Archive | November, 2013

Asian Delights

17 Nov
Second Thai–Lao Friendship Bridge, seen from M...

Second Thai–Lao Friendship Bridge, seen from Mukdahan, Thailand (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Warning: Long post ahead

It’s been a while since I posted on here. Partly due to how full-on each day has been and that I wrote about a page worth of stuff a couple of days ago that now seems a bit silly to post on here.

I sit here in my air-conditioned hotel room, sleep deprived and with a jumbled up mind and heart. The last two weeks have been amazing. I’ve loved every bit of it so far and already feel like I’ve gained so much from this experience. I’ve tasted some of the most delicious food (and yes, a lot of it has contained meat but more on that another time), met some amazing people and discovered a beautiful country that I knew little more than nothing about.

I think this post will be a reflective one, maybe cause I had to wake up at 4:30am this morning and I am feeling slightly out of it and cause I had my first confrontation with some beggars. I was having lunch at this delicious Vietnamese/Lao rice paper roll place that I stumbled upon a few days ago when I saw these two, 10 or 11-year-old boys, eating what looked like raw bits of meat off the floor. I passed it off as nothing at first and then proceeded to order my food. I watched as these two boys silently greeted each passerby the traditional Lao way, hoping for some spare change. Each person passed by, both Lao and expat, promptly ignoring the kids. I don’t know if this is common for everyone but I tend to get really affected by these kinds of scenes. I mean, I know Laos is a developing country and there are plenty of people living in poverty but it’s not every day that you see two, toothpick-like children eating scraps off the floor and silently begging for change while you’re having a bountiful lunch.

At our induction in Australia we were advised to not give anyone money as it solves nothing. I’m pretty confident a bit of my spare change will be used wisely. Hopefully as the months role by I’ll get a chance to have a significant impact outside of my specified placement here.

Now on to some slightly less depressing things.

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So freaking early! That Luang in the background

Today started with the culmination of the week-long Pha That Luang festival, arguably the nation’s most important event. I was lucky enough to be invited to enjoy this morning’s events with a Lao family. We met up at their restaurant, rode our bikes (me being the only one on a bicycle) to That Luang and proceeded to pray and give alms. It was an amazing experience and I’m so thankful to James for inviting me along. As a side note, I also managed to secure a room in a sweet 4-bedroom house not far from town.

 

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Alms giving

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Lao family that showed us white-folk the ropes

Now on to a bit of a recap of the last few days.

Saturday, 9/11: I took a rice farm tour with a new company called Tuk Tuk Safari. I didn’t know what to expect but was pleasantly surprised as the husband and wife team took us to a local organic farm on their tuk tuk. The farm tour was really interesting as it’s a lifestyle I’m hoping to adopt when I get back to Australia (I’ll also leave that for another time).

We got to harvest rice, collect duck eggs, use some worms from their worm farm to catch some fish, picked some veges and then cooked lunch. It was delicious! We then went to a silversmith which was a pretty eye-opening experience. I never realised the effort that goes into making a piece of jewelry. Apparently they source the silver from Australia and then sell it to tourists who visit the place in large tourist buses.

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Duck

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Rice

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Threshing the rice

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Rice husk remover

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Morning glory

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The fish we caught

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The silversmiths

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Thinning out the silver

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Sunday, 10/11: On Sunday I was lucky enough to be able to take part in a working bee at the Disabled Women’s Centre, right next to the Friendship Bridge. It was such a fun day and I even got some engineering work out of it (not paid). I’m really excited about the opportunity of helping out at this centre and it seems that, for some volunteers, this opportunity has been more fulfilling than their actual placements.

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Sub-woofer

 

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The chicken house we made

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Lao-Thai Friendship Bridge

Tuesday, 12/11: My 29th birthday started off with a massive anti-climax. Not only was I completely unperturbed about it but I also didn’t have any friends or family here with me to enjoy the day. I wasn’t quite sure if anyone that I’d met in Laos would remember either (I had mentioned that it was coming up a few days earlier). As I had some work due that day, I started the day as I had every other day, with breakfast at the hotel. This usually consists of eggs, bread and fruit. They also usually give me a bit of ham as I haven’t yet found a way to explain that I don’t eat meat. I then met up with James to go grad a spare bike that he had. I rode back home, finished the work that I had to get done and then had my 3rd language lesson with Khamsy.

