27 April 2007

Human resource management

Our household is currently employing two staff so I have needed to apply some human resource management skills. It is challenging to manage them well because I can’t speak Lao. Not that they really do need active managing- they do their tasks perfectly well while we’re all away from our house at work. Our mai ban (maid, literally ‘house mother’) speaks very little English and our guard does not know English at all. Our mai ban comes to our house three days a week. It may seem a like a lot but I didn’t want her to have to work too hard. She cleans the floors and washes our clothes. She also pays our bills, which is particularly helpful because we can’t even read the bill. The main reason I have a guard is because there is no way I could have fired him when we moved in. He told our landlord he was worried about his job when we moved in. I don’t think that’s something the man should have to worry about, particularly at the competitive rate he was offering. Also, the next best alternative would be to take out a better insurance policy to cover my items, which would involve paying a large insurance company over $1000. Our guard’s rates are far more reasonable. He does maintain our garden very well. It did trouble me that it is a 100% dead- end job. He’s there from 8am- 5pm so we take up all his weekdays. While I was thinking about possible education and training opportunities my housemate M actually did something. I was very impressed that she had a mini- teleconference with our guard and S from the English college that helped us get to Laos.

Our guard took up the offer of learning English, and the college offered it to us for half price. It may have been a long time since our guard has had any formal education and I’m guessing there would mostly be young people in his class learning English. If he can pick up a couple of things or enjoys the process of learning or meets some nice new people then the experience is worthwhile. I just hope he doesn’t find the whole thing intimidating! Our mai ban has a couple of days off from working with us and is paid a bit better so hopefully she has some free time to do what she likes. I might buy some English books for her. This week there were 3 days that reached 40 degrees, and for 72 continuous hours the temperature did not drop below 30 degrees. Our guard does not have access to our house- he just an open room out the back. Buying him a fan might be in order. I think a radio would help his day go by too. Occasionally we give our staff some random food like biscuits and beer for new years and some random oyster mushrooms M brought back from the farm next to her work. Any advice on how to human resource manage our staff would be much appreciated- a little creative thinking could really help.

There is someone at work who speaks Lao, Thai, Vietnamese, French and English. I have also seen him pull out the sign language a couple of times. He gets paid $20 US a month- unfair! There are a fair few Russian speakers in Laos. If they can say my name and remember it, that’s a good indicator that they can speak Russian. You notice some people roll their Rs when they speak English, which is a definite sign they speak French. Quite a few Lao people were studied in Vietnam or did military training there, which is why they can speak it. Increasingly more people are studying in China, I think, which is also close to Lao and I think Japan too because they give Lao a lot of support. Virtually everyone can understand Thai because most of their television is from Thailand. There are only a few Lao TV programs, only three from memory. All university textbooks are also in Thai, and I’m guessing many high school texts too.

I remember a friend of mine joking about someone who used to turn off the car engine when they were going down hills to save petrol. Well I got in a tuk- tuk and this is exactly what the driver did. He also turned the engine off while he was at the lights.

26 April 2007

Hot, hot hot

It is 9:45pm and it’s still 34.5 degrees according to my little alarm clock my sister gave me. Last night at midnight it was still 32 degrees. I think it hit 40 degrees during the day. I think it was this hot when I got here mid- March but for some reason, my heat tolerance has been low this weekend. It has been quite an ordinary weekend- I have just been hanging around home because of the heat. Our little black cat has been trying really hard to impress us today. This morning it caught us a little brown bird and in the afternoon it caught a mouse. It was definitely whingeing louder than ever when it wanted to show us it’s prized catch. M decided that we’re going to deck it out in Western gear ie a collar with a bell.

Last night I had a bit of a food nightmare. We had bought a barbequed fish from the local street stall. The fish was very minimally processed. It was not scaled and definitely not gutted. I picked up a bit of the fish and took a smell. It stank like garbage. My housemates had a smell and refused to touch it. I was sure enough that the smell was from pa dek (Lao fish sauce) rather than from the fish being rotten, because it tasted quite salty. I didn’t like the pa dek smell, but was determined to eat a few bits of the fish that were untainted. I eventually gave up and we decided to give it to the cat over a few days, storing it in the freezer, so it wouldn’t stink out our fridge. I volunteered to do this, as one of our housemates admitted she couldn’t touch it, and I figured the others thought the same. I started to break apart the fish when I noticed there was a whole pile of greyish worms inside this fish I had eaten. Yuk! I know that from my limited study of worms I can’t really catch anything from them, but still, I’m not going to eat fish for a while. 24 hours on I’m still alive so I think I’ve survived! I’ve been one of the lucky few in the group of volunteers to not be sick. My stomach has really held out well for me. I have Eating World and the fumes from kebab store I inhaled every morning in Sydney to thank for making my stomach strong.

