MontanaRon

An English teacher's blog about his travels and his digital art.

Tag: personal (page 2 of 26)

Rainy Season?

A couple of weeks ago, after a week of clear skies and hot days, I began to wonder how short the current rainy season might be. The Mekong, rising steadily before, began to recede, little by little. But, of course, rainy season wasn’t ending early. It proceeded to rain quite heavily for a few days, turning the dirt road of the village into a quagmire. However, it’s now been another week of clear skies and plenty of sunshine. Thankfully, the road has dried out, but that means I have to ride through a cloud of dust when I go to work. We’ve had a few nice sunsets, shown below. Nothing spectacularly beautiful, but there are usually some awesome sunsets at this time of year, when a break in the rain allows for it.

Speaking of breaks, we’ve got a long one coming up at the school. Right now we’re doing final grading, filling out reports, planning for next term, etc. This term ends on August 4th and we don’t start again until September 12th. We were originally supposed to start on the 8th, but the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said we wouldn’t be good to go until the 12th. Why? President Obama is visiting Laos sometime during the week beginning on September 5th, so security will be insanely heavy and many roads will be closed, I presume. I’m going to try to get into the city to see him, but most likely I’ll be unable to get anywhere near where he might be giving speeches or whatever. I might rent a cheap guesthouse room in the city that week to increase my chances. I’ll let you know what happens.

Sunset

Sunset

drainage channel

This is a small (usually) drainage channel from the rice paddies to the Mekong. During the rainy season, though, it becomes quite a torrent. As the river rises it will fill this entire ravine.

An Exciting Life-Not

Boring

What does it say about my “exotic” life in another country when the most exciting thing to happen in the last several months is that the local authorities finally decided to bring in a scraper and level off the rutted, pot-holed dirt road that runs through the village? A luxurious motorbike ride was in the offing, a ride that wouldn’t bounce me up and down and shake me up, causing my internal organs to become displaced. A ride that I wouldn’t have to make at 10 kilometers an hour in order to prevent my motorbike from shaking apart. I was looking forward to it. I was excited!

scraper

That was last Sunday. For all of one day, Monday, going to and from Vientiane, I enjoyed the level road. That all changed on Tuesday, when we had some heavy rains. When the road was horribly wash-boarded and pot-holed, the dirt was at least hard, compacted. The scraper tore up all that hard dirt and left a loose mess that the rain turned into a 6 kilometer long mud pit, from the village all the way to the main road. What a nightmare ride! I really had to watch where I was riding. In the worst area, not too far from the main road, vehicles had to stay all the way to the left, trying to avoid oncoming bikes and trucks, because the right hand side was, and still is, completely impassable due to the deep mud there. Not even the big sand- and gravel-hauling trucks will attempt passage on that side.

At this time, Thursday, the condition of the road is similar to what it was before it was scraped. It won’t be long until it’s back in the same condition. The forecast isn’t calling for much rain in the near future, so the mud should dry up soon. I’ll still have to make a few more night rides before it dries, which can be a nightmare on that back road. Even at 10 kilometers an hour. Who said my life wasn’t exciting?

Stunning Disappointment . . . and Revelation

The Disappointment

On Thursday, June 25th, following an early morning workshop and lunch at one of the local Italian restaurants, I ‘biked back to The Farm, looking forward to our short mid-term break, despite an oddity of earlier in the day. As I was leaving for Vientiane that morning, a painter’s truck pulled up. I asked Nai what was going on, and he said he wanted to paint part of the house. This was news to me, and I told him I wasn’t going to pay for it. He said that it was free, but he couldn’t tell me why. Very strange, I thought.

When I got back to the house that afternoon, I was shocked to see that everything had been removed from the house and that a gang of painters was painting the outside a shade of lime-green and repainting the inside beige. A few carpenters were constructing something upstairs. What the hell was going on? I was quite angry, because I could see that I wouldn’t be able to sleep here tonight. The family members saw how angry I was and a few came up to me and said “Sorry.” Sorry for what? Nai was nowhere around.

One of them handed me a note written in English. It more or less stated that this was no longer Nai’s house, that it was now owned by the painter. It seems that Nai had borrowed around $6,500 from the guy when Nai’s mother was ill and dying about three years ago. He had been doing everything he could to keep her alive. Very admirable, but for reasons I won’t get into here, he hadn’t even been trying to pay back the money.

