travel plans, etc.

This week seems like it’s dragging on in agony.  I received some bad news today – my application for a Canadian work permit was rejected because it was 3 weeks late.  I tried to contest the rejection on the grounds that I couldn’t have submitted the application any sooner as I was the victim of credit card fraud and could not pay the application fee until I had received my new debit card.  Canada basically told me to go f*%& myself, and won’t even refund me the $150 I threw down for the application fee.


I spent a lot of this week running around to the Vietnamese embassy, and the Cambodian embassy, getting things prepared for my upcoming trip to Ho Chi Minh City, Phenom Penh, and Siem Reap.  I am looking forward to having a few days off to see a bit of Asia and relax.  I might actually even get to visit a beach.

I am looking forward to seeing HCMC – mostly because of all of the literary references to Saigon I am familiar with.  My favorites of course are “The Quiet American” by Graham Greene, and “L’Amant” (The Lover), by Marguerite Duras.

With regards to Cambodia, I don’t really know what to expect, though I have heard Angkor Wat is awe-inspiring.

I don’t plan on spending much time in Vietnam – I will probably be returning there in April for the Consortium of Asian Librarians, at which time I hope to get to visit Halong Bay and other interesting sites.

Things are pretty quiet in Vientiane… my term at school has almost finished and next week is the last week of classes.  I am looking forward to a break from teaching.  I hope to use the time to make some conceptual art to decorate my walls with; my apartment is really spartan looking.  I want to try and make a portrait of Martin Luther King Jr. out of 500 kip notes.

This week I also went to the Vientiane Swimming pool twice – I feel very happy to be getting back into the habit of swimming.  I’m trying to go every Tuesday and Thursday morning.  We’ll see how long that lasts….

cooking lessons with mee

This Sunday I went over to a friend of mine named Mee’s house for cooking lessons.

We made Tom Yum and Pad Kha Pao Pa – delicious.

achan mee
achan mee with tamarind paste

Here is how to make Pad Kha Pao Pa:

pounding the chilis and garlic
pounding the chilis and garlic


take 3-4 red thai chilis

2 cloves of garlic

1 tsp msg

1 tsp salt

1 tbs sugar

and crush together in a mortar and pestle (or food processor).

don't forget the fish sauce!
don't forget the fish sauce!

Add the juice of 1 lime, and 3 tbs of fish sauce.

Use this to pour over the fish when done.


In a bowl, marinate about 1 lb of fish cut into medium sized pieces in:

i prefer not to eat the fish heads.
i prefer not to eat the fish heads.

1 tbs oyster sauce

1 tsp msg

2 tbs fish sauce

for 10 minutes.

Heat about 1/2 cup of oil in a wok.  Once the oil is hot, add the fish and fry until golden brown, flipping once.

Remove the fish from the oil.

Throw in some fresh herbs and deep fry for a minute.  The herb Mee used was something between sweet basil and cilantro – I don’t think it exists outside of Asia.  But try whatever you can get your hands on – it will be delicious, I am sure.

And finally, you have a delicious meal:

pad kha pao pa
pad kha pao pa

If you’re interested in other Lao or Thai recipes, drop me a line, and I might already know how to make it.  If not, I can ask for another cooking class!  At some point in the future I planto post recipes for Tofu (or fish) Laap, and maybe sticky rice ball salad.

mmm… insects

I had yet another opportunity to dine on some delectable insects.  I think this time is was grasshoppers and beetles?

angie and a grasshopper
angie and a grasshopper

I have a secret confession to make – I did not actually eat this bug.  Angie did eat quite a few grasshoppers, and while taking this picture, I think the beetle actually touched my toungue for a split second, but I could not bring myself to bite into it.


The Lao word for “five” is “ha”, so in text messages people write “555!” – “ha ha ha!”

The other day I went to pour some hot water into my tea thermos and a roach jumped out at me.  After I killed it and the panic attack was over, I decided to wash out the thermos as best as I could, but I knew just soap and water would not do the trick.  I had to disinfect that thing.

