27 March 2007


We went for a trip a couple of hours out of town to a dam. It was a very relaxing day, and it was surprisingly not touristy. The place was very quiet, and we had lunch on the boat on the water. The river was dammed three decades ago and some villages had to go under. We saw some chickens on the way to the dam. We pay attention when we see them because avian flu has killed a couple of people within the last couple of months. A went out of town to a training session a few days ago and noticed chickens hiding in the toilet. Scarily, he saw a fair few featherless sick chickens too. He is also the first person of the group to have tried ant egg soup. Apparently the eggs are about to hatch so the ant larva can clearly be seen inside.

Yesterday I bought a bicycle, so hopefully it’ll be easier for me to get around town. There has been much discussion about motorbike riding. I’m still am adamant that I will not buy one for at least a month. I’d like to get to know the roads and see how the others go first. It’s crazy how little safety precautions people take compared to Australia. Eg, not really having lessons, not wearing protective clothing, not having a licence, not having third party insurance, not having front brakes! For some reason, I expect the Aussies to take similar precautions as they would in Australia, but I’m not sure why. I’m still questioning whether I should bother arranging a licence before getting on a motorbike.

The food here has been good. Some of the local Lao foods include:

Laap- raw or cooked minced meat with chilli and herbs such as coriander and mint

Green papaya salad- thin strips of green papaya with loads of chilli. There is also lots of Lao fish sauce in it. It is way fishier than the usual Thai/ Viet variety and when I saw it in a tub in the market, there were chunks.

Baguette- there is some great around bread here. Usually there is weird pate/ brawn-like luncheon meat with some salad and herbs.

Fried pork- everyone is now addicted to the pork ribs fried with whole cloves of garlic and lime leaves.

Fruitshakes- you can get any fresh fruit blended with ice for less than $1 in any combination you please.

I’ve eaten at lots of street stalls, and haven’t been sick yet luckily, so the hygiene standards seem acceptable. Recently we have been on an Indian food eating spree. The difference is there’s no basmati rice, long- grain only. Also they substitute tofu for the cheese in curries. There is quite a bit of French food here that I’d like to try soon. French food is generally more expensive than local food, but for under $10 you can have a 3-course meal.

We’ve been learning Lao and one of the other volunteers asked for the bill in Lao. Apparently the ladyboy he asked looked embarrassed and asked, ‘do you know what you just asked me? You just asked me for sex’. He remembered the right sound, but the problem was the wrong tone! The other dangerous word for us beginners is ‘I’ if said with a high, soft tone turns into ‘penis’. We’ve had lots of practice with the word ‘I’ so hopefully we have it right now.

I am enjoying it here. I am trying to pinpoint why. The people are friendly, the food is good, it’s clean enough and Vientiane is big enough to amuse me. When I think about why expats enjoy living in Vientiane the main reason I can come up with is that we are wealthy enough to have virtually have anything we want here. Comparatively we’re really wealthy. Even as a young volunteer. The average public servant’s wage here is $30 - $40 USD. I think our experience of Laos would be different if that were what we were earning.

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