buying a bike, taking the bus

So, I bought a 2nd hand bike from my landlord’s sister. I will take a picture of it soon. It looks like somebody puked tie-dye all over it, it’s a one-speed, chinese, cheap-ass-bike. But it’s nearly new and gets around decently, though the seat really hurts my bum. I tried in vain to find a road bike, the only one I saw was about 3 inches too big for me, and had a seat designed to look like an eagle. I may keep looking. I may also just buy a moto. Then I could actually ride it all the way to the University instead of a 5 minute bike ride  and then a 40 minute bus ride. But actually I like taking the bus. And this morning went pretty smoothly for the first time doing so in a country where I can barely communicate with anyone. The best part about taking the bus?

Sitting next to a monk.

I think all of the folks at the central library were pretty surprised when I actually showed up for work this morning, and manged to get there all by myself. Al though I have to admit some of the past few days on my own has reminded me of my first few days at post in Athiémé, where I didn’t eat anything but bananas for 3 days because I didn’t know how or where to buy food and I was too scared to ask. And I’m constantly afraid I’m paying the yovo price for everything, but I have absolutely no way of knowing, or doing anything about it, so I just try bargaining to the best of my non-Lao-speaking ability. I did eat a good sandwich yesterday though.  It was cucumber, some weird spam-like luncheon meat, hot sauce, and some weird dried stuff that looked like rope fibers but tasted salty and maybe vaguely fishy?

Maybe it’s the events of the past month, this whole whirlwind adventure, my unrequited missed connection love affair, my mom’s surgery, pre-menstrualness, culture shock, I don’t know but I’m feeling a little lonely and miserable. Also a bit useless, I don’t know what I came here to do, or how I can help at the library. I feel really intimidated by what they are asking/expecting from me. I’m not a computer programmer! I hardly know how to catalogue! I can’t read Lao and I don’t even understand what half the people who work in the library do. But I did manage to fix one computer that had a virus today, my first day at work.

They want me to learn how to use this software:


It’s an open-source Integrated Library Software (ILS), made in France.  Somebody at the French cultural center here is working on translating it into Lao, and so, for some reason I didn’t quite understand, the University Library also had to switch.  I guess this is a good project for me because I am in the unique position of being able to understand all of the user guides and documentation, which are in a strange melange of francais and english.
Anyway, I have to do a lot of trivial things like buy a bike lock, open a bank account, buy some dishes, etc. within the next week that probably don’t seem very interesting, but each represent huge ordeals for me that I’m not really looking forward to. I’m sorry I’m in a bad mood.

more from vienetiane

The workshop is over! and I have learned a few things, not just about information literacy.

My friends dancingEveryone from the workshop went out last night, and I learned that the Lao sure do love to party. In particular, they love elaborte line dances.  Trying to do the elcectric slide with 20 Laoatians while listening to cheesy pop music being performed with a keyboard and a singer is a pretty surreal experience.

We ate dinner at a nice place overlooking the Mekong River, and on the other side is Thailand, where hopefully I will get to go soon.

sunset on the mekong

I am checking out of the hotel today, so that means no more luxury at the expense of IFLA! From here on out I am on the $2 a day plan, which may be difficult with the US dollar being virtually worthless these days. Even so, I am going to get a bicycle this weekend!

finally, a photograph

Look! I’m really in Laos!!

IFLA National University of Laos Information Literacy workshop, June 2008

This is a picture of the participants in the IFLA-ALP funded Information Literacy Education workshop at the National University of Laos, including myself (2nd row, 2nd from left), and Drs. Dorner & Gorman (front row, 1st and 2nd from left respectively; my heroes), and Dr. Aree (2nd row, 2nd from right).

In the front row on the right is Mr. Chansy, the director of the NUOL Central Library, and my boss.

Everyone involved in this workshop has been a pleasure to work with, and I’m really excited to begin my work in the library next week. Tomorrow is the last day, then Drs. Dorner, Gorman & Ahree will leave me all alone in this strange city.

I’ve found a lovely place to live in the city centre, I’m moving in on Saturday. The only annoying bit is that it will take me about 1/2 hour to get to the university, which is about 20 km outside of town in a neighborhood called “Dong Dok”. But I am sure I will prefer to live in town, rather than out there, where things would probably get really lonely.

I’m not quite sure yet what I will be doing in the library, one of the head ladies there has already aksed me if I can help with some web design, and cataloging french books. What I really want to do is help the university design an information literacy education program for the students, or perhaps help train other faculty on embedding ILE into their curricula, but we’ll see how much free range Mr. Chansy and the other folks give me. One (of the three) librarians at the central library will be leaving in September to finish his MLIS degree in Sweden or Estonia or Latvia or something, so I may take over a large part of his functions while he is away. I’m a bit nervous that I’m in a little over my head here, I worry that the library staff see me as some kine of “foreign expert”, when in reality I’m hoping to learn as much as possible from them.