What ticked me off the most was that he didn’t tell me what was going on. If he had come to me, we could have possibly worked something out with the painter or whatever he is. I do know that he’s one of the son’s of the aging lady that Nai bought the house from, and I heard that, at the time, he was dead-set on her not selling it. Since then he’s been lusting at getting the house back, so he probably wouldn’t have come to any kind of agreement anyway. My disappointment in Nai, however, was profound.

Well, I stormed back into Vientiane, vowing to break off my friendship with Nai. I stayed at a cheap guesthouse and fumed. The next day, Nai finally worked up the courage to call me and apologize. I think he was very ashamed and embarrassed. I had calmed down somewhat and we arranged to meet at The Farm the next day. I felt sorry for him more than anything, though I was still angry.

He told me of a couple of vacated houses that belonged to some of his cousins. They were being rented out for, get this, about $37 a month. I supposed they were in terrible condition. We looked at the first one and it was little more than a concrete bunker in shabby condition and located in a rundown area of the village.

The Revelation

Before we even looked at the second house, I was preparing myself to rent a place in Vientiane, which would be rather nice for me. You can get a decent place for a couple hundred bucks a month and there would be no commuting back and forth.

We went to the second place, and, while not perfect, it’s the place I would have said earlier, on first arriving last year, “This is it!”

It’s much smaller than Nai’s old house, but it’s in much better condition. It’s only about a 10-minute walk from the other place, and it’s in a beautiful location. The old house is surrounded by other houses and buildings, which made me feel claustrophobic at times. In addition, any cooling breeze was drastically reduced by the buildings. The new place has one house next door and fields on all other sides. We’re surrounded on three sides by banana groves (now only stalks, waiting for the rain to help with their regrowth), with several cornfields and vegetable patches further out. So, I have much better views here, there always seems to be a nice breeze during the day, and it’s much, much quieter. The floors are tiled, unlike the bare concrete of the old place. It also has a nice front porch that’s shaded by a large tree in the afternoon. It’s really quite lovely.

One drawback is that it has an Asian style squat toilet, something I’ll have to get used to using, hopefully without any unseemly accidents, if you know what I mean.

All in all, I really like the place, and I’m quite happy to have found it, despite the circumstances leading up to the change. Although I’m still disappointed with Nai, our friendship endures.

New house looking south

This is a view of the front porch, looking toward the south. There’s a nice-sized living area, a bedroom, a small back storage room, a toilet and an outdoor cooking area. The small storage room could be converted to a cooking area.

Here's another view of the new house, looking toward the south-west. The front porch is in the shade cast by a large tree just outside the view. All the rooms have several shutters to allow the usually good breeze to circulate throughout the house, though it's still hot at night.

Here’s another view of the new house, looking toward the south-west. The front porch is in the shade cast by a large tree just outside the view. All the rooms have several shutters to allow the usually good breeze to circulate throughout the house, though it’s still hot at night.

This is a view from the front porch looking west toward a temple on the dirt road that runs through the village. This place is about three times as far from the road as Nai's old house, which helps to make it a much quieter location.

This is a view from the front porch looking west toward a temple on the dirt road that runs through the village. This place is about three times as far from the road as Nai’s old house, which helps to make it a much quieter location.

Slaughter on the Streets

motorbike wreck

This is not my photo, nor is it a picture of what I saw last night. It was taken in Vientiane, and it is typical of an accident scene here.

Riding my motorbike back to The Farm last night, I came across two traffic accidents. The first one was horrendous–two covered bodies lay in the street down the road from Wat Si Muang, near a traffic light, though the accident occurred away from the light. There was a very large police presence and dozens of gawking onlookers. I noticed the bodies as I rode slowly through the crowd, but I didn’t see what kind of vehicles were involved. Perhaps they had already been removed or maybe the bodies were those of pedestrians. The traffic light ahead was red, so I continued to ride slowly toward it. All of a sudden, a teen-aged boy on his motorbike, who I had seen as one of the gawkers, raced past me and ran through the red light.

That’s just insanely stupid, especially after the scene he had just witnessed. But, it’s a normal occurrence here; a huge number of motorbike riders routinely ignore all traffic laws. They run through red lights and stop signs, they operate their bikes without headlights, they don’t wear helmets, they exceed the speed limit, and when they turn onto a larger road from a side street, they rarely look to see if another vehicle is approaching. They also drive drunk. Put ’em together–teen boys, booze and motorbikes–what could possibly go wrong?

