lao music awards

I went to the first ever Lao Music Awards this past weekend.

Me at the Lao Music Awards
Me at the Lao Music Awards

It was a pretty interesting experience.  I paid 24,000 Kip (about $3) for a seat in the very back of the upper balcony at the National Culture Hall.  Which meant I saw hardly anything.  But I was able to discern a lot of choreographed dances and lip-sync performances, several long-winded ministerial speeches in Lao, and a few awards being won.  It was really fun, and surprisingly well put together for the first ever edition.  Our seats were in the teenager/plebeian section, and the whole area went wild when “L.O.G.” won the award for best hip-hop group. There were a few other good groups that played, and this dude and some girl did a heart warming rendition of “I swear” that almost brought me to tears.  There were also a few traditional acts, including that mind-numbing nasally singing accompanied by lo-fi synthesizer music that seems so prevalent in developing countries.  One of the nice things about the awards show was that all of the people were dressed really nicely, even the Lao “Britney Spears” type girl was basically fully covered in clothing and not revealing much skin, and some of the awards presenters actually were wearing “Sins”, the Lao traditional silk saraong.

The whole event was sponsored by Close-up toothpaste, and Tigo, Lao’s worst mobile phone service provider.  When ever some one won an award, they would be presented with a basket of toothpaste, and a giant check for a million kip.   We joked that it was for free Tigo credit.  Little did know, we were right on.

The winners received 1 million kip (about $100) worth of FREE TIGO CREDIT.  Worst.  Prize.  Ever.

Mmm... Fried bugs!
Mmm... Fried bugs!

I also ate some fried bugs and grilled frogs yesterday with the ladies at work.

Grilled Kermit
Grilled Kermit

To be honest, I didn’t actually “eat” much of either dish.  But I did at least TRY both of them.

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why i love taking the bus

Monday through Friday I leave my house at 8:20 to get to the Talat Sao (Morning market) main bus station by 8:30.  I bring my bike to the bike parking area, where they give me a ticket, and then staple the other half of the ticket around my brake cable, and then I walk the bike to very back of the most foul-smelling, dirty, disgusting hovel, while I maneuver around motorcycles and helmets and people washing dishes and sometimes themselves, men in speedos covered in soap, men in military garb pissing the corner.  I try to do this as quickly as possible because, it smells in there, and also because I am usually running late for the bus. The official time table for the bus informs me that it leaves at 8:10, 8:40, and 9:00, among other times.  This timetable is essentially useless.  I generally arrive at the bus station at 8:30, sometimes the bus may leave at 8:25, sometimes at 8:35, sometimes 8:45, sometimes 9:00, sometimes 9:30.  There is really no way of telling.  Sometimes, after waiting for 30 minutes, I may try to ask some one where the bus is.  Usually this is futile because a.) they don’t speak English, or b.) they also have no idea.

Assuming the bus leaves between 8:35 and 8:50, I generally arrive at the University around 9:15 am.  I usually keep myself busy working on something or other for a few hours, eat lunch with the director at 11:30, and then mess around for another few hours, and at 3:45 I leave and walk to the bus stop, where I wait for some kind of transit back to Talat Sao.  Yesterday I took a jumbo – which is basically a small pick up truck with benches in the back, and I was the only passenger. I still only paid 3,000 kip, but the ride was only about 20 minutes long.  There are also smaller buses that are privately owned that go to Talat Sao from the University, each of them takes a different route, some a lot bumpier and longer than others.  I haven’t figured any of these out yet, but basically whatever the first vehicle that passes heading towards Talat Sao, I take it.

Normally there are a few monks on the bus.  The monks wear bright orange robes, with one sholder bare, and have shaved heads.  Usually they are quite young – between 12 and 18 years old.  Sometimes you see older ones.  If you are a lady, never make the mistake of trying to sit next to a monk on the bus, or anywhere else for that matter.  They are not allowed to touch women.  If you go to the temple, and you see a monk, don’t try to hug him, or say “Koy hak hoy” to him, which means “I love dick”.

Speaking of koy and hoy, apparently for the last month I have been saying “penis” every time I meant to say “I”  the difference is much more subtle than a k or an h sound, I think it has something to do with the tone.  I read in a book that even if you are using the correct word in Lao, if you get the tone wrong, people will have no idea what you’re talking about.I have had multiple experiences of this being true, and also of saying the exact same words over and over again, and having it mean different things, apparently.