Funnily enough I still can’t work out what my address is. I don’t think our street has a name and to officially describe where it is we can name the number of the turnoff along the main road. If people need to find us we usually give them directions from the nearest landmark. I think that’s how people navigate here- there isn’t really a properly scaled map of Vientiane. Today I road my bicycle in the 30 degree heat to the city and back. It’s 4 kms each way. I was fatigued on my last km coming home, so I think I need a bit more practice, and adjusting the seat might help too. Some children laughed at me because I was wearing my full- face motorbike helmet.

20 April 2007

Back to work

It's quiet here so I'm writing this- hey, a little reflection might help me be more productive later. I'm already thinking about my next trips and might make a list of the places I'd like to visit before I go home.

It's almost certain visit these places...
Bangkok (to watch the soccer of course)
Hong Kong
Vang Vieng, Laos

There's a really good chance I'll go to these places...
Yangon, Myanmar
Siam Reap and Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Ho Chi Minh, Hanoi, Halong Bay in Vietnam
Chiang Mai and some islands and beaches in Thailand
Plain of Jars and some other places in Laos

Further away so less likely to go but would love to...
Kunming, China

I'm dreaming if I think I can get there this year but on the odd chance...
Hawaii, Atlanta and will throw in New York city while I'm at it

We'll see how it goes. Any tips are very welcome and if you're planning to go to any of the places within the next year, please let me know. My problem is travel insurance. The one I have been given is a special package for our whole volunteer group so the silly insurance company says I can't extend it. If I offer them sufficient money they'll extend my insurance right? Is it possible to take out an insurance policy with an Australian insurance company even though I've left the country already? I'll have to find out.

I tried instant laap flavoured rice porridge yesterday and it's not very good. It had rice bubbles in it and when you pour hot water in they go soft and thicken the porridge. The other night I tried food from our local street stalls. I bought some skewers of barbequed fish and some skewers with sausage. I bought some hot, steamed sticky rice and raw beans too. It made a pretty good cheap dinner so at least I know that good local eating options are available. We have no gas bottles for cooking at our house yet. We also haven't had hot water for three weeks but we'll ask to have it fixed soon.

Last day of Luang Prabang and coming home

This April new year is also celebrated in Thailand, Myanmar and Cambodia. It somehow originates from India. Therefore it's celebrated in parts of India, as well as all of Sri Lanka.

It was nice to be home in Vientiane- it felt like home. I was really happy our house survived the whole pi mai period, because heaps of thefts happen around this time. It was nice to chat with my housemates once we got home. D had come to Luang Prabang with us. M had a very interesting experience. She stayed at some of her Lao workmate's for new years. I don't think they have been exposed foreigners much so they would keep asking her whether she could eat sticky rice, whether she could go to the toilet by herself and why she wanted to walk somewhere where there were no villages. She bathed in the river for half an hour while people stared and had to wait for them to go before she could have a proper wash. She's an entomologist and has begun exploring the culinary side of insects. She ate stink bugs mashed with garlic and chilli and said they were delicious. She said she ate bee pupae and said they were gross. When she was going to the toilet in the dark with a work collegue, they could here rustling on the ground. She shone the torch down and saw a lots of dung beetles swarming over a cow pat. She noticed her collegue salivating as she was looking at the beetles andcow pat. 'You eat these' M asked. Her collegue replied that dung beetles are delicious. I have my doubts!

Ms workplace has this interesting system where they take turns to cook lunch. If it's your turn to cook lunch, you spend the whole day cooking and don't do work. They also had a cooking class at work. She works in a branch of the Agriculture Department and this course was for the farmer employees to learn to process their produce so they could market it better. They learn to make roasted peanuts, buffalo skin dip and boiled, fried sausage during the course and at the end of the day they sold it to each other.

