elephants killed near vientiane

I don’t know if this will be legible, but I scanned this article from the Vientiane Times:



This is kind of distrubing news.  I used a copy of this article in my student’s exam, and asked them to write about why it’s important to protect animals in Laos.  I got a variety of responses, some of which I didn’t understand at all.  But I’m slowly trying to push my radical environmentalist agenda on my poor unsuspecting upper class child of wealthy bussinessmen students.


Ok I thought I would post about my musical listening tastes these days.

Young Lao people tend to enjoy a particular style of music I would classify as “Thai Pop”, even though there are a lot of Lao bands making this style music.   The majority of what you hear on the radio is this kind of lo-fi, keyboardy, synthesizery pop music with some kind of slightly grating vocal arrangement.  However, some young people also like American hip-hop (“Flo-rida” is a big hit, as is “Get Low”, and of course “White and Nerdy” by Weird Al); Sean Kingston is huge here (“Beautiful Girls”), and he even had a concert in Vientiane in February sponsored by Tigo.

A part from that, older people tend to like what people have told me is “Country Music”.  It sounds almost exactly the same (to me) as pop music, only slower, and more low-fi, and the vocals more irritatingly high pitched and grating.  There are lots of music videos involving people doing Lao Lamvong in rice paddies, or the other day I saw a funny one involving a guy dancing on th keyboard of a giant laptop in very early 1990’s style graphics.

Traditional Lao music is actually quite nice.  It usually involves a collection of instruments whose names I cannot reproduce right now, but I can describe and show a picture of.


There is also a really popular Lao instrument unfortunately I don’t have a picture of that is a polyphonic flute.  It’s really interesting and has a very nice sound.

Besides these typs of music, I have been listening to a lot of great stuff thanks to my lovely pals Alana and Amanda who came to visit me and brought me music from the outside world!  Among my new favorite hits are Vampire Weekend, Fleet Foxes, Crystal Castles, Animal Collective, Girl Talk, and some other kind of clichéd hipster stuff that isn’t that interesting.  I’ve also really been appreciating Miriam Makeba and Odetta lately, as well as re-discovering my love for Brian Eno and Django.  That’s esentially whats on my playlist these days, however I have also been making some new discoveries thanks to Jenny suggesting I give “All Songs Considered” a listen.  Hence I have discovered Laura Gibson, The Antlers, and some actually good music by Buck 65.

Anyway, back to desperately searching for a job when I get bck to the USA.

Strange weather in Lao… signs of global climate change?

So, it’s March in Lao, which should be the middle of the dry season. But it’s raining right now. And I didn’t bring my umbrella to the library!

Even my Lao colleagues are all puzzled by this strange weather, and everybody is sick.  Nearly all the library staff have some kind of cold, and I have been slowly recovering from a really terrible sinus infection that gave me a 39 C fever last week.  I took advantage of an excuse to relax a bit and spent a few days at home in bed watching pirated DVD’s, among which I have to say “Twilight” is my favorite.  Normally I’m not a fan of teenage sci-fi romance novels, but I read this article in the New Yorker which inspired me to see the movie, especially after I learned the author of the series is a Mormon… for some reason I’m obsessed with unusual religious groups.  Or just religious groups in general?  maybe because I had such a secular upbringing, with a few dashes of fanatisism (uhh.. Jehovah’s Witnesses?  Sukyo Mahikari or however you spell it?  My mom was involved with both these groups.)

Anyway, strange weather aside, things are lovely here in Laos.  On my way home from work yesterday I stopped to get some food, and the Korean man at the restaurant turned the TV to BBC news for me.  Watching the advertisements for the various programmes they would be showing later in the evening almost made me wish for a TV… but then I thought better.  Anyway, on the BBC they were discussing how some British scientists estimate that within the next 10 years we will reach a global critical mass of population versus food and energy resources… meaning total chaos or the end of the world as we know it?  This worry, combined with the fact that I am going back to the USA in a few months to a lack of any type of job or income and a potential long-term reisdence in my mother’s house has given way to insomnia, and a general feeling of dread and anxiety about the future.  But everything will be ok, because i know Universe is watching out for me.

Peace Corps Benin Volunteer Murdered?

Whoa… I just read this:


“Today the Peace Corps identified the victim of this week’s tragedy in west Africa as 24-year-old Catherine “Kate” Puzey of Cumming, Ga.

Puzey was found dead outside her home Thursday in a small village in the western African nation of Benin. There is still official no word on the circumstances of her death, though officials say it appears she had been murdered.

Puzey had been a Peace Corps volunteer in Benin since July 17, 2007, almost two years ago. She was an English teacher in the small village of Badjoude, about six hours north of Benin’s capital by car. A memorial for her will be held in the capital city of Conotou on Monday.