Another law that people ignore is riding on the wrong side of the road. This was the most difficult abuse for me to get used to. They do this because they’re too impatient to wait for traffic to clear so that they can cross into their proper driving lane. So, they ride along the side of the road, against traffic, peering back over their shoulders to see if there is any oncoming traffic behind them, and when the proper lane is clear, they’ll cut over to that side of the road. This can be terrible at night, when a speeding biker wearing black clothing and having no headlight comes at you all of a sudden out of nowhere, forcing you to swerve out of his or her path. This has happened to me on more than one occasion.

They do this as if they had special permission to turn your lane into their own legal avenue to get to the proper side of the road. At first I used to yell at them and swear and honk my horn, to let off steam. Everybody, and I mean everybody, does it, including foreigners. I’m one of the very, very few riders who will wait until traffic clears before I cross into my proper driving lane. Because of the relatively huge number of cars that the new middle class is buying, Vientiane is totally unprepared to handle all the traffic, so there is very little legal parking. People park their cars on the road, effectively cutting one of the driving lanes in half. It’s when motorbike riders going the wrong way come around one or more of these parked cars that it gets really dangerous, especially if there is heavy traffic next to you in the other driving lane. What do you do–swerve into the other lane and hope the drivers notice you and give way, hope that the other motorbike rider will use a little common sense (usually in short supply) or do you veer off to the right side of the road toward the parked car? I’ve usually been able to (cautiously) get into the other driving lane. It’s a scary proposition, just one of the many frightening things about riding a motorbike in Laos.

I don’t mean to single out motorbike riders, because drivers of other vehicles disobey the traffic laws and drive drunk, also. They, too, drive down the wrong side of the road, speed and generally drive like idiots. I would estimate, roughly, that 80 percent of motorbike riders and at least half the drivers of other vehicles would not pass a driver’s exam. Most drivers here, I’ve heard, don’t even have a driver’s license. Not surprising.

Anyway, I rode out of Vientiane toward The Farm. Just past the new U.S. Embassy there is a final traffic light. As I approached it, two ambulances raced screaming from the other direction and turned right at the light, heading toward a hospital along that particular road. I thought that there might be another accident further along. Sure enough, as I neared my turnoff, there was another large crowd of gawkers and police surrounding a scene that included a tuk-tuk that had a severely smashed-in front end. I didn’t see another vehicle, so again I don’t know that a motorbike was involved. I kind of doubt that there was, due to the magnitude of damage to the tuk-tuk. I continued on, hyper aware and extremely cautious.

It seems like every couple of weeks there is an article or letter in the Vientiane Times deploring the carnage on the roads of Laos and demanding that something be done about it. The authorities repeatedly say that they are going to crack down on those who drive drunk, speed and flout other traffic laws. However, nobody appears to be doing anything to change the situation. And the slaughter continues.

Another Year Goes By

Yes, Happy Birthday to me again, as another year passes by all too swiftly. It’s my ??th birthday, but I couldn’t really celebrate it today, since I had to go to the school for a bit this afternoon, and I have to get up around 5 a.m. tomorrow to get ready to go to classes, so it’s early to bed tonight. I’ll probably do a later party tomorrow.

We did do up a birthday cake. Here it is.

My ??th birthday cake.

My ??th birthday cake.

Now, if you really want to know how old I am, try to count the candles. I tell ya, it was horrid. Before I finished lighting all the candles, my fingers got stiff and I went through several books of matches. To top it off, wax was everywhere, which made the cake almost inedible. Though it’s been decently mild here lately, the build up of heat from the candles forced us to turn on a couple of fans to cool us down. As a matter of fact, we needed three fans set very close to the cake and turned up high to get the candles blown out. Well, at least it didn’t start a fire. (See previous birthday posts here and here.)

All in all though, I’m happy I made it through another year. It’s certainly better than the alternative! Thanks everyone for your well wishes.

Snake in the House!

Talk about a bad Monday. I was sitting at a table in the house reading “Cloud Atlas” by David Mitchell, a fairly engrossing book. I happened to glance up, and I noticed something moving in the shadow of one of the dark corners of the room. I stood up and walked a step toward it. I stopped. It was a snake wriggling around. It was about a foot-and-a-half long, small in body and dark-colored. It was moving slowly and hid behind an old suitcase when it noticed me approaching.

