My blogging is on fire! It's a good thing I have nothing to do.
Yesterday was bueno. I decided to walk to the Mekong and see all the flurry and bustle that accompany that area of Vientiane. Well, the great thing about here is that there really is never that much hustle and bustle. Lao People's Democratic Republic (PDR) is also known as "Please Don't Hurry."
It took me about 30 minutes to walk from my hotel to the Mekong, and I noticed that I was quite literally the only person hoofing it. Apparently people don't walk in Vientiane, and I have been told this by several people now. When I asked "Why?" the responses were "Lao people are lazy." Amazing. Anyway, this proclivity towards walking makes me stick out like a sore thumb because only foreigners walk, so I'm definitely considering purchasing a bike within the next few days. It's a very compact city so I could get everywhere on foot but it would be nice to be able to go across the city quickly in the evening if I need to and I've seen a bunch of people happily biking away in the streets. A lot of people travel by "Tuk Tuk," which I believe is ubiquitous throughout SE Asia? I had definitely ridden on one of these in Tanzania but they were called "Dalla Dallas" there.
On the way to the center/Mekong, I saw what seemed like dozens of temples rising above me as I passed by.
The area I walked through to get to the Mekong reminded me a bit of Uganda as well. A lot of dusty storefronts, advertisements for cell phone air time, and people hanging out around the stores sweeping or eating.
The center near the Mekong was a lot different than the area where I'm staying. It's not really bustling but there are definitely a lot more tourists and foreigners and nicer places to eat food and drink coffee. I had a nice talk with myself and decided that I wasn't going to bemoan the fact that I can go into a nice coffee shop and have a soy latte in Laos. Globalization is just one of those things that you hate and love; hate because it often means the loss of unique culture, and love because you can drink soy lattes wherever you go. I'm reading a really gloomy book by a gloomy Norwegian and it didn't help that he happened to be ranting gloomily about globalization at the time...that everywhere things are the same (specifically Norway and Sweden). However, it seems like despite the influx of things like coffee shops and well, foreigners like me, Laos still does have its own unique and persistent culture. And the juxtaposition of a British girl wearing booty shorts walking past a Laotian monk could not be any more mystifying.
So, upside, if you visit, I can take you to a large array of delicious places; turkish restaurants, french bakeries, korean cafes...and of course delicious Lao/Thai food. We can also get lattes.
I found the Mekong finally!
So this area by the Mekong is where the magic happens. Every night there is a night market with all sorts of wonderful food and festivities. Apparently there is also a huge free aerobics class, which I'm definitely going to check out. Another activity I reckon I'll repeat is enjoying a beerlao by the river while the sun sets.
While walking alongside the Mekong, an elderly gentleman sitting on a bench called out something to me. I figured he was Lao and answered that I only knew a few phrases. "I'm not Laotian, I'm Dutch," he said, and motioned for me to come join him on the bench overlooking the river. Tjan was a retired mechanical career from Holland, his family immigrants from Indonesia. He had been traveling the world for the last 13 months and when I asked him how long he planned to travel, he smiled and said, "Until I drop." Tjan and I walked around together, he helped me find a map and a legit ATM, and bought me bubble tea. We talked about travel, home, Holland, and family. He has two sons and two grandchildren (he showed me pictures) who he never sees but is trying to 'lessen the bonds between them' so that they will take his death more easily. His wife passed years ago. He has been to South and Central America, the US, Canada, Europe, Asia, Africa. He has lived in Nigeria, India, France, Holland, Indonesia, and others. A very quiet man, he has a wonderful smile. We had lunch together too, delicious Pad Thai and a Beerlao. I think even though he is trying to reduce his ties to the world and people around him, he still clearly needs companionship sometimes, and I hope that our time together was as good for him as it was for me. Despite my delight at being the first teacher here and free to explore the city on my own, I definitely was feeling some pangs of loneliness. I wanted to share a meal with another person and have someone to walk with.
His plans are to renew his visa, continue traveling, and explore China next.
So, Laos is really hot. I have been constantly sweating every moment I'm outside here. It's not too unpleasant but definitely will take some getting used to. After exploring the Mekong area, I was more than ready to get out of the sun and rest. I went back to my hotel hoping to spot the other teacher who was supposed to arrive that day. I saw a white man sitting in the waiting area and I approached him with excitement asking him if he was another teacher at Panyathip. He stared at me. "No, I'm Tommy." So, Tommy wasn't the teacher I was expecting, but in fact, a gloomy Norwegian! When I found out he was Norwegian, I spoke in broken child-like Norwegian apparently to impress him. No reaction. Then I started retreating from the situation, and as a last-ditch attempt told him I was reading a Norwegian book right now and asked him if he knew the author. He nodded. "You seem very excited to be in Laos," he told me. It was at that point that I recognized my introversion had run up against an overwhelming desire to talk to other people. But Tommy wasn't my man. I left him to his gloominess.
Instead, I started talking to the girl at the front desk. I asked her her name. "Nok." I told her mine, and she immediately burst into a smile. "Queen Elsa! I love Frozen!" Thank god for Frozen. Nok is 16 years old and enjoys English class and hates math. We have a lot in common. She wants to be a journalist so that she can illuminate the corruption of Lao. Nok walked me to the nearest bike shop so that she could make sure I was offered a fair price. I like Nok.
I finished off my night by eating at a local Lao place. Green curry. I'll take it.
Love and Lao,