This morning on the bus I was sitting, reading Proust and hating it, like I normally do, and I started hearing some strange noises coming from the seat next to me.  It sounded like there were birds in the bus.  But I didn’t see any, so I assumed I had imagined it. A few moments later, I looked over again, and saw the man next to me had put his backpack on his lap, opened it, and was feeding some baby birds that were inside it.  He carefully dropped little bits of food into their mouths as they put their heads back and opened up their beaks.  I couldn’t tell if it was insects of seeds or what, but it was amusing in a way I had never before experienced on a bus.  Except maybe the time I saw some girl fellate a man on the greyhound, but that was more horrifying.

This is why I love taking the bus.

Yesterday I ate bugs and frogs.  I will post pictures shortly.

central library website, etc.

I’ve been working on the NUOL Central Library’s website, and other things.

http://www.nuol.edu.la/temp4.jsp?id=1215&lc=en

Unfortunately, a content management system for the website has already been set up, and  is extremely limited.  Apparently all of the university departments had to agree on a basic format, and 4 basic categories, that I cannot change.  This makes it difficult to do very much with the website.

I created a subject guide for the resources in human trafficking at the library as well:

http://www.nuol.edu.la/files/web/humantraf.html

My plans are to also work on creating some citation guides; the students here have no idea how to cite, even the Master’s students.  Also, perhaps some more subject guides.  I don’t know if any of this is actually doing any good, considering it’s in English, but at least it’s making me feel useful.

I’m having a meeting tomorrow with the heads of the departments to hopefully define my role and tasks more clearly.  I can’t do much with regards to the information literacy project for right now since it is “summer” vacation and none of the students are on campus.

cooking school drop-outs

party in a bowl!
party in a bowl!

My pal Meg that I met at the 4th of July party was back in town for a few days and we had lots of fun wandering around town trying strange food.  One of my favorite is the “party-in-a-bowl”, shown above.  It’s basically coconut milk, mixed with sugar syrup, and then they can put in any variety of additional items, including these green worm-like jelly things that I like, but anything from corn, croutons, black beans, sticky rice, to cantaloupe, and a bunch of other stuff I couldn’t recognize can also be thrown in.  It’s pretty delicious.

I have also discovered that there is a dearth of Lao cooking classes in this city.  As far as I can tell, there is only one place that actually offers classes for foreigners, and we had signed up to attend on Saturday.  Firstly, they won’t do classes for individuals, it has to be two or more people, which is annoying.  When we arrived at the place, they gave us a list of 5 dishes, and we were told to pick 3 that we wanted to make.  The entire group had to come to a consensus on the dishes to be made, which was problematic as we had 1 vegetarian in our group, and another girl we didn’t know who had shown up to take the class.  The dishes we could choose from were: Chicken curry; Laap (Chicken, fish or pork salad); Spring Rolls; Papaya Salad; or “Lao Salad”.  We asked if we would be making our own curry paste, but they informed us we would be using pre-made paste they had bought.  That’s not very exciting.  We had already made Laap and Papaya salad, and Spring rolls (which are actually Vietnamese, not lao), are basically rice wrapper stuffed with lettuce and a few other things, there’s not really any “cooking” involved.  “Lao Salad” is basically just lettuce with mayonaise on it.  So, the class was a total bust, and instead we went to the riverside and watched some ladies make “fried sticky rice ball salad”.

I have discovered that the secret to all Lao cooking is adding copious amounts of MSG to everything.

So, if I do manage to find a quality cooking class, I will surely post about it.

When I have some time, I will also post some recipes for Fish Laap, Fried Sticky Rice Ball Salad, and Papaya Salad.

it’s been a rough week.

It’s actually hard to keep track of everything that’s happened.

Firstly, I had to call my bank about 20 times and fax them 3 or 4 different letters.  I think they have straightened things out.  I also had to coordinate with my mother how best for her to send me my new bank card.  It was $80 to send it FedEx, so we shall see if the Lao Postal Service actually pulls through and makes this delivery.

On Thursday evening, I went out to join a few people I met around town for a drink.  At point one during the evening, somebody knocked over a glass that fell to the ground and broke near my feet.  Suddenly my foot started bleeding profusely.  It was practically spurting blood all over the place.  The cut was actually very small but I guess the glass hit a vein or something.  Immediately everyone present mobilized and got me laying down on a bench with my foot up on a table and bandages and gauze and ice and towels and even a brandy.  Around this time, one of the guys told me that he was an Australian EMT and had been trained as an Army Medic, but, he wasn’t allowed to treat anybody, because the last person he had tried to help, ended up dying.  He tried to convince me it was unrelated – the guy fell off his bicycle, and the Australian guy fixed him up, and then an hour later, had a heart attack, and died en-route to the hospital in Thailand.  Finally the bleeding stopped, and my plan was to head home, however a cute Englishman convinced me otherwise.  We went to another bar, where, after about 5 minutes, my foot started bleeding again.  This time the trained EMT’s were not present, so I wrapped my foot in a bunch of napkins and then tried to leave.  I didn’t want to ride my bike home, but i didn’t want to leave it downtown. The guy responsible for knocking over the glass insisted I take a tuk-tuk and put the bike in it.  They asked me where I lived and I tried to explain but I don’t actually know the name of the street I live near, so they all assumed I had no idea where I lived.  So he put me, and bike, in a tuk-tuk, and said “Ok, if you get close to your house, will you know where it is ?” which was really frustrating because I said “I KNOW WHERE I LIVE.  Yes, I can tell the tuk-tuk driver how to get there. ”  Oh, and it was also pouring rain.