Anyway, we’ll see how things go, and I will, of course, keep everyone abreast of the news outta Vientiane.

p.s. I’m sorry if this blog sounds really cheesy, this is an exercise in me trying to maintain a facade of professionalism. Does that mean I’m getting old? I’m just trying to take this gig really seriously.

Oh also, IFLA-ALP hooked me up with some cash money to collect data for them, so I want to be sure and do a real good job. But if you want access to the secret blog where I talk about smoking opium and other debauchery, and don’t capitalize anything, contact me for details.

exactly 8 minutes

I have exactly 8 minutes to write a post.  Here’s the low-down:

It’s pretty amazing getting to watch Drs. Gorman & Dorner work, wow.  They are really my heroes.  The Lao participants of the workshop seem to be getting these pretty abstract ideas too, which impresses me.  I have met a few people who I will be working with in the library, and they are all extremely friendly.  Communication will probably be an issue, I hope to learn some Lao as soon as possible.  I’ve gotten a few words so far, but I’m excited to sit down with a teacher and really learn.

I know I’ve been here for nearly 5 days and I don’t have a single piece of photographic evidence, but I just haven’t had any time.  It feels a bit strange to be here in Vientiane, as a foreigner but not a tourist, and yet not even remotely integrated into the Lao culture and basically clueless.  I’ve seen a lot of young white folks, and japanese, walking around town, obviously backpackers, as well as some old heads, mostly men, around the neighborhood where my hotel is.  They probably live here, ex-pats I’m assuming.  I feel a bit isolated, but hopefully soon I will be able to make friends and feel more at home, and less like a stranger.

The library director wants me to move into the University guesthouse, which I am not too keen on.  Firstly, they are trying to charge me a shitload of money, secondly, it seems quite lonely.  I’m afraid to tell him how I feel for fear I will hurt his feelings, but I am meeting some one this evening who will take me to look at some other housing options.

Just in the car, to and from the University, and my short walks around downtown (including getting lost), it seems like there are gilded temples everywhere, monks in orange robes talking on cellphones and riding around in motorbike rickshaws, and

oh no!  my 8 minutes are up!

en route, encore.

I’m writing from the airport in Bangkok, where I have a 6 hour layover. Too short to go into the city, too long to be tolerable. The flight from Chicago to LA was miserable, however the 17 hours from LA to Bangkok actually went by quickly and “smooth as silk”, like Thai Airways claims. The people here area all so friendly! and cute, and small, and light brown. I”m kind of smelly and need a shower… so far it’s been 30 hours en route, just a few more to go.

When I was re-reading Drs. Dorner & Gorman’s article on the plane from Chicago to LA, I felt particularly inspired by their description of how most contemporary works on Information Literacy define IL as merely a set of technical skills. They neglect to discuss:

the social construction and cultural authority of knowledge
the political economies of knowledge ownership and control
the development of local communities’ and cultures’ capacities to critique and construct knowledge

I know this type of language might come across as erudite academic nonsense, but I got a little excited. This stuff fascinates me! I love it that I can study the cultural aspects of knowledge acquisition.

the quaking blog

yes, i have a blog. I may even actually try and use correct capitalization and puncuation in this blog. We’ll see how long that lasts.

The name of this blog comes from a type of bog. 

quaking bog

A floating mat of thickly woven mosses, rushes, and shrubs that forms across the surface of shallow ponds and may shimmy or shake when walked on.

The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition copyright ©2000

I wish I could come up with some analogy on how this related to my life, but there is none, I just like puns that involve the word “blog”.

Soon this blog will contain information about some of my adventures around town, and perhaps some entertaining stories about whatever it is I am doing, wherever in the universe I am. 

My next destination is Vientiane, Laos, where I will be working with the National University of Laos on an Information Literacy project, in collaboration with and IFLA funded workshop led by Drs. Gorman & Dorner of Victoria University.   They are basically my idols and I am really excited about working with the experts in IL in developing countries.  While I am sad to be leaving my pals in Montreal and Chicago and everywhere else, it’s a really awesome opportunity and hopefully I’ll have some interesting stories to report back to ye’s.

“Information Literacy” is more or less some kind of library jargon, so if you have no idea what it is, don’t worry.  This is what the ALA tells me:

The American Library Association’s (ALA) Presidential Committee on Information Literacy, Final Report states that, “To be information literate, a person must be able to recognize when information is needed and have the ability to locate, evaluate, and use effectively the needed information”.

So, essentially, it’s about developing critical thinking skills.  It’s also affiliated with the teaching part of librarianship, ie: teaching research skills, etc.  My task is to assist the University in implementing an information literacy plan that is not only specifically created for use in the context of a developing country, but also takes into account the fact that western values and constructs don’t neccesarily apply in non-western society and this ALA defined description of information literacy may not best meet the needs of the learners in Laos.  Basically, I will be there to assist the University’s Library in improving the quality of education available in Laos.  AHHHHH!  This is a bit intimidating, I have no experience nor any idea what I am doing, really. 

That is all I will write for now.  I apreciate questions, comments, or concerns, and will hopefully be posting again soon.