boring work-related post

Well, I guess I am settling into things here and getting used to the idea of living in Laos, now, after 3 months.  The reason I know this is because I feel like I don’t really have any exciting news to post about.

I am still working on the library website.  I created this list of academic electronic resources for the library.  I think it could actually be quite useful in any context, not just the National University of Laos.  I am working on trying to organize it better, and also to organize it by subject, and title of the resource, and possibly make it search-able.  Unfortunately, I just don’t have the computer technical skills at this point to do that sort of thing.

I have also been helping the director write a proposal to The Asia Foundation to purchase a electronic-gate for the library.  I thought that an electronic gate was a little unnecessary, in my experiences the Lao don’t seem like potential library-book thieves.  But, according to the director, and other people I have spoken to, this I am incorrect.  Since books are quite rare in Laos, and the library has a lot of unique materials, and materials from the USA and Thailand and other countries, people are very tempted to steal them.  The director also showed me some kind of list of “missing items” that were checked out and never returned, and we can’t get a hold of the borrowers.

So, for the time being, I am drafting a fax to send to 3M Thailand to solicit quotations for library detection systems.  They are surprisingly expensive.  Like $20,000 for the lowest-end model.  Damn!


It’s so cute I had to post it.

at the central library
at the central library

This guy is the youngest son of one of the ladies I work with.  We like to say that he is my brother, since we like to say that his mother is my mother.  Don’t try to steal any books from the library – or you will have to answer to him.

my encounters with the lao police

I haven’t actually had any run-in’s with the law here (except one when a police man told me not to ride my bike the wrong way down a one way street), but I did have two funny experiences Sunday night.

As I was on my way to meet a friend, I biked past the Lao Bank for Exterior Commerce.  There was a police man standing outside, who said “Sabadee!” as I approached.  I responded “Sabadee!”, and then he called out “Boom boom ? ” as I went by.  “Boom boom” is the universal South-East Asian term for “Wanna do it?”.

I said “Bow kop chai” and kept on going.

A few hours later, as I was on my way home, around 9 pm, I approached a 3-way intersection where the light had just turned red.  There were two police officers sitting on motorcycles on one corner of the intersection.  A large SUV approached, slowed down a little, and then just drove straight through the red light.  The police officers did not even bother to get up, move, or look at the SUV.

Maybe I don’t understand the traffic rules and regulations of Vientiane, but that seemed strange to me.

I was reading an article in the New Yorker today about police departments in the US using “non-lethal weapons” to try to avoid crisis.  The article was interesting because I realized that subconsciously, as I read the article, I started to believe that the police were the good guys, and who ever they were using these weapons against were obviously the bad guys.  I wanted the police to win in any of these encounters with criminals as I read this article.

Somehow, perhaps due to the intensive training in critical thinking I have subjected my brain to over the years, I had a realization whilst reading this article.  The author documented several different types of non-lethal weapons that are all extremely painful in most cases, but probably won’t kill you. The idea that the author was suggesting that these weapons were perfectly safe in the hands of policemen all over the country was a subtle one that I only perceived when I realized how frightening some of these weapons sounded.  As a rule, I don’t trust cops, and I certainly wouldn’t trust my safely at their hands with any of the devices mentioned in the article.  It brought to my mind the incident in Vancouver, where a Polish man was tased to death at the airport when he became disorientated and agitated.

Anyway, enough disturbing thoughts about law enforcement and that “thin blue line” we like to imagine separates us from total chaos and anarchy.  I should write more about sandwiches and wats.

more photographs

A picture is worth 1,000 words, right?

From Thailand, and Laos.

choreorgraphed dancing at the mall in udon thani
choreographed dancing at the mall in udon thani

This one is also from Thailand:

at the bus station in maha sarakham
at the bus station in maha sarakham

And a few from Vientiane:

my bus station sandwich man...
my bus station sandwich man...

He told me he loved me… (Koi Hak Chau!)

back from thailand

I have to say, I was happy to get back to Vientiane last night.  Even though ethnically and culturally Isan (North Eastern Thailand) is very similar to Laos, I really felt like I was coming “home” when I crossed the Friendship Bridge last night.

Here is a map showing the geography of the places I am talking about:

I had such a wonderful time in Thailand!  The meeting was very interesting and I was able to network and “liaise” with a lot of librarians from South East Asia.