“Kate was an exemplary member of the Peace Corps family whose dedicated work as a secondary English teacher in a rural public school in Badjoude, Benin, contributed greatly to the lives of the Beninese citizens. Kate’s life and work spoke volumes about the kind of dedication she had to her service as a Volunteer, and the U.S. Peace Corps is greatly saddened by her loss. Our condolences go out to her family and loved ones at this time,” Peace Corps Acting Director Jody K. Olsen said in a statement.”

It’s really shocking and disturbing.  How terrible.  It’s so hard to imagine something like that happening in Benin.  It’s such a peaceful and welcoming country.  What happened !??!  This is such sad news.  Having lived in Athiémé for over 2 years it’s almost unbeleivable to me that something like this could happen in Benin.  I’m anxiously expecting more details.

happy international women’s day!

International Women’s Day, March 8th, is a big holiday here in Laos. It’s one of my favorite holidays as well, and I don’t know why it’s barely even mentioned in the USA.

Firstly, all throughout the week women are encouraged to take time off work to see a doctor for a yearly health check-up. This year March 8th fell on a Sunday. My week at work proceeded like this: On Wednesday the library staff did some “spring cleaning” of the offices, after which we made papaya salad, and drank some BeerLao in the afternoon to celebrate Women’s day. On Thursday, the deputy director, since the director is in Japan right now, presided over a ceremony where he talked (in Lao) for a long time, I think about women? Then, one of the women (Mrs. Viengxay) gave a little speech on behalf of the women. Then, the women were present with a basket of roses, from the deputy director. We drank Green Pepsi (not very delicious) that Mr. Somephone had bought and celebrated Women’s Day. The library staff is made up of almost entirely women, out of about 30 staff we have only 7 men. Of course, the top 4 positions are all held by men. Anyway, after our party on Thursday, the library closed for the weekend and almost everybody went home.

Mrs. Bounsalong and our Women's Day Whiteboard
Mrs. Bounsalong and our Women's Day Whiteboard

On Friday there was to be a university-wide Women’s Day celebration, which included a kind of expo/fair type event, with different departments of the university preparing different types of food or crafts, and selling them at tables in one of the large meeting rooms in the rector’s building. Following the expo/fair there was another big speech or whatever by the university president, which I didn’t stick around for. After lunch, they organized a football game among some of the women university staff in the stadium. One of the ladies I work with in the library played in the game, but I actually didn’t stick around to watch it because it was about 40 C and I was already tired from all this Women’s Day stuff.

Mrs. Sypha and Mrs. Viengvongxay et al. at the library's women's day booth
Mrs. Sypha and Mrs. Viengvongxay et al. at the library's women's day booth

Saturday passed quietly, and then on Sunday at 11:30 I had Luck calling me “Come to my house!!! My mum wants to see you!! We are having Women’s Day Party!”. I made a pineapple upside-down cake and brought it over around 1pm, everyone was drunk already. We drank BeerLao and toasted Women’s Day repeatedly.

I drank too much, and when my friend Nang arrived with her 2 children, I picked them up and spun them around, almost dropping her son on his head on the concrete pavement. Then Luck told me “uhh.. Nicole I don’t think you should play with the kids anymore.”.  Being around Luck’s family makes me feel a little homesick, his mum reminds me a lot of my mum, and I have been feeling like I miss her a lot lately. His mom loves to dance and have a good time, which actually, nevermind, is nothing like my mum. My mum is totally crotchedly old woman now. When I came back home later that evening, my landlords were also having their own party, which involved drinking more BeerLao and more toasting Women. I thought it was a good occasion to light some of the fireworks I had lying around my house since the last Buddhist festival, with my neighbor, while drunkenly yelling “Sokdee Wan Mai Nging Sa Kon!” (Happy International Women’s Day!) All offices and schools were closed on Monday in honor of Women’s Day. I spent most of the day in my house trying to recover from the previous day, and when I tried to leave my house to get something to eat around 2:00, I was accosted by the woman who owns the printing shop at the end of my street – she wouldn’t let me leave without drinking more BeerLao. But they also gave me food, so I ended up spending nearly all afternoon there, eating and drinking with my neighbors. The owner of the print shop said that she had told her staff that if they could stay and drink, they would get a raise, but anyone who went home early wouldn’t get one. The staff, and the owners, were out-of-control drunk. The afternoon culminated in another neighbor of mine, clad only in a mesh singlet and bike shorts, mounting two chairs and spraying everyone with a hose until we were all soaking wet. Then he stuck the hose down his shorts and dance around. The owner of the print shop kept bringing out more and more random foods, and at one point, stuck something resembling a hot dog in my mouth and then began to eat the other end. She also either climbed on the backs of most of the people present, or picked them up and carried them around, surprising for a woman who probably weighs about 50 kgs. At one point she actually tried to pick me up, but I was afraid she might hurt herself and refused to allow this. You can see pictures here:


So, that is how International Women’s Day is celebrated here in Laos.