held every year in conjunction with Children’s Day (Sunday, this year) will run through Monday. I’ve posted about it before, but I’ve never been able to take in the parade, which begins at 6:30 p.m. Hopefully, I’ll get down there this evening to see that, and I’ll be watching some of the other events over the next few days. So, if you’re going to be in Yeosu this weekend, be sure to take in the festival. Most of the events will be held near Jinnamgwan at the Jongpo Ocean Park Walkway. See you there!