With my housemates we also discussed development and aid to Laos. We can all see some stuff being done which is not sustainable, and how local skills are undervalued. Someone from one of the major development agencies was shocked Ms work didn't have to computers and commented that they need some right away. Thinking out loud, he said that to get a few computers in and get a few consultants to come in to set it up it would cost $100,000. Just for a few computers that don't really need to be the most up- to- date? There are definitely locals that can do this, such as some people at work, even I could do it if I didn't try anything too complicated. A lot of aid money comes to Laos- it's just a matter of spending it wisely. The locals at my work get paid $30 a month, say between $300 and $400USD a year. Expats are paid at least $3000- $4000US per year. This is stupidly low in Australian terms but this is the wage of ten locals. Are expats really that much better? The workforce is characterised by being generally unproductive and unskilled, well you would be if you were paid that little, but maybe there are some skills out there we could use? Or maybe organisations can pay for training? I guess they might not have the money. The guy that sits next to me is paid $20 USD a month as a communications officer. That makes me feel quite bad. No wonder the guy has to go off to do other jobs during the week.

It helps us that even though the people here are poor, they are happy, well the ones we've seen anyway. We can see that the healthcare here is really poor and this would be one of the main impacts on their wellbeing. Killing animals to make the spirits happy so the person gets better might just not work. They don't seem particularly materialistic and competitive and just seem to be happy where they are, enjoying hanging out and drinking which is good. How should we give aid? There are forever development agencies writing reports about how things should be done, but I think we can start by doing small things to help the people learn to do it for themselves. Australia is one of the main aid providers here and has a huge presence. When we look back at what we've done in future, I wonder what we'll think of it.

Pi Mai Lao day 3

Day three we left town to go for a kayaking trip for a couple of days. Nyay (another Mr Big) was our tour guide and was a nice young lad 23 years of age, who is interested in adventure sports. He had some interesting stories to tell. He is one of three boys so did the cooking around the house as a boy while his parents were out at work because there were no girls. He did have an older sister and brother but they died in motorbike accidents. His dad can make guns and they go out hunting together for deer and wild pigs. The dogs round up the animals so they don't have to track them. His grandfather's arm is missing because it got cut off by an American in the war. His uncle has lost both legs to one of the bombs left from the war. His mum can read and write French, can't read or write Lao. Aside- the French governement pays people here to learn French and will give you a weekly payment for doing so. Strangely enough you can pay for French lessons in kip or Euro, even though the most used currencies here are kip, $US and Thai baht... definitely not Euro! Nyay is not Buddhist, but rather an animist believing in spirits. I think this kind of religion is officially outlawed in Laos, but a fair proportion of the population practice it.

Nyay took us to the village by the river to stay for the night. We stayed at Nyay's cousin's place. His cousin was also 23 and they had a little baby. It was a simple house- two story brick without rooms although the did divide the upstairs area with sheets. The toilet was outside and the shower was the river. The kitchen is attached to the house and made of woven sheets of some plant fibre. They cook on a charcoal stove. We had some drinks with the locals which was fun. They had been drinking since 8:30am so were rather gone so luckily not pouring the drinks too full.

The next day we went to some limestone caves where the royal family had to hide out. They are full of small Buddha images because when people visited the king, they would give him one. People burn lots of incense in the cave so they aren't beautiful in the way we would consider it in Australia because they're all blackened. There's an obvious piece of information missing about the caves- what happened to the royal family? This gap is also noticeable at the royal palace which I visited in Luang Prabang. I don't think the government has issued a statement about what happened to them. We had a couple of beers before we set off kayaking to the caves because I didn't communicate to Nyay properly that I didn't want them. I couldn't have the man drink at new years by himself but I don't think it's safe and I must not do this again! Especially not since two people died on the river recently after being stuck in whirlpools. Nyay has been stuck in one for 15 mins before!

I spent a couple of days stressing about the health risks I took while being on this trip and in Luang Prabang in general. I could have caught Dengue or Malaria from all the mossie bites. I could have picked up some nasty bug from dodgy food preparation, not washing hands, sharing drinks Lao style ie passing a glass of beer or lao lao around the circle, or inconsistently using toilet paper. I could have caught parasites from swallowing river water. I could have caught Avian flu from being around chickens and their waste in the village and eating runny egg yolks. I've been back for a couple of days and it seems to be all good, but if I get sick this week I'll be very paranoid.

Pi Mai Lao day 2

Day two of new years is when the parade is on. It goes from one temple to the other on day two, then back again on day 3. The parade comprises people in traditional dress, a Miss Lao New Year and runners up sitting on a peacock float. It is lead by three big red heads with long hair, which I didn't see, which represents something I can't quite remember. From memory it may represent the head of a legendary king which was kept by his daughters after he died. I got very wet again this day. I didn't mind because it was such a hot day- April is the hottest month of the year. We were talking to some Australian Lao people and they said that Lao in Sydney also splash water on each other but it's not so fun because the weather is cool!

