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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.

Baannakee Restaurant, Nongkhai

We’re having a short mid-term break of nine days before starting again on July 4th. (Obviously, not a holiday here) Nai and I are staying a few days across the river in Nongkhai. I’ve got to do some shopping at Tesco-Lotus, a French chain that’s similar to Wal-Mart, more or less. My old computer bag is literally falling apart, and I’m in the market for a new compact camera, probably a Canon Ixus (Elph, in the ‘States.) I’m also looking for an e-book reader, but I’m not sure what I can find in Nongkhai.

On our last visit there, we found out about a great little bar and restaurant called Baannakee, which means “The House of the Dragon,” according to the owner, a Thai man named Toom. He’s very friendly as well as being an excellent cook. The food, mostly German fare, is great. A local German expat makes a variety of sausages at his home and sells them to the restaurant. Though I’m not particularly fond of sausage, what I’ve eaten at Baannakee is not bad at all. Some of my favorite food that’s served there are the fish and chips, and the mashed potatoes, which come with a variety of dishes.

The fish ‘n chips come with very hefty proportions as well as with a generous-sized side of salad. You could almost share an order with another person, and the price is right-about six dollars at the current exchange rate. The mashed potatoes are some of the most delicious I’ve ever tasted; I have to see about getting his recipe. (UPDATE: The secret ingredient is a bit of nutmeg, believe it or not.)

The other food is superb as well, with pasta dishes, a variety of sausages, sauerkraut, pork knuckle and tenderloin, and a large selection of Thai food.

Another nice thing about Baannakee is the atmosphere. The place seats about 20 people, though it’s never been that busy, and the crowd is made up of mostly older expats, Germans and Northern Europeans, so it has a fairly laid back atmosphere. Toom has a huge, eclectic selection of cd’s, but the music is always played unobtrusively in the background; it never interferes with conversation. Also, there’s no pool table, which, it seems to me, always creates a noisier environment.

If you’re ever in the area, give Baannakee a try. It’s right near the start of the market along the Mekong, just down from Daeng Vietnamese restaurant. I’m sure you’ll like it.

Baannakee Restaurant

Here’s the entrance to Baannakee. Just to the left and up the street is the beginning of the covered market along the Mekong. In the opposite direction of the market is Daeng Restaurant.

Baannakee Restaurant

Here’s the restaurant at night. Toom will usually stay open until at least 11 pm, but if it’s busy, he’ll stay open until the wee hours. The kitchen closes at 10.

Daeng Restaurant

Here’s the Vietnamese Restaurant. Baannakkee is behind us, to the left.

Toom

This is Toom, the friendly proprietor, who’s restaurant has been in Nongkhai for 13 years. It used to be called DJ Thasadej, and Toom had a German partner. He’s returned to Germany and Toom changed the name to Baannakee.

Nai

Nai, looking dapper, vouches for the quality of the Thai food. I’ll vouch for the Western offerings. Neither of us has had a bad serving yet.

Fish and chips

This is a single serving of fish ‘n chips, but it could feed a couple of guests. Most of the portions at the restaurant are very well-sized and priced lower than what Toom probably could charge.

Pork tenderloin

This is pork tenderloin smothered in a curry-cheese cream gravy. The mashed potatoes are to die for.

Baannakee bar

The small bar at the restaurant seats five patrons and serves up a variety of liquor and beer, though the selection isn’t that extensive.

Interior of Baannakee

Part of the interior. This part seats eight people or twelve, if it’s really crowded.

The following are various photos of the odds and ends and paintings scattered throughout the restaurant. Not much to say about them, but they do contribute to the eclectic and cozy atmosphere of the place.

Baannakee Restaurant

A display to the left of the bar. Toom lives up the stairs.

Baannakee Restaurant

Another display near the kitchen area.

Baannakee Restaurant

The area just in front of the bar.

Baannakee Restaurant

Another area near the stairs.

Painting at Baannakee Restaurant

One of the paintings, which were created by a local artist.

Painting at Baannakee Restaurant

And another painting.

