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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.

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.

Laos New Year

Next week, folks here in Laos (and in Thailand) will celebrate the traditional New Year. I’ve posted about the event a few times before, most notably here, with lots of photos. The holiday is known as Pi Mai Lao here, and Songkran in Thailand. Thailand’s celebration, especially in Bangkok, is renowned for its huge water fights, but it’s a bit more sedate out in our rural area in Laos.

This year, the authorities have designated Tuesday, the 12th, as part of the holiday, and the official celebration takes place the 13th through the 15th. That’s Wednesday through Friday, so there’s the weekend, too. All told, the holiday lasts 6 days. But, when you include this coming weekend, some people who are lucky enough to get Monday off could have a 9-day holiday. Impressive!

The parties have started already, though. The neighbors had a big blowout yesterday while I was working. I noticed three cases of empty Beer Lao bottles stacked on their patio this morning, so I asked Nai if they’d had a party. Yes, they had. Why now? The new year isn’t until next week. They started early. And so many other people, too. I’ll have to take extra care in riding the motorbike home tonight, Friday, since a lot of people will be out, many of them drunk. The traffic has been horrendous the past few days, and today at lunch time, when I came to the school, it was as bad as I’ve ever seen it. Wish me luck in getting safely home tonight.

Tomorrow is the last day for classes this term, and we have a nice break until we start up again on May 5th. I’ll be out with my camera next week, taking photos and videos of Pi Mai Lao. More next week, then.

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.

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.

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.

Happy Holidays

I want to wish everyone a Happy Holiday season, whatever and wherever you may be celebrating this time of year. To all my family and friends, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

I’m going into Vientiane in just a little while, to see what kind of festivities might be going on in the next few days. However, the double whammy of Laos being a Buddhist country controlled by Communists probably means that there will be few celebrations of Christmas. More likely, the bigger parties will be found on New Year’s Eve and Day.

I’ll spend the New Year holiday at The Farm, since Nai’s family usually has a big get-together at that time, with plenty of food, Beer Lao and other beverages, and music.

So, again, Happy Holidays to everyone and I hope you’re doing well.

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.

Lunar New Year, Numbers

Lunar New Year

It’s going to be a short work week here due to the upcoming Lunar New Year, the big Chinese holiday that is also celebrated in Korea, Viet Nam and a few other Asian countries. The three-day holiday is on Thursday, Friday and Saturday this year, so it’s a mini-vacation of four days, though my classes are from nine to noon everyday; that gives me an extra half day off on Wednesday. The weather forecast is predicting quite a nice week, with temperatures mostly in the fifties and approaching sixty degrees on Saturday. Time to get out and do some walking around.

Numbers

Meanwhile, I’ve been busy sending out job applications to various institutions here in South Korea and in Malaysia, Viet Nam, Thailand, Myanmar, Saudi Arabia and other countries. So far, no luck. My age is the biggest barrier to getting a position. Many countries, apparently, have visa laws that restrict foreigners over a certain age from working in those countries. ┬áKorea has no such law. In Korea, the number four is considered bad luck, but 65 must be even worse. It’s as if the hiring committees see that number and their minds become extremely boggled. They can’t get beyond the number to look at my credentials and experience. That number is the only thing that matters.

Early on in the process, I was offered a face-to-face interview by one university (which shall remain nameless). I went to the interview, did good on it and was offered a contract, which I accepted. I was thoroughly relieved to get a job that easily. The night before the contracts were to be mailed out for signatures, I received an email from the university stating that they were withdrawing the contract offer. It seems that the administration staff had just noticed that my age exceeded their maximum age for hiring new teachers. They’d had my documents for two or three weeks and they just noticed my age? Unbelievable! They must have needed to find an elementary school student to do the math for them.

I had another offer a few weeks ago to do an interview via Skype. I wrote back to the university and gave them my preferred times to do the interview. I never received a confirmation email, so I wrote them an email asking for confirmation. They didn’t respond. I sent another email and they finally wrote back telling me that their “personnel committee” didn’t think that I should get an interview, so they cancelled me. Hmmm, I wonder why they didn’t want me to do the interview. Couldn’t be age related, could it?

So, it’s been thoroughly frustrating trying to find another position, so far. But, all I can do is keep sending out the applications and hope that somewhere a university or academy is interested in quality, rather than in a single number. But, that’s the reality in Korea. If you’re young and handsome, you’ve got a job, even though you have absolutely no experience in teaching English and no degree related to the field. If you hit that “magic” age, though, it doesn’t matter what your credentials are. They usually don’t even get looked at. I’ve talked to foreign teachers who have worked in the hiring process. They told me that the Korean managers first look at the photos and the age, toss out the ones they don’t like and then, and only then, do they look at credentials. So, in many cases, if you’re not young, white and good-looking, you’re probably out of luck.

At times I feel that I’m beating my head against a brick wall and I get discouraged, which I shouldn’t do. I’ll keep cranking out the applications, though, and hope for the best.

Anyway, Happy New Year, everyone, again.