In the afternoon we had lunch with this Australian Lao guy's family. He has been living in Sydney for 12 years, and hadn't been back for 5 years. They were really nice to invite us along. We crossed a hand- made bamboo bridge to get to this restaurant on a little island in the middle of the river. We drank lots of beer and ate mostly Vietnamese food ie raw garlic, ginger, herbs and noodles wrapped in lettuce leaves. I swear I'll never be afraid of raw garlic again, or eating bunches of raw snake beans, coriander and mint as I eat so much of it here. There was one guy on the dancefloor by himself most of the time doing a 'drunken monkey' dance.

19 April 2007

Pi mai Lao- Lao new years 2550 Day 1

I went to Luang Prabang for Lao new years. Everyone had 5 days off for new years. I had 6 because the falang (foreigner, literally ‘French’) in my office told me the Friday was a holiday but it wasn’t. I'm not complaining. It is northern Laos where it is mountainous, and is on the Mekong River. It has pretty French colonial architecture, well, apparently because I know nothing about architecture. I flew with Lao airlines and the trip wasn't as scary as I thought it would be- actually the plane was quite new.

New years is celebrated for three days. On the first day people clean their houses and build sand stupas on the river beach. They release animals for good luck. This meant there were heaps of little birds being sold in tiny baskets. It was such a hot day, I’m sure many would have perished. When my sister was here, she saw these birds being caught by tying one bird to a string and sewing its eyelids shut. They then catch the birds that come to help this poor little bird. She thought the people ate them, but I think they just catch them to be released.

It is also good luck to pour water on other people for new years, so I got buckets of water poured down my back and sprayed with waterguns. The falang really get into it, I’m talking 20- 30 year olds, but annoyingly they aim for the head when the locals don’t. It’s like when Aussie’s see snow for the first time, they excessively excited. I also got covered in cornflour and my face was smeared with the black burnt stuff at the bottom of the cauldron. There were people driving around on the back of utes drinking beer and splashing people with water. There were people on the side of the road with bin fulls of water chucking it at motorbikes, pedestrians and vehicles. We caught a boat across the river where there was a huge party going on. This place was definitely not designed for a party. People were trampling through crops and there weren’t really toilet facilities. There were rockets being launched in close vicinity to the large crowd. People were dancing to loud music on the mud.

There are some really excellent night markets that we spent some time wandering through. Mainly it is textiles for sale including scarves, wallhangings and bedspreads. There are some Hmong people selling there wares in their traditional dress which is cool. Did I mention we tried Luang Prabang's special riverweed (might be moss)? It is dried flat in sheets with a layer of sesame seeds and sliced garlic on top and deep fried. Very yummy. It is thin and crisp and tastes like nori seaweed.

Stuffed, fried frog

The frog was stuffed with sausage mince and deep fried. It was so deeply fried you couldn’t even taste that it was frog, but you could tell from the shape. I don’t know what they did with the eyes but luckily you couldn’t see them. This same restaurant chucked a huge amount of chicken stock unnecessarily into a grilled fish. I have started to notice they put chicken stock into everything! Unilever, again you’ve done a good marketing job. I won’t be eating it for a while once I get home. Unilever put on a huge ‘Walls’ carnival by the river with a concert, jumping castles and ice- cream related activities. It was rather impressive, but there would probably be complaints if the same thing was done in Australia. Walls is the Streets brand of ice- cream in the Thai/ Lao market. I think they have done well here- they can price a Cornetto the same as a Lao meal!

I went to a large concert in the carpark of I- TECC, this large shopping complex/ trade hall. It has a cinema, a supermarket, bowling alley and snooker room. It didn’t feel like Laos, it was more like Thailand or Malaysia. There were some pretty big Lao bands/ pop groups playing. There was a lot of lip- synching and bad dancing. It was quite amusing though. It was the most Lao people gathered at once- probably a couple of thousand.

Gearing up to new years, people wear Hawaiian shirts and put flowers on their computer and on their bike. Water guns are for sale everywhere.