A Laos 4th of July

Nai’s sister, Nui, sells a little food at the Old Place, usually grilled slabs of squid, Lao meatballs and hot dogs. Now, hot dogs in Laos are not like hot dogs in the U.S. They’re smaller and not that tasty. If you go to a Laos restaurant and order breakfast, you’ll see bacon, ham and sausage on the menu. The bacon’s OK, but the “ham” is that processed crap that’s not really ham, and the “sausage” is merely a hot dog. I can’t stand the hot dogs here (or in the ‘States, for that matter), but Nui has been selling a variation of the standard ‘dog. It’s more like a sausage, and a few herbs and spices are mixed in.

So, for the 4th, we invited a few friends over for Beer Lao, squid, papaya salad and hot dogs. I’d had to work that morning, and afterwards I browsed a few of the local western markets, looking for hot dog buns, relish and, maybe, chili.

The markets had the buns, but I’d eaten these particular ones before, and they’re more like a sweet pastry, so I substituted hamburger buns. I couldn’t find any relish or chili, though I’d seen them before, so I settled for plain old mustard and ketchup.

Back at the New Place, then, for the 4th. The only fireworks that would have been set off in Vientiane were probably at the American ambassador’s residence, wherever that’s located. (There’s usually an evening of entertainment, food and fireworks at American ambassadors’ residences around the world on the 4th.) We had a good time, me eating the “All-American hot dog,” wrapped by half a hamburger bun, and everyone else eating Laos food. (I wonder if grilled squid would go over well in baseball parks in Missoula or Great Falls? Whaddya think, readers?)

The weather was very much in keeping with July 4th, very hot and clear, but a nice breeze and our shaded front porch made for a relaxing day. It was fun for all, but I do miss celebrating the holiday in the ‘States. I’ll go back, sometime, and do it again.

Laos hot dogs

A plate of Laos hot dogs, ready to go on a bun. I think I ate most of these, but a few of the kids present polished off a few also.

Laos hot dog

Laos hot dog on a hamburger bun, which I folded over to create some semblance of an American hot dog experience. Too bad I didn’t have any relish, chili or onions. The dog was actually a bit large for the bun, so on seconds, thirds (and fourths?), I cut the hot dog in half lengthwise so it fit better. They were pretty tasty, though they would have tasted even better if I’d been at a ballpark.

July 4th friends

Here are a few of our friends who came over. A total of about seven adults and three children showed up, about the right size. I told Nai beforehand that I didn’t want to have a big Independence Day party.

Some Pi Mai Lao Videos

Here are a few video clips from the Pi Mai Lao / Noh’s Birthday Party last Monday, April 14th. If they show up as a colored test-screen, just click on the play button. If they’re not playing, please leave me a comment. Thanks and enjoy.

The first one is a general view of the kind of merriment that was taking place.

Pi Mai Lao Party from Ron Anderson on Vimeo.

More fun with water.

Pi Mai Lao Party from Ron Anderson on Vimeo.

Suwon and Noh (in the tub).

Pi Mai Lao Party from Ron Anderson on Vimeo.

A few passers by get in on the action.

Pi Mai Lao Party from Ron Anderson on Vimeo.

And some more party goers staying out of the water for now.

Pi Mai Lao Party from Ron Anderson on Vimeo.

Sabaidee Pi Mai Lao

Happy Lao New Year! I’m a week late with that greeting, since the week-long celebration started around last Saturday, the 12th, and wrapped up Friday last week. The official holiday was from the 14th through the 16th, but most people managed to stretch it out. As I wrote in a previous post, it’s quite a water-fest, though I stayed dry every day but one. That was last Monday, and I was prepared.

The only other time I went through Pi Mai Lao was in 2006, when I visited while I was on vacation from working in Morocco. I was completely unprepared then. Near the end of the vacation, I departed Laos on the first day of the holiday, heading to Thailand to catch the overnight train from Nong Khai to Bangkok. I had my large backpack and a camera bag. Nai and I took a tuk-tuk to the border crossing, and we got soaked by all the people tossing water at us. We were sitting ducks for target practice. I was furious because my bags were also getting drenched. I hoped that the situation would be better in Nong Khai, but it was worse.

I continued to get soaked, and my appeals for leniency went unheeded. I was madder than a wet hen, and I was nearly in tears, fearing my camera and lenses would get damaged. We finally made it to a guesthouse I had used before and which let me stash my bags for several hours before the train left. Eventually, I caught that train, dried out, and made it to Bangkok.