I’ve uploaded some pictures from the conference here.

It was quite a wonderful and amazing experience.

Staying with Dr. Surithong was great!  She and her husband are so nice!  Now I have a Thai family too!  I’m sending her the link to this blog so I have to say great things about her – but I mean it!  I hope have the chance to come back and visit again soon.  Maha Sarakham is a really nice town.  I visited the Sirindhorn Isan Infommation Centre, part of the library that Dr. Surthong is the director of, and learned a lot about Northeastern Thailand.  I also visited the Medicinal Mushroom Museum of Maha Sarakham University, and learned about the 2,000 differnt varieties of mushrooms found in NE Thailand.

phouvieng, surithong, and me!
phouvieng, surithong, and me!

On Saturday I went with Salvacion Arlante, the head of the Philippine University Libraries, to visit the “Isan Jurassic Park”, a really awesome dinosaur museum in NE Thailand, near Kalasin.  It blew my mind how great this museum was.  It was located on the site of a hill where archeologists had found the complete skeletons of 3 large dinosaurs from the cenozoic era or something.

The director of the Philipine University Libraries also suggested I submit a paper for the CONSAL conference in March in Hanoi:

Call for papers

From 20-23 April 2009, the National Library of Vietnam in cooperation with the Library Department and Vietnamese Library Association will be hosting the XIV Congress of Southeast Asian Librarians (CONSAL XIV) at the Melia Hanoi Hotel, Hanoi, Vietnam. The theme of the conference is



Which I plan to do, and then hopefully can get invited to Vietnam in March!

I also met the president of the Thai Library Association, who suggested possibly arranging a workshop for the members of the association in Information Literacy in Bangkok, with myself as the invited resource person.

So, I met a lot of wonderful people, saw a lot of amazing things, ate a lot of delicious food, and learned a lot of interesting things.  Which I think overall makes a trip very nice, huh?

jenny jirka for veep

I am still in Thailand, and will be offering a full report shortly!  But before I get into the details of the Isan Jurassic Park, Ifirst have to offer some lame politicized-self-aggrandizing-commentary like any respectable blogger.

Yesterday, I received two e-mails regarding Sarah Palin, the US Republican Candidate for Vice-President.  One, forwarded from my mom, said the following about Palin:

“Palin is a straight shooting, hard charging, get it done gal. She knows when to listen, how to analyze the facts and how to make a decision, then implement the plan. She doesn’t do a poll before jumping in with both feet like too many of the Washington types. She has little legislative experience because she has always held the EXECUTIVE position; in private life, as mayor of Anchorage ‘s largest bedroom community or more recently as Governor of our State. She is a smart, attractive home grown Alaska girl with excellent moral and family values. She can see what needs to be done and does not hesitate to get it done.”

Another, forwarded from Mandy Speer, painted quite a different portrait of Ms. Palin:

“Perhaps like us, as American women, you share the fear of what Ms. Palin and her professed beliefs and proven record could lead to for ourselves and for our present or future daughters. To date, she is against sex education, birth control, the pro-choice platform, environmental protection, alternative energy development, freedom of speech (as mayor she wanted to ban books and attempted to fire the librarian who stood against her), gun control, the separation of church and state, and polar bears. To say nothing of her complete lack of real preparation to become the second-most-powerful person on the planet.”

Anyway, I’m sure you can guess which opinion I probably find more likely.  However, I just wanted to say that I really appreciated the ALA(American Library Association)’s timely response to the issue:

Critics Revisit Library Incident that Paints Palin as Censor

June Pinnell-Stephens, chair of the Intellectual Freedom Committee of the Alaska Library Association, was quoted in the September 4 Daily News as saying she had no record of any books being censored in the Wasilla library nor any conversations about the issue with Emmons, who was president of the association at the time. But she did recall that Palin “essentially forced Mary Ellen out. She all but fired her.” Other librarians began criticizing Palin on the “Librarians Against Palin” blog, which was formed after the 1996 story resurfaced. Discussion also erupted on the electronic discussion list of the American Library Association’s governing Council and quickly turned into the kind of political debate that ALA’s 501(c)3 tax-exempt status prohibits. After the ALA executive office cried foul, the discussion was moved to the electronic list of the ALA–Allied Professional Association, whose 501(c)6 tax status permits arguing for or against a candidate for elective office. …

Thank you, ALA, for giving us the important library news we need!