Anyway, the tuk-tuk driver is totally trying to rip me off and we stand in the street arguing about the price for like 10 minutes while my foot is bleeding and finally I just agree to the price he says and we go.  When we finally get to my house, the driver doesn’t have change for my 50,000 kip bill.  I offer him 8,000 kip.  The normal price to go to my house from downtown is 10,000 kip.  He is trying to charge me 20,000.  He only has 4 US dollars in his wallet.  I argue with him for another 10 minutes, at this point I am really frustrated because my foot is bleeding and it is raining and I am standing in a puddle.  Finally I give him the 50,000 kip and make him give me $3, which eventually I think worked out in my favour, but I’m not that good at math and I am still trying to figure that out.

Anyway, I went home, cleaned up my foot, which stopped bleeding, and went to bed.  And then I got up at 7 the next morning and went to work.

identity theft

Ok, some people have expressed their concerns over my possible identity theft.  To be honest, I am not all that concerned.  First of all, I am a really poor target for identity theft.  Any one who steals my identity also steals my $60,000 in student loans debt, and the fact that I have zero income right now.    So, assuming that I can get this $4,000 back from the bank, I’m not that worried.  Anyone trying to apply for loans or credit in my name is sure to get rejected.

I can’t even get credit myself unless I beg my mother for a loan that she “knows I’m good for”.  If however, that person wanted to start paying some of my student loans off, that would be great.  Maybe this is a non-chalant attitude, maybe there are things about identity theft I don’t know about.  Anyway, if anyone has suggestions for me, I would appreciate it.

why god, why !???!

OK, I’ve been having some bad luck lately.

Firstly, my house almost burned down.

The roof is on fire!
The roof is on fire!

Thursday was the beginning of Buddhist lent, so there were a lot of people burning candles and incense in their houses.  One of the caught on fire, and suddenly there was a huge raging fire that ended up completely burning down 5 hours on my street.  At 10 pm on Thursday night my landlord starts pounding on my door – “FIRE!!  grab your passport and get out!”.

AHHHHH!
AHHHHH!

  So, all ofthe people living in my area of the concesion grab our stuff and climb over a wall to safety, where we wait for about 3 hours, while finally some fire trucks arrive and eventually the fire is put out.  I will admit that it was quite frightening.

post-fire destruction
post-fire destruction

Then, yesterday I found out that some one has stolen my debit card information and bought $4,000 worth of computer equipment online.  So, I called my bank, and hopefully I can dispute the charges and everything will be taken care of.  But in the meantime, they canceled my debit card and are sending a new one to my mother’s house… and then she will have to Fed Ex it to me here.  So, I had planned on paying my fees for my Canadian Work Permit online this week using that debit card… and now I can’t.  I have to submit the visa application before August 27th so I am not sure what I will do.

All of the computers in this entire country have viruses on them, and I think they can steal your banking information by recording your key strokes or something.  I bought some books on Amazon last week and I bet that’s when the sleazy Nigerian guy I saw at the internet cafe got my information.  I hate to promote racial stereotypes… but we all know it’s true.

What else?  Of yeah!  I went to Thailand! 

I really went to Thailand
I really went to Thailand

The library director and his wife took me to Nong Khai, just on the other side of the Mekong, so I could renew my Lao Visa.  They wanted to go to the mall – and it was pretty unbelievable that just across the river it’s like you’re suddenly back in civilization… there is a Starbucks there, and Kentucky Fried Chicken, and a 7-11 !!??!!  Otherwise, it was basically exactly like Vientiane, except they drive on the other side of the road there.

The Thai-Lao Friendship
The Thai-Lao Friendship

I bought stuff to bake cookies at the Tesco – which turned out alright.  My make-shift oven is not really cutting it, and for pizzas or quiches I wil have to make some changes.  But it works for now.

Ok, The director of the library wants me to go have lunch with him now so I have to go.  Later today I am going to go register at the US Embassy.  I do have more stories to tell, I made some friends!  But I will save that for another post.