09 April 2007


View from Patuxay the Lao Arc de Triomphe, dinner outside on the Mekong, Wall's festival- R, this is Unilever's impact on Laos, the dam, Mekong in the dry season,

08 April 2007

Green ants and fish

Yesterday I went to my first baci ceremony. It is a good luck ceremony, and this one was held because we’re now leading into new years. New years is from next Friday 13th April until Sunday 15th April. We sit around a floral arrangement looking thing and hold a string connected to it. Some chants are made. Then we tie cotton strings around each other’s wrists wishing each other luck. Some guy from work jokingly wished that I got a Lao boyfriend even though earlier in the day I told him I have a boyfriend from Australia here. It was a fun new years party. It turns out a few of the people in the office can sing really well, and some can play the guitar too. I did some Lao dancing for the first time. Mostly it involves standing around in a circle with the boys in the inner ring and girls on the outer ring and moving slowly around the circle whilst making circular hand movements.

During new years people pour water all over each other, presumably for good luck. People started with a few drops. Then small splashes, then large bucketfuls with ice. Then people just got hold of the hose and started spraying everyone- even the seemingly serious looking 40/50-year-old women. I was so wet for so long that my skin went wrinkly. They even hosed people on their motorbikes as they were leaving. They put talcum powder on my face too. It seems that every Lao person is a kid and heart and it’s really good to see. It’s funny that the hosing temporarily disrupts the circle of dancing.

The people at work are nice to say that I’m like a Lao person. They tell me I only have to live here for 10 years and then I can get citizenship. They were impressed when I tried some raw fish. ‘I’ll tell you what it is after you’ve eaten it’ this guy at work says. I knew it was raw fish. I don’t think I’ve ever eaten raw small fish, which is probably from freshwater rather than usual marine fish I eat as sashimi. I see an ant on the plate of this fish- it looks like it just happened to crawl on there. It turns out that there were mashed tree ants in this raw fish. I had eaten one of these ants in Northern Queensland, well, just I just licked the abdomen that someone squeezed. So the ants it didn’t freak me out too much. Besides, I’d had a fair few Beerlaos already. I really have to learn to sip and sit on it because they just keep pouring and I’m used to measuring my drinks by the glass. They have a sour limey taste and that’s why they put it in the dish. It tastes a little fishy, sour and hot at the same time- much like other Lao foods. I think it’s a bit of a risk of liver flukes if you eat raw fish from the river, so I don’t think I’ll be eating them again. It was worth trying once.

More food…
Khao phiat- means wet rice. They are really nice, chewy round rice noodles that are nearly translucent. Served in a soup with Chinese style roast pork of the crispy skin variety

Pho- Vietnamese beef noodle soup. Unfortunately the broth is not as good as home! But how can you go wrong when it’s less than $2. Sometimes it is served with bible tripe, beef balls and dried squid. This stuff is usually quite salty and is full of msg so even though it’s available for breakfast, probably not that great a start to the day. Too many carbs! I’ve seen someone put a Chinese soup spoon full of sugar in it. The same guy also dipped a chilli in pure shrimp paste and ate it.

Khao sai- rice noodles in soup but with mince meat flavoured with bean sauce on top.

Bible tripe laap- I don’t know who ordered this, but it’s the oesophagus of a cow. Usually at home I only eat it at yum cha, steamed with ginger to remind me why I don’t really like it so I find this an interesting way to cook it. This was quite chilli hot and I ended up eating a bit because the other Aussie volunteers didn’t seem to be very interested.

Europe Steak House- This is the classiest place I have been to so far. The pizza was not bad for $6 US, I had a good dose of tomato and Italian herbs I missed. The steak, for $7US with salad and fries was pretty good too.

Steam boats- I don’t think these are really Lao, but they’re really popular among the Aussie volunteers due to the novelty factor and the fact that the food is very plain because you’re just boiling veggies, noodles and meat in soup. It’s chilli and Lao fish sauce free.

Bomb- a- que- Work participated in a mine awareness day. I thought this bomb- a- que was just fun name for the bbq for this day. Actually it was made from the casing of a bomb. Apparently it splits in half in the air and lots and lots of little bombs come out of it. You can buy these bomb- a- ques for $50, which I find kind of weird. Most of the time these old bombs hurt people when they’re locating them for scrap metal.

Foods to try
Laap flavoured Pocky sticks, well, imitation ones
Bitter gourd fried chips

Our mai- ban (= ‘house mother’= maid) started yesterday. The poor girl stayed for 2 hours more than she had to because there was so much work to do on the first day. It must be really hard starting new jobs. We have this weird dual tub washing machine that has one half for washing, the other for spin-drying. So you have to wash, spin, rinse, spin. I’m not sure why they’re not fully automatic- I can’t see any advantage in this over an automatic one. Maybe it’s quicker this way if someone’s around? Maybe it can take more washing. Most likely it’s the annoying producer practicing price discrimination. She will be here 3 days a week and will help us with shopping, cleaning, doing laundry and paying bills. It makes life easier. Some people have their mai- bans cook but we decided not to go that far.