Since it seems like you need hardly any credentials these days to be nominated for Vice President of the US (though I wouldn’t agree with the claim that it’s the “2nd most powerful person in the world”), I just want to say I am now endorsing Jenny Jirka for Vice President.

conference in thailand

Well, I am writing this from Maha Sarakham’s Academic Resource Centre’s Director’s Daughter’s bedroom.  Does that make sense?  Don’t worry, the daughter isn’t here, she’s in Chicago, of all places.  But her parents have WIRELESS INTERNET AT HOME.  This is really exciting for me.

I was invited to attend the following conference with the director of the Central Library:

“Local Information Network: Local Wisdom as Power to Social and Economic Development”

You can read my paper there if you click on this year’s meeting link.

I originally expected to be attending this meeting simply as an observer.  On Monday, I received an e-mail from the Thai Director asking me if I would like to submit a short paper about “Cultural Heritage Materials” from my home country.  I quickly wrote something up about the Notman Photographic Archive that I worked with at the McCord Museum in Montreal, and sent it by e-mail.

I guess they really liked it.  On Monday evening, I recieved a response inviting me to be one of the presenters at the conference, which would include an honorarium.  So, I had about 1 day to turn my 3 page paper into an hour-long presentation.  The title turned into something like:

“Digitization as a Preservation Strategy for Local Information Resources and Heritage Materials: A Case study of the Notman Photographic Archive at the McCord Museum in Montreal, Canada”.

The director of UCL and I took the bus from Talat Sao (near my house in Vientiane) to Kohn Kaen today at 2 pm.

Right as the bus left, sitting next to Mr. Chansy, he said to me “You know, I often get sick in the car”.

And I said “How do you feel?”

And he said “Not so good.”

And I said “What did you have for lunch?”

And he said “Fish.”

And I said “Fermented fish paste and insects?”

And he said “No, Fish Laap.”

And I suddenly imagined myself covered in the director’s fish laap vomit.  And then I told him to look straight ahead and turn the air vent full blast on him.

Anyway, there were no fish-laap vomit incidents, I fell asleep, and woke myself up snoring when we arrived tin Kohn Kaen around 6pm.  Some guy picked us up at the bus station and drove us another hour to Maha Sarakham, where we met the Thai director and her husband for dinner.  Dinner was delicious, Dr. Surithong and her husband are lovely!

Then we dropped Mr. Chansy off at the hotel, and came back to her house to sleep.  Now I am comfortably using the internet in my pyjamas.

hot for teacher

I started teaching English at “ACL” or “Australian Centre for Language” last week.  I have a level 3 class for 6 hours a week.  It pays $11 an hour.  Not a bad gig over all, the students are motsly all girls between the ages of 13 and 20.  If I were a 40 year old man I would be in heaven.

They’re all pretty cute and sweet, even though some of them don’t put very much effort into class.  I’m not a very god disciplinarian, so hopefully they will learn something even if I can’t force them to work hard.

All of the students have nick names that are generally easier to pronounce than their Lao names.  They all laugh at me when I say their names wrong.  AT first I thought maybe I was saying some kind of dirty word, but they told me it wasn’t a bad word, they just think I’m funny.  This is probably a lie, I am probably saying “dog testicles” or something.  The Lao sometimes have a cruel and vulgar sense of humor.

Anyway, it’s ok for me, one of my students’ nicknames is “Titty”.

I haven’t yet had the heart to tell her that it’s not a very polite word in English.  I also have a hard time not laughing everytime I call on her.

My students have a hard time remembering to pronounce the ends of words, so Miss Nicole usually ends up “Miss Nico”.  I don’t mind his at all, and in fact kind of like it.  I wonder if I can get them to start calling me “Miss Nico Sauve”, “Miss Peurto Nico”, or even “Miss Lil’ Nast”

I also have this on-going joke with my students about how I am the most beautiful teacher in Laos.  First they asked me what my Lao nickname was and I said “Nyam Lae” (very beautiful).  Then, when I was teaching them articles and how you must use the definite article (the) with a superlative, ie: the most beautiful teacher, because there can only be one (me), we use “the”.  They think it’s funny and I also enjoy this little inside joke we have.