I was the only one in the house, but Nai was next door at his sister’s house. I didn’t want to lose track of the intruder, so I didn’t dare run over there to get help. If it had gotten away while I was gone, it might still be hiding here. My phone was on the table, so I rang Nai. Luckily, he had his phone with him, and he and his sister came running over to the window. A friend of the family came in through the front door with a five-foot bamboo pole in hand. I pointed out the snake to him and with a couple of jabs, he killed it, picked it up with the pole and tossed it out the door.

Whew! Nai said that a snake bigger than this one had come in a few years back. This was fairly small, but some of the deadliest snakes are not very large. This one looked more like a common garter snake than like anything that might have been deadly, but I sure wasn’t taking any chances. And no, I didn’t need to change my shorts after the event. Overall, I think I prefer frogs in my shoes (see previous post). More later (but, not snakes!).

A Few Odds and Ends

Frogs

I’ve discovered, uncomfortably, that various large bullfrogs (perhaps it’s the same one) like to take up residence in my sneakers. A few times I’ve jammed my foot into them only to come up against an obstruction in the toe of the shoe. After a few times of inadvertently squashing the Kermits (not harmfully), I started to look into the shoes before putting them on. Several times I found frogs hiding in the inner recessess. I always go outside and shake them out and send them on their way, but they always come back. Now, I fold down the tongues and stuff the dirty socks into the heel. That’s kept them out, so now they’ve taken to hiding in Nai’s shoes. I haven’t told him yet that they’re doing that. He hasn’t worn this particular pair of shoes in quite some time, so I’m waiting for the day he puts his feet into them and makes a surprising discovery! I can be a stinker, sometimes.

This is kind of what the frogs look like.

frog2

Perhaps I should buy them their own pair of customized shoes.

frog shoes

 

LoTRO

Yessss! I’ve discovered that I CAN play Lord of The Rings Online from The Farm. The connection is very spotty and I lose it quite often while I’m playing, but at times I can play for several hours without a glitch. The slow connection means that there can be quite a time lag, with the action on the screen being very choppy, and at times unplayable. But, still, it exceeds my best hopes and better still is that there isn’t that big of a download; most of the graphics are already on the main game that I downloaded a month or so ago. Addiction, thy name is LoTRO.

Frogmorton in the Shire at night from a nearby ridge.

Frogmorton in the Shire at night from a nearby ridge.

The far northern region of Forochel with the Aurora Borealis glowing brightly.

The far northern region of Forochel with the Aurora Borealis glowing brightly.

The forbidding Barad Gularan in the Angmar region.

The forbidding Barad Gularan in the Angmar region.

Rain on Friday

This is supposed to be the dry season, but a few Fridays ago, I got severely drenched from a long downpour as I rode the motorbike into Vientiane to work. It looked like it might rain before I left The Farm, so I packed an extra pair of socks and underwear, just in case. I’m glad I did, because I couldn’t have gotten wetter if I had jumped fully clothed into a swimming pool. I always keep a set of “teacher clothes” at my desk, so, after changing, I left the wet blue jeans, shirt and sneakers in the motorbike basket. The very heavy rain continued for a couple of hours, as much of a downpour as anything we had during the wet season. It hasn’t rained since then.

LoTRO Ecstasy

I’ve written before that I’m, more or less, an addict of the Lord of the Rings Online (LoTRO) role-playing game (See the Blogroll on the right). When I worked in Korea, I played, if work didn’t interfere, up to 3 or 4 hours a day (longer in the cold winter months), and I at least logged in just about every day. I really immersed myself in the 6 characters that I created. I was living life in Middle Earth as, variously, a couple of elves, a couple of men, a hobbit and a dwarf. The graphics in the game are incredible, the best I’ve ever seen. I wasn’t in a hurry to try to get to the highest possible level because the immersion factor and the attention to the details of Tolkien’s books are superb, in my opinion. In other words, it wasn’t the destination, but the journey that was important.

Hobbiton

Looking at part of Hobbiton, The Shire.

Michel Delving

Another part of The Shire. Michel Delving, I believe.

I knew, however, that when I moved to Laos, a country with poor Internet conditions, I would probably have to give up the game. The download speeds would be slow and connection would be spotty. For the most part I was right. Recently, however, I’ve discovered that there are places where the download speeds might be fast enough to play the game. I thought that I’d give it a try.