So I went to the corner shop to try to buy some bleach.

I have no idea how to say “Bleach” in Lao.

The corner store I usually go to is owned by a lady who does not speak any English.  It is about 10 feet x 10 feet and arranged in no particular order.  Some of the items I generally buy from her include: laundry soap, eggs, dish soap, nail polish remover, cooking oil, Beerlao, phone cards, and toilet paper.

I knew that bleach is not such a strange obscure thing and that she would probably have it.  So, I spent a few minutes looking around, and she noticed I hadn’t found what I wanted.  I was looking in the dish soap/bathroom cleaner area, thinking that would be the most obvious place to find bleach.  But there was none.  She picked up a bottle of window cleaner and held it out to me.  “Baw….” (no) I said.  She said “Hongnam?” (Bathroom), and I said “Yeah!  Something to clean the bathroom!” and she held out another bottle of cleaner… that still was not bleach.  Again, I said “No.”

She thought for a minute, and then bent over, and rummaged around in the back of the bottom shelf for a few minutes. Then, finally, after what seemed like ages, produced a huge bottle of fish sauce with a huge flourish.  “This must be what you’re looking for!” was her obvious thought.

There are bottles of fish sauce everywhere you turn your head in this country.  At the Tesco in Nong Khai they actually have an entire aisle dedicated solely to fish sauce.

If I wanted fish sauce I could have easily said “Nam pa”, or even pointed to one of the 50 other bottles in plain sight in the shop.

“No.”  I said again.  Finally I decided to try French.  “Eau de javel?”

It was the “aha!” moment, she finally understood what I was looking for. In the most logical place for a bottle of bleach, somewhere between the mayonnaise and the warm pepsi, she pulled out a blue bottle written entirely in Thai, and said “eau de javel.”

The communication barrier is slowly getting easier to handle.

boat racing festival

It’s the end of Buddhist Lent!  That means a huge party in the streets of Vientiane.

In preparation for the Boat Racing Festival, the street along the Mekong has been filled with stalls and a carnival for weeks.  The music has been blaring non-stop, the traffic is unmanageable, and there are people everywhere.

On Tuesday night, all of Vientiane gathered along the banks of the Mekong to put “Koutung” into the river; a small boat made of banana leaves and flowers, with a candle.  The idea is that you light the candle, say a prayer or make a wish, and then let your little boat float out into the Mekong and down the river, and then your wish will come true.  There are also fireworks and lots of other exciting things to do during this time, and everyone, everywhere, was drunk, for days.

The following day rowing teams from across the province came to Vientiane to compete in a Boat racing festival.  Here are some pictures:

me with my banana boat
me with my banana boat
I won’t tell you what my wish was.
Tuesday was also an exciting day for me because not only did I get to climb down the muddy sides of the Mekong to float a banana boat down it (which promptly got stuck in some tall grasses and then the candle went out…), but earlier in the day, at the library, we had a little celebration, and dined on DOG MEAT!
Yes, that’s right, I finally ate dog.  And it wasn’t that bad. The funniest thing was that the Lao all pretend they don’t eat dog, and I went around asking the ladies “Gin ma bow?” (want to eat dog?”), and Mr. Chansy, and Mr. Somephone, would say “Shhhh!! Don’t sayit out loud!”, as if they were ashamed that people would know the Lao eat dog.  But then, when we brought out the dog, everybody was like “Sep lae!”  (very delicious!). Quite a few people even pretended they had never eaten dog before… and would say “oh…. I can’t eat dog.  But I heard it was the most delicious meat.”  and Mr Chansy kept telling me “You know, in Korea, and Vietnam, they like to eat dog.  But not in Lao.”
Anyway, the moral of the story is, almost everybody eats dog here, or has at least once in their life, but they probably won’t admit it.
Ok, so more pictures form the Boat Racing Festival and Night of the Candles:
Bumper Cars!