My flight didn’t leave for a couple of days, so I decided to take another look at the festivities, which are called Songkran in Thailand. Armed with my camera safely sealed in a Ziploc baggie, I sat inconspicuously in a restaurant that had a good view of a major intersection. As I watched everyone firing off their super squirt guns and throwing buckets of water at anyone and everyone, I understood why it was supposed to be a fun time, and I regretted my overreaction earlier. But, I had been prepared in Bangkok.

I was prepared last week, too, my camera, wallet, phone and passport carefully sealed away from the buckets of water that came my way. Monday, Nai and I went to a couple of friends’ house several kilometers from The Farm. Nai has known Suwon and Noh all his life, and I’ve been friends with them since 2005. Monday was Noh’s birthday, so there were two reasons for living it up.

Along the road, people, mainly young adults, teens and children, were armed and ready every few hundred meters to relieve everyone of the heat and the dust. The first brigade, just past Nai’s house, politely asked if they could douse us with a hose. I was surprised they asked, and this turned out to be not unusual. Many parties let us pass the gauntlet untouched. We got moderately wet, but certainly not soaked. The heavy soaking would happen at Suwon’s house.

She and Noh live a few hundred meters off the main dirt road, just past a large, golden-yellow temple. There were about 20 people outside her single story, small cement house. There was plenty of food, including grilled squid and duck, spicy papaya salad, sticky rice, cow blood soup with peanuts and birthday cake, of course. Also, Beer Lao, as always, was plentiful. And lots and lots of water.

We arrived about 1:30 and stayed until around 6, helping Noh celebrate her 41st birthday and the start of the Lao New Year. Everyone got soaked to the bone, most of the adults were more than a bit tipsy, and we all had a great time. Running the gauntlet on the way back to The Farm was inconsequential.

The rest of the week was more boring than not. I think Nai has cornered the market on green onions. He’s been buying crops from the other farmers, so he’s been busy for most of the day, harvesting, cleaning and preparing the product for the market. I’ll do a post on that process a bit later.

There was another party at the family compound on Thursday, with lots of people materializing out of nowhere, it seemed. Again, there was lots of food, drink and merriment for all. Things got back to normal on Saturday, and I’m quite happy to be back at work. Watching people clean green onions all day is quite boring. I can hardly wait for the chili pepper harvest.

Below are some photos from Suwon and Noh’s shindig. They’re in no particular order. I also have some videos of the day, and I’ll try to get them up soon.

At Nai’s Home

Well, it’s off to Nai’s home outside of Vientiane, but first, an obligatory shot of the sun going down over the Mekong. This one’s from Nongkhai looking into Laos.

Sunset over the Mekong

Sunset Over the Mekong

New Household Members

Nothing much new at Nai’s except for these new additions to the household. They’re quite a handful, as you might expect. They don’t have names yet, so I’m calling them Puppy 1 and Puppy 2.

Puppy

Puppy One

Puppy

Puppy Two

Puppies

Puppies One and Two

Cute, aren’t they. All the kids, of course, love them. Here, a young niece and a nephew have fun with the pups.

Kids and Puppies

KIds and Puppies

Kids and puppies

Puppy Love

Lao Snacks

Snacking throughout the day is a normal activity, but, oh, what snacks. Here, Nai is frying up a batch of crickets. Most Lao folks eat these like popcorn, dipping them in a spicy sauce for added flavor. I think I’ll pass this time.

Cooking crickets

Cookin’ Up Crickets

Fried crickets

Fried Crickets

Run out of crickets, you say? No problem. How about some nice juicy grasshoppers. Nai, nephew Kim, and sister Nui cull some grasshoppers caught by one of Nai’s brothers.

Picking grasshoppers

Picking Out the Juicy Ones

Here they are, getting the fried-in-oil treatment. Again, I’m not really that hungry, thanks.

Fried grasshoppers

Fried Grasshoppers

All is not lost in the snack department. Nui thinly slices a Thai vegetable (or fruit?). I don’t know the name, but it’s slightly sweet. Fried in oil (what else?) and salted, it resembles potato chips.

Slicing a vegetable

Slicing Time

Here are the grasshoppers and pseudo potato chips with a few sauces and some cucumber for your enhanced snacking pleasure. Dig in!

