Wednesday, February 24, 2016

New Year's Eve 2015

New Year’s Eve is always an event in Thip’s family. Her brothers really get into it. I’ve written a little about the partying in 2013 and 2014 and here are some images and notations from New Year’s Eve 2015:

(Family Farm; Khun Paw’s bungalow on left, Sawt’s work shack center, where most people hung out for the party; note pile of rice chaff extreme right, left over from giao khao and spools of electrical wire scattered about; Sawt is a foreman of an electrical line crew.)

(Setting up the sound system. Yah and his son leading activity; their sound system.)

(Sound system, karaoke stage, lights and decorations ready for prime time.)

(A major feature of Sawt’s New Year’s Eve parties is the gambling, referred by people as “die” [for “dice”]. Although technically illegal, authorities turn a blind eye to it on major holidays; Sawt, center top.)

(I mostly hung out with Thip’s brother Pawt and his friend.)

(Sky Lanterns are increasingly popular.)

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Lao Trip 13.9 - Boring Path Chosen

Getting ready to leave on my last day in Lao for 2015/2558, I was careful to pack Savath’s bottle of lao khao. It had become somewhat of a tradition between us, now, as he knew my brothers-in-law liked rice whiskey.

(my favorite sandals of all time)

Lu (aka “Lou”) fortuitously called. I had lost his number, as it had been on the old sim card that I had replaced in Ken Thao. His timing couldn’t have been better. Soon afterwards, he picked me up and drove me to Pak Lai’s southern kiu lot (Lao; baw kawsaw, Thai); 10k Kip, worth one bottle of Beer Lao.

All during the sawngthaew ride to Ken Thao and then, in Thailand, the sawngthaew ride to Muang Loei, I was in the proximity of a short, cute Lao sao (young woman) of around twenty years of age. She gave me some great smiles and on the ride to Loei, I gave her my jacket so she could rest her head – most everyone in the back of the truck was asleep or half asleep, this early afternoon.

The question once again arose in my mind, as it always does in these situations: should I ask this girl for her telephone number? I’m sure she would have given it to me and I even got the feeling she wanted me to ask her for it. But, I’d been down this road before and had come to the conclusion that, no matter the temptation, there was no use in pursuing a friendship unless the girl knew at least a little English. Besides, as I keep reminding myself: I’m “too old, too tired, too married.”

So, I didn’t make a move on her. Some people would say that I’m finally acting my age, but I look at it as choosing the boring path rather than the more exciting one.

I saw her one more time in the Muang Loei bawkawsaw as I was paying for my ticket to Nong Bua. She was looking my way. I glanced away for a second and she was gone.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Lao Trip 13.8 - Lao National Day

This was the day when the 40th National Lao Day was observed in Pak Lai.

After waking up late (8am) and getting ready for the day, I went downstairs, had some coffee and logged some Internet time. Paying for one more night, I told my hosts that I would be going home to Thailand the next day.

On the way walking to the market for breakfast, I passed a petanque (Lao pronunciation: pet tong) court I had never noticed before. There were already players hard at it, waving me in. I waved back, saying “Gin Khao,” which literally means “eat rice” but is more commonly understood to mean eating a meal – usually with rice.

At the market, I bought some more dried pork and khao nio (sticky rice), took the food back to the petanque court and shared with the owner and patrons. They, in turn, shared a glass of Beer Lao with me.

(Either an expansion of Khem Khong Restaurant or new home being built)

It was still cold and grey, so I opted for my guesthouse room for the afternoon, saving energy for the night time.

When it came, Duangtar took me over to the big, open, fenced-in field that serves the community for large gatherings. There was a small building at what could be considered the “head” of the field and here, on its porch, various groups took turns performing.

Most of the groups were school children of various ages, dressed in traditional Lao attire – silk sins for the girls and pressed slacks and dress shirts for the boys. Most of the performances were merely lamvong dances to recorded, older-era music.Of about ten groups, only about three featured what you could call revolutionary themes.

The audience was scattered all over the field, in the dark – somewhere around 200 people of all ages. All of us stood, except for about twenty chaired VIP’s and some smart ones who brought their motorcycles onto the grounds and sat on those. I would have thought that some people would have brought mats, but I didn’t see any; probably because of the darkness and inability to see anything that might be crawling about.

I got tired standing so long, so Duangtar talked me into leaving before his students hit the stage (they were the last group of the evening). I was disappointed, but relieved. I had expected more of the overall observance and hours of standing had seemed not quite worth it.

Before leaving, sky lanterns were lit and forty filled the night sky over Pak Lai. Duangtar said it was the first time they’d ever done that.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Lao Trip 13.7 - An Odd Day

Today was kind of weird. I got some things done, but never got anything really going.

In the morning, I stayed in my room hiding from the cold, working on Lao phrases and watching music videos on TV. The rain had backed off, but the cold still lingered.

After coffee downstairs and connecting to the wi-fi, I made my way over to the market once again. I was successful in buying a jacket I could fit into but which will better fit my wife. I gave up on trying to find sneakers my size and ended up just buying a pair of socks.

From the street vendors, I bought some dried pork (Aloi! Delicious!) and then made my way to the big, new floating restaurant near the port, in back of BCEL. En route, I encountered a Falang on a bicycle and waved “Hello.” No response. OK.

