Saturday, August 29, 2015

On the Banks of the Mekong


In the last few weeks I have moved back across the world to Lao to live in Luang Prabang, a quiet, quaint, Buddhist town nestled between green mountains and at the convergence of the Mekong and Namkong rivers.  Here's where the two rivers meet:

My school is surrounded by rice fields, horses, and this view:

Luang Prabang, though beautiful, quiet, and clean in comparison to Vientiane, still contains all of the elements of Lao that I love the most.  On a random Tuesday night loud Thai music blares from fuzzy speakers next door at a spontaneous all-night party, disheveled dogs root through garbage and roll in the mud, tuk tuks fly past dodging potholes, the dirt roads become mud pits during monsoons, noodle soup is sold for a pittance at little wooden stalls, in one breath you inhale both fresh flowery air and also burning garbage...Luang Prabang may be more 'polished' than Vientiane, but there's nothing at all sterile about it.  In fact, within 1 kilometer of the tourist-laden town center, you find yourself wandering in Lao villages, with groups of children playing soccer on a windy dirt road, men sitting and drinking beer lao in front of shops, families sitting for lunch on mats in front of the house, people hanging laundry in creative spots, a lone monk wandering back to temple, and always in the background the misty mountains arching above.

My experience so far as been mostly exploring on bike--an exceptionally crappy one that will be broken within months--slowly navigating the muddy roads to peek into temples, cafes, neighborhoods.  Already, this is a huge improvement from Vientiane, where having a motorcycle is almost a necessity for safety and expediency.  However, I miss Vientiane.  I happened to leave Vientiane right after I was finally making friends, connections, and finding communities that I felt happy within.  I miss my friends there, I miss playing frisbee with Sabaidisc, I miss all of the cafes and routines, and habits I had there.  I miss Erica.  It took me more than 6 months to feel at home in Vientiane and to feel comfortable enough to get out and do things that I loved like frisbee and make connections with Lao people.  The good thing is that that comfort carries over in Luang Prabang, and my paltry Lao language that I accumulated last year has been a huge asset here towards making connections and meeting people so far.  I've already started to do the things that took me 6 months to do in Vientiane: play sports, meet Lao friends, etc.  If anything, I think it'll take much less time to feel at home here.

Right now I don't have much to do but when school starts, my schedule will burst at the seams.  I will work from 8:00-1:30 every day, with two days ending at 4:00 because of tutoring.  Then, from 4:00-5:00 every day I have Lao lessons.  In my other time, I have to study for grad school, and then I want to volunteer in some capacity like teaching novice monks or something similar.  I don't really like being busy but this year I want to do more volunteering not only because I feel weird living in Lao and teaching rich kids (not that they aren't awesome and worthy), but because it's also an opportunity to make connections and learn more about the culture.

In the meantime, I'm eating noodle soup like it's my job and shamelessly speaking Lao to everyone I meet to get practice.  I'm also volunteering to help some young Lao people with writing their CVs and getting conversational English practice.

 Here's Joe: He is from Thailand and owns a delicious restaurant and within 10 minutes of meeting him, we had exchanged whatsapp contacts.  I love Lao.  'Getting a number' in America is serious business, but here it happens every day.

Love and noodle soup,

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