My first big concern was downloading the game files to my laptop. My old computer, with the game already on it, had been stolen about a month after I got here, so I had to get the files to my new laptop. The game is huge, and a complete download is 13.5 gigabytes. With a slow connection that was going to take a LOT of time. Perhaps, I thought, I could go into Thailand, where speeds are faster, and download it there. Then I discovered that the school’s wi-fi connection allowed speeds of up to 1 Mb/s (megabyte per second) when there weren’t too many other teachers around that were using the connection. That would be early on Saturday mornings and during the weekdays. I tried it, and after a few weeks I got the complete download this past Tuesday!

The other concern was being able to actually play it. It’s very graphics intensive, so I still needed those quick download speeds. Now, I’m not about to sit at my desk, in full view of all the other teachers, and play LoTRO in my spare time, so I needed to find another place to play. I wondered if the various cafes and restaurants that offer free wi-fi would have good connections.

I went to a coffee shop near the school and, after getting the wi-fi password, I logged into the game. I was quite nervous–is the connection fast enough, will other stumbling blocks show up? After a few minutes, voila, I was in. All my characters were still there with all their upgrades I had earned along with the house I had purchased with in-game (not real) money. Yes, you can buy a house in the game to store all the trophies and loot you’ve found, and you can decorate the inside and outside with a variety of Middle-Earth furniture and lawn decorations.

My house in Middle Earth

My house in Middle Earth

View from house

Looking out at the view from my house.

I am in Seventh Heaven! I won’t be able to play every day, and I’ll only be able to play for a couple of hours on those days that I can play. For starters, that’s good enough for me.

Eventually, though, I know I’ll want to increase my playing time. The Internet that I’m able to get at The Farm sucks, in a word. I’m barely able to read email and check the weather. But, Nai’s brother, Pui, works for one of the providers that install the Internet into homes. I talked to him several months ago about the feasibility of installing it at The Farm. He said it could be done, but it would cost around $450. That was too expensive, in my opinion, but now that expense seems smaller in light of the fact that I can play LoTRO again. I’m going to talk to him again the next time I see him and ask about monthly fees, download speeds and download limits. If everything is even just minimally optimal, I’m going to have it installed.

At any rate, for now, I’m ecstatic! Are there any LoTRO players among my loyal readers? Let me know with a comment, please.

By the way, the game is free to play (F2P). There are options to pay real money (not that much) for some nice enhancements, but if you’re not inclined to do that, you can still get an amazing game experience without paying a dime. I’m sure that if you’re a fan of the books, you’ll be quite impressed, and even if you’re not a fan, you may still be bowled over.

Rivendell

A view of part of Rivendell

The Farm’s Population Increases

We’ve had some new additions to The Farm’s extended family recently. Six new puppies have arrived to make our lives a bit more enjoyable. They’re only a few weeks old, so their mischievous phase is still ahead. Here’s one of the youngsters; the other five rascals were running around somewhere, so I’ll get their snapshots later. Nai’s dog, Lucky, is none to pleased with the imps, and he nips at them if they invade his personal space too much. Most of the pups will be given away, but I suppose that one or two might be kept around.

puppy

New puppy at The Farm with his new chew toy.

puppy

New member of the extended family at The Farm.

Sorry about the paucity of posts in the past few months. No excuses. I’ll try to get up to speed in the next few weeks.

In an Ideal Communist Country . . .

I read the English version of the Vientiane Times about once or twice a week. On one of the inside pages is a section devoted to what is being written in other Laos newspapers, translated into English. One of the papers is the Pathet Lao Daily, which I assume is an organ of the Communist Party here.

About 10 days ago, the Times quoted the Pathet Lao Daily ranting about the music that was played at gatherings during the recent New Year celebrations. I’m paraphrasing because I don’t have the article, but the Daily wrote, more or less, that a large percentage of the music being played at parties was Thai, when the rule is that people must play at least 70% Lao music.

I think I might have laughed out loud when I read this. The article went on to explain that people weren’t being patriotic enough in their choice of music. I don’t think patriotism should be the issue. Perhaps Lao music sucks compared to Thai music. (It does.) The ruling class might be quivering in their boots that choice of music might spell doom for the regime. Kind of hearkens back to when Elvis Presley was reviled for his hip-shakin’ style. Do you oldsters remember? I do. More later.

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