During the lesson I got a call from my mum and I told Khamsy that she was calling me cause it was my birthday. Now back in Australia, this would have normally been followed by a congratulations etc. Not this time. In the Lao culture, birthdays are generally not celebrated. Khamsy told me that he has never celebrated any of his birthdays. This really appeals to me. No more hassle of thinking what to do, no more stressing whether everyone is having a good time and are all mingling with each other, no more pressure to “do something”. It’s just another day.

It’s interesting that in the western culture we celebrate our birthday yet complain constantly that we’re getting older.

Now this may or may not be right cause as it turns out, Khamsy already knew that the surprise birthday party was already organised for me. After my Lao lesson, I rushed to call Liz and then got changed. When I came back downstairs, everyone had already gathered and promptly sang ‘happy birthday’ to me. It was a really cool night and one that I really appreciate.

Wednesday, 13/11: I’m pretty used to things but not yet comfortable. I’m also really enjoying everything and every day brings about many new experiences. Like on Wednesday, when I went to meet the senior people who I will be working with at the Nabong campus. There were all the general staff there who were all friendly and excited that I had arrived. They were all full of enthusiasm and ideas of how I can help which is great.

Then there were the senior people like the Dean and deputy dean of the faculty. They’re the ones that you need to listen to, take orders from and the most important thing to remember…don’t get on their bad side cause they probably have communist connections. Shortly after meeting everyone, the next step in the “induction” was to take a sip of the local moonshine. A boozy welcome lunch followed soon after. In Laos, the tradition is to cheers glasses every 10 minutes or so which is really fun and endearing. Someone usually calls out how much everyone should drink like 1%, 50% or 100% ie skull.

Which brings me to the thing that I have struggled with the most in the last two weeks.That thing being alcohol and the amount that it’s consumed here. Now don’t get me wrong, I love a beer, wine or even the odd shot of vodka but I’m not one to drink regularly, let alone every day. It seems it’s the chosen pastime here.

The other interesting thing that I learned on Wednesday was that a lot of the older staff members had studied in Russia and love practicing their Russian. This suits me just fine as I need the practice as much as they do. I can only suspect that their senior positions are a result of having studied in the Soviet Union.

Thursday, 14/11: I spent the morning visiting some international schools trying to find Liz a job (with some success!). I also managed to get myself a free haircut at AFESIP, a centre that provides care and recovery for woman who have been victims of human trafficking and offers vocational training to support their sustainable community reintegration.

I’m loving this place so far. That’s it for now.

Till next time,

Len

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Protected: The Adventure Begins

7 Nov

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The Last Goodbye

1 Nov

Love heart

I’m not much of a crier but geez the last few days have been hard. All culminating to today when my mum and my Liz dropped me off at the airport.

It’s really hard when you go away for a long time. Not something that I can say I’ve done too much. Well, besides the odd month-long holiday or two but that’s different.  This is very different kind of adventure.

When you decide to do something different or go somewhere new (that something ultimately being a big change in your circumstances). Time passes by, days, weeks, months, and all of a sudden you’re faced with 1 or maybe 2 days before your departure. It all becomes real and imminent.

Last night was really hectic as I finished packing, ran the last few errands, ticked off the last few items on my ‘to-do’ list, drove back to work cause I forgot my hard-drive and managed to get some sleep on a single bed not designed for 2 people. It was really hard holding Liz while she tried to deal with me going as best she could. Not much I could say or do besides just be there for her. I know that everything will be ok and we’ll see each other soon but this doesn’t change how much it sucks being at the airport, having just said goodbye to the ones I love.

The airport is a funny place, so many people going to so many places, all with a different purpose. I ticked “other” as the reason for travel on the departure form at immigration. Walking down through those gates, having just said goodbye to my mum and Liz was really hard. Crying doesn’t come easily to me but I had tears in my eyes and a certain part of me, probably somewhere in the heart region, wanted me to turn around and cancel this whole thing.

But I won’t cancel or back out of this. It’s what I’ve wanted to do for  a while and feel very lucky for this opportunity. I’ve made some sacrifices to be here and I will try to make the most of this new adventure as best I can. I know the next few months will be really challenging but I will persevere.

Now, I better go, before I miss my flight…

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