Lao snacks

Lao Snacks

Finally, a glance out the window shows that the sun is actually out for a change. Writing in hindsight, I know that there is plenty of rain to come, though. Much more, in fact, later.

Laos Landscape

Nai’s Backyard

Mountain Hike

Wow, long time, no see! There are various reasons for that, as usual. The spring semester has started here at the university, and we’re using new textbooks for one of the classes. Writing lesson plans for that class seems to be consuming a huge amount of my free time. We’re also having some gorgeous spring weather, so I’ve been spending a lot of time outside.

A few weeks ago, a couple of other teachers and I hiked to the top of one of the nearby hills, a walk I’ve made before, which you can read about here. It’s about a 30- to 45-minute hike through dense trees and vegetation, so there’s not much of a view going up. At the top, however, the view of Yeosu is spectacular. I took this panoramic shot, stitching together 8 individual photos into this single view. Click on the photo below a couple of times to get the large view.

Panoramic view of Yeosu ocean

Panoramic View of Yeosu Ocean

Although it was a bit on the chilly side and somewhat breezy, there was abundant sunshine, and it felt like true spring was just around the corner. Here, Rob and Corrie ham it up at the summit.

Rob and Corrie

Rob and Corrie

There were a few trails back down on the other side of the mountain, but we couldn’t decide whether to take a trail to the top of the next rise or a trail down to the valley and then on to the ocean. Rob and I played rock-paper-scissors to decide, and I was the valley route competitor. I won, so we hiked down to the valley floor. Scattered throughout the hills of Yeosu, and, I assume, the entirety of South Korea, are these little pagoda picnic/shelter areas. Rob and Corrie are enjoying the view from this one.

Yeosu Mountain Pagoda

Mountain Pagoda

On the way down we got a great view of the bay, as did a busload of company employees enjoying the day.

Ocean view

Ocean View

Finally, at the ocean, we stopped at one of the local cafes and had a small lunch. All in all, it was a great early spring day.

The next post will be about my recent stroll through the Yeosu outdoor market. See you then!

Bicycle Ride to Jang-deung Beach, Yeosu Peninsula

Spring seems to be fully here, with the cherry blossoms beginning to bloom, and azaleas, camellias and other flowers brightening the landscape. As a matter of fact, there’s an annual azalea festival at Yeongchuisan (san = mountain) this coming weekend that I’m going to visit.

So, despite 3 inches of rain last Friday, I decided to take a bicycle trip Saturday down to Jang-deung beach here on the Yeosu Peninsula. My riding companions were a couple of the new teachers, Rob, a Scotsman, and Trevor, from Canada. Now, both of these guys are much younger than I (who isn’t?) and in much better shape (insert another rhetorical question here). Trevor, especially, is quite the athlete; he’s a dedicated football (soccer) player, rides his bicycle all over the place, jogs, plays tennis and who knows what else. Rob’s no slouch either. When they suggested the ride, I was all gung-ho. Even though it looked like a fairly long trek and that it would be my first time out on my bike in almost 6 months, I thought I’d be ok. Wrong! It turned out to be a 36-mile (60 km) round trip. I haven’t ridden that far in about 20 years. Plus, it was mostly up and down hills, hills which I mostly pushed my bike up (or maybe it was pushing me). I probably spent more time pushing than riding. And, as I said, it was the first time on the bike in quite a while, so my muscles were sorely taxed by the end of the ride. I’m still recuperating.

However, it was fun for the most part and the scenery was pretty nice. We made it to the beach and stopped at a small restaurant on the way back and had some delicious fish stew. By that time, though, anything would have tasted wonderful. I just wanna thank the young studs for waiting for me at the top of all those hills. At least they didn’t have to carry me back! Here are some photos of the ride.

First, here’s a map of the peninsula. The university, from where we started, is circled in red at the upper right and the beach is at the left center. Click for a larger image.

Here we’re getting prepared to start the trip from our dormitory. That’s Trevor on the left and Rob, already on his bike. My trusty steed is in the foreground.

Preparing for the bicycle trip

Beginning the bike trip

There are many small fishing towns and harbors sprinkling the coast. We all thought that it would be great to live in one of them as long as we didn’t have far to commute to and from work.