We have a guard that maintains our garden too. While our guard was outside, he told our Lao friend over the phone that the guard was worried about his job. I wasn’t going to fire him while he was standing just outside our house so we kept him. He does a pretty good job of our garden, which is cool.

The house comes with a cat. It is a relatively small back cat with a few small patches of fur missing. It whinges all the time- pretty much whenever it sees us. I think we’ll have to take responsibility for it. We’ve noticed it kills geckos and probably eats them.

I’m going to Luang Prabang for new years, which should be good. It’s a world heritage listed city in the north. I’ve booked a kayaking tour. We’ve been advised to get out of Vientiane because the roads can get a bit dangerous around that time of the year with drink driving and people throwing dirty water over people while they’re driving. I’ve heard they put dye and flour in the water and it can totally ruin your clothes!

We’ve been eating a lot on the Mekong River where you just sit on a mat under some tarps. I paid 20c to use the squat toilet, which had no paper. It’s also a holding space for bottles to be reused. They reuse soft drink bottles here rather than recycle them. I think it’s labour intensive to collect them and that’s why it wouldn’t work in Australia. That’s what happens when labour is expensive- there’s a significant environmental cost. The funny thing about the toilet was that in the large tub of water you use to flush the toilet, there were two little flathead looking fish on the bottom.

06 April 2007

Deep fried pigs ear

It has been quite an eventful week. I started work last Monday. My name is hard to pronounce for Lao because they don’t have the ‘sh’ sound in their language. I asked them to come up with a nickname and they came up with ‘Noi’, which means small. They were laughing when they told me what it meant. Here the most common nickname by far is ‘thuy’ which means fatty. ‘Nyay’ meaning 'big' is a popular nickname. Noi is quite popular- I’ve already met another and A says he has 2 at his work in an office of 8. One week on I don’t think this name has stuck but I’m really not disappointed. On my second day I came to work wearing the Lao traditional dress, the sinh. The women in the office gave me attention, telling me it looked nice. They also fixed it because I didn’t have it in the correct position. It’s the only skirt I’ve ever known that you can ride a bike with. It’s a big sack you step into, and has a fold at the front. All the public servants have to wear this work to skirt, and all the women at my office do. Many more people think I’m Lao in this skirt and I just stand there when they speak to me in Lao. I don’t think I’ve ever looked so similar to the people in a country so much before, they usually know I’m a tourist when I go to Hong Kong even.

We finally signed a lease and moved into our house, yay! The landlady’s daughter signed the lease with us. She speaks fluent English as well as French and Lao so it was very easy. The inventory in our house was in French! It’s funny, it’s a bit hard to describe where our house is because I don’t think our street has a name. People navigate by landmarks here. I’ve shown tuk- tuk drivers maps and they don’t have any idea but when I name a landmark they’ll know what I’m talking about. When there’s a road on a map without a name, they’ll just describe it as ‘dirt road’ or ‘nice paved road’.

I’ve eaten some random meats lately. There are little shops that sell many skewers of barbequed meat. To our surprise, one skewer just had chunks of pig fat on it. I guess it tasted ok, some of the chunks were soft and tasty but some were just too chewy! We had some intestine things too that have the texture of cuttlefish. I ate them, but I don’t think I’d have them again. There was a table of around 12 blokes sitting next to us. They were really drunk, and being really rowdy. We figured they were engineers- the engo school was right across the road. One guy that looked pretty much passed out suddenly got up and got on his motorbike. I’m going to be very careful on the streets at night! Last night we ate some deep fried pigs ear. Mmm healthy. You wrap it in a lettuce or cabbage leaf with noodles, herbs and veggies.

Another motorbike story- one of the volunteers saw some woman run into the back of a parked truck and was lying on the ground. He himself asked the Lao people he knew to call an ambulance, but they pretty much ignored him. If we need emergency care, we have to go to Thailand to a town an hour away. Finally a tuk- tuk driver picked her up off the ground and got her to walk around and stuff. Not particularly useful if you have spinal injuries!

Work has been ok, though I have been to some horrendously poorly organised meetings external to our organisation. It is foreigners from international organisations that ran them so I feel I can criticise. I’m not sure why they’re like this. I’m more used to people being much more critical! I’m not used to going to meetings where several people praise the government about the same thing and talk mostly about the past and not much about the future.