Nothing much was happening at the big floater, so after some beers, I made my way back to Khemkhong, had another beer and got into a disagreement about directions to Sarakham with the Falang bicyclist I’d seen earlier. I was just trying to help him out, not have a debate. Not wanting to deal with him further, I checked into Heuan Phair where the gay guy who’s related to the owners was entertaining a rather attractive gay girl. It was now night time. I had a beer, then left; no one else was there.

Just before retiring to Sayadeth, I decided to look in on Seng Chalerm’s restaurant. There was somewhat of a middle-aged womens’ party going on there, so like I had in Ken Thao, I joined in and felt a little bit more comfortable as a couple of the women knew me.

By the time all this beer drinking was done, so was I.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Lao Trip 13.6 - Temperature Drop

The unseasonal rain continued on and off this fourth day of my trip to Pak Lai. As a result, I was limited to my room during much of the day. In fact, all during this trip I never got to hang out in PL2 very much at all, which is where I usually go when I’m visiting this area.

In the morning, I watched footage of Lao National Day, as celebrated in Vientiane on December 2nd. But, in fact, celebrations were happening all across the country, this week, as different provinces celebrated on different days. This allowed those who could afford it to celebrate at the nation’s capitol. Pak Lai’s celebration of the revolution would be in two days’ time.

During a break in the rain, I made it over to the main market where I was successful in finding a pair of dress pants I could fit into. Actually, it was the merchant who should get all the credit. She dug around in her inventory in the back for a good long while, determined to make a sale. Xaysana had invited me to a big ngan dawng (wedding party) that night and I really needed to dress up.

While at the market, I dropped in on Savath, who has been a friend of mine for about three years and thus my oldest friend in the Pak Lai area. He’s the main alchohol distributor for Pak Lai and also a hardware salesman. It was good to see him again and I was pleased to find that he had made his way onto Facebook and Line – both of which will make it easier for us to maintain contact.

On the way back to my guesthouse, I stopped in at Khemkhong for a beer and ended up helping the owner’s daughter’s daughter with her ABC’s. It was mid-afternoon and the temperature was dropping – never a good sign.

(views of Heuan Phair, from a distance; without rain and with)

Back in my room, the temperature continued to drop. I hadn’t brought a jacket with me, this trip, so I had to rule out the ngan dawng. I called in my apologies to Xaysana and Savath, both of whom had been counting on me being there. Later, I heard the distant sounds of the party as I lay under covers, in bed, watching “The A-Team” movie. As I have many times, I remembered fondly how my sons and I used to love to watch the light-hearted TV series, back in the mid-1980s.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Lao Trip 13.5 - A Day With Duangtar

My third day of my thirteenth trip to Lao was mostly spent in the company of Duangtar, a teacher at Palisard Business College. We had become friends a year ago and I had kept in touch. This trip to the Pak Lai area was pretty much centered on renewing that friendship and seeing where it would take me; somewhat of a departure from previous trips to Lao.

At Palisard – a school of about 500 students – Duangtar introduced me to most of the administrative staff who also double as teachers. They were proud to prepare a catfish for me from the school pond. We drank it down with some Beer Lao, right outside the administration offices – something you would never see, even in Thailand.

(Tong Sian and Boon Tan)



Before the fish and beer, however, Duangtar took me for a walk through to visit various classes of seniors about to graduate. He and other teachers attempted to get the students engaged in talking English with me, but to little avail. Lao students are shy!

Pictures were taken and I made special greetings to those few students I recognized.

At morning’s end, Duangtar took me back to the Sayadeth on his under-powered motorcycle, to get some rest. I really appreciated this, as I had been in the spotlight all morning.

After school let out, Xaysana – a teacher I had met just that morning – picked me up on his motorcycle and drove to Duangtar’s house near the southern kiu lot. Duangtar was busy getting the barbeque pit together and beers were sent for. As she had done that morning also, Dao was our attendant and looked after us in the girl fashion, while her boyfriend joined us, too. Truth is, I had set this reunion with Duangtar up through Dao, on Facebook. Duangtar doesn’t spend much time on the Internet and cross-border telephone calls are expensive. So, in a way, if it hadn’t been for Dao, this trip would not have happened the way it did.


Rain began to lightly fall as we found shelter under an awning, ate pork BBQ and drank Beer Lao. Xaysana proudly told us about his coffee plantation down in Champasak and Duangtar marveled that I would spend my vacation hanging out with them rather than going to tourist sites.

It was a fairly intimate gathering, as night settled in, so I asked the big question I sometimes ask khon Lao (Lao people) when the conditions are right:

“During the war [The Second Indochina War, aka “Vietnam War”], my country was not so good to the Lao people. I would expect khon Lao to not be friendly to Americans.”

“We love America!” is always the reply.

Xaysana added, in explanation:

“That was long ago. We look to the future, not the past.”

One of the reasons I love Lao so much is because of how well I am received in the country. I once wrote about “feeling like a rockstar” and it’s true. Yet, it still amazes me how – despite all the ordinance my country dropped on Lao and the long-running “Secret War” – Laotian people have become so positive towards Americans since then.

Before leaving, Duangtar introduced me to his wife’s parents, his wife and newborn baby. He encouraged me to take pictures of the traditional way Lao (and old time Thai) men look after their wives who have just given birth: production of wood and charcoal coals spread out on metal sheets under a bamboo bed to keep the mother and child warm.

This is what I’d been hoping to hit, this trip: to get to really know Lao people and how they live. It was a special moment for me as I clicked the pictures of Duangtar, his wife and baby.