Yeosu fishing village

Fishing Village

There are, of course, many beautiful spots along the coast. Here’s a small sample.

South coast of Yeosu Peninsula

South Coast View

South coast of Yeosu Peninsula

South Coast Shoreline of Yeosu Peninsula

South coast of Yeosu Peninsula

Yeosu Peninsula South Coast View

South coast of Yeosu Peninsula

Yeosu Peninsula South Coast View

The above photo is actually the beginning of Jang-deung beach, which is out of sight at the bottom of the photo. Here’s a shot of the beach.

Jang-deung Beach

Jang-deung Beach

And, here’s a view from the end of the beach. As usual, it’s pretty hazy along the coast looking toward the sun.

Jang-deung Beach view

Another view from Jang-deung Beach

Rob and Trevor, showing no ill effects of the ride, mock my exhaustion. I took this shot just before I was put into the ambulance. :smile:

Rob and Trevor

Rob and Trevor

If you take a look at the map again, you can see that just to the east of Jang-deung there’s a small island called Baekyado (pronounced dough = island). Connecting the island to the mainland is this pretty little bridge. Quite a few of the islands are accessible by bridge, though many more require a ferry boat ride. Rob and Trevor are taking one of the ferries to another island this Saturday. I really wanted to go, but, like I stated earlier, I’m still recuperating and the rash I got on my, ummm, . . . well, you can guess where . . . is still bothering me, so no bike ride this weekend. The more sedate azalea festival beckons.

Baegya Island Bridge and Harbor

Baegya Island Bridge and Harbor

Our total trip time was about 7 hours, but that include dawdling on the way (the young guys waiting for the old guy to catch up) and stopping at the restaurant. I’m really looking forward to doing some other bike trips, especially later in the year when the bicycle muscles in my legs are in better shape. As always, then, more later.

International Bowling in Daejeon, South Korea

If you know me well, you know that before I became a dashing, international English teacher, I was involved in ten-pin bowling for many, many years–25, to be exact. My main occupation was pin-spotting machine mechanic (and quite a good one, if I may so humbly say), and I also worked as manager (briefly) and co-owner of a 12-lane center in the small, but friendly town of Glendive, on the eastern prairie of Montana. Due to the circumstances of the occupation, I also became quite a good bowler, but I eventually tired of the job and decided to pursue what I’m doing now.

All-time Great Bowler Dick Weber

My Favorite All-time Bowler, Dick Weber

Although the only time I bowl nowadays is when I go back to Laos and Thailand (because I introduced my friend Nai to bowling), I still keep up an interest in the activity. So, I was quite attracted to the information that my friend and former bowling buddy, (let’s call him, umm, . . . Ken) from Great Falls, Montana, a member of the Montana Bowling Hall of Fame, (despite being left-handed) sent me this news about international bowling.

Go ahead and click on the link to get the details, but international bowling is coming to Daejeon, South Korea on June 16th this summer. “Ken” indicated that if I were interested in taking in the event, he might try to come to Korea (he’s been here before) to see it also (and to visit with me). Unfortunately, that’s the same day I start my summer vacation, and I’m flying back to Thailand on that very day. “Ken,” if it’s still gonna be here in 2013, I’ll definitely make arrangements to see it with you.

But, for everyone else, if you’re going to be attending the 2012 Expo here in Yeosu around that time, you might consider taking in the Daejeon international pro bowling tournament. More later.

A Death in the Family

After a year-long struggle, my friend Nai’s mother succumbed to an illness last Friday night. I posted last May that the doctor had given her just a few months to live, but she held on this long, although she was often in great pain.

I still don’t know what took her life, but I suspect cancer or emphysema. I visited them last June, and it was very apparent how much she had wasted away. I’m heartbroken for Nai and his family. He told me that today he would “make fire” for her, meaning a traditional Buddhist cremation. He was practically inconsolable when I talked to him Saturday afternoon, but yesterday he was so busy cooking food for all the friends and family that were paying their respects that I think his mind was temporarily taken off his sadness. I imagine today will be quite sorrowful.

Below is a photo of her that I took back in August of 2006. She’s on the right, of course, with her youngest son Pui, Nai’s brother, on the left and one of her daughter’s girls in the middle. Rest in peace, Mer.