picures from CONSAL, halong bay

Sorry sorry sorry!  Still working on my workshop presentations.. so I don’t have time to write much.  But I did upload my pictures from the conference, and our visit to Halong Bay.

I have some comments about the whole experience, of course, but no time to write them now!


Hey mom!  Your baby girl is an international superstar librarian now!!
Hey mom! Your baby girl is an international superstar librarian now!!

Sokdee Pii Mai!

Hey!  It’s almost Pi Mai Lao – Lao New Year.  That means it’s time for everyone to set their calendars from the year 2551 to 2552.

I have been very busy.  Some things I have been up to:  I went and visited the Vientiane International School Library.  The Vientiane International School is the best (and most expensive – $11,000 a year) primary and secondary school in Laos.  All of the teachers are foreigners.  The library has a yearly acquisitions budget of $16,000 a year. The entire school has about 300 students.

On the other hand, the Central Library serves about 25,000 students at the National University of Laos, and do you know what our acquisitions budget is?


It was strange to be in such a well equipped library for the first time in nearly a year.  One that actually had materials that weren’t just donations.  And it’s just for kids!!

Anyway, it completely slipped my mind that I should have taken some pictures, so I didn’t.  But I feel like a learned a really valuable lesson from visiting VIS.  I never want to work in an “international school”.  I think it’s total BS that all the rich people send their kids to these expensive private schools with excellent teachers and excellent materials, and that the poor kids don’t get anything but the relaly low quality public school education.  Teachers in public schools make less than $75 a month.  Even though it’s probably a great job, and well paid, being a teacher or librarian at a really nice international school, I could never do it.  It’s not fair.

Today I went and had lunch at Mrs. Bounsalong’s home with Mr. Somephone, Mrs. Mai, and Mrs. Phaiwaddy.  It was fun.  I hadn’t eaten very much, and I got up to wash my hands, and Mr. Somephone said “Nicole!  You have to eat more, or Mrs. Bounsalong will cry!”.  And then Mrs. Bounsalong said “Why didn’t you eat very much?  You have to eat more!  I am very angry!”  So I made a huge show of refilling my plate with second helpings of everything and then asking Mrs Bounsalong “Sep Lai!!” (delicious)

Last night I went to a Lao aerobics class… and I think the instructor was a ladyboy.  It was really funny.  First we jumped around really intensely for about 30 minutes, then we did about 30 minutes of stretching and sit ups and stuff.  The weights they supplied us with were actually just full bottles of dirty water; but they worked! The funniest part, besides the crazy instructor who would just kind of scream out this high pitched “Hai!” ever few minutes to let us know some kind of change was coming to our exercise, was the music.  There was a techno remix of “Auld Lang Xane” or whatever the song is they play at midnight on New Years, and a techno remix of “The Wind Beneath My Wings”, among other awesome jams.

Anyway, today my entire body hurts.

I also went and got my Vietnamese visa for my trip to Hanoi and Can Tho, and submitted my powerpoint presentation.  I’m still preparing my presentation for Can Tho, but I have a few more days.  I also had to grade all of my students’ exams and submit the grades to the school, not that it matters.  Even if they get every question wrong, they will still pass to the next class.  It’s more a business than a school, really.  A business of getting people certificates that say “I passed all 6 levels of English at the Australian Centre for Language” as quickly as possible.

Time to prepare my lesson for teaching tomorrow!  And work on my presentation for Can Tho!  And help my colleague write her Master’s thesis!  And help the library director type some e-mails!  And go to the post office and send some letters!  And go teach from 5pm to 7 pm!  And go eat dinner at my friend’s house!  And then maybe go home and relax for a minute.

memories… on the corner of my mind or something

Wow.  I was going back through my old “diary” that I kept while I was in Benin and I was reminded of so many things that seem so totally archaic and unbelievable to me know.

For example – since there were no telephone or internet in my village, but i did have electricity and my ibook, I would type up e-mails and then save them to a FLOPPY DISK (this was in the pre-usb drive days), and then go to Lokossa or Cotonou to send the e-mails. However in reading the diary I come across a lot of “my floppy disk is broken again, so I lost everything I had saved…”.  This was probably due to the crappy magnetic nature of the disks, as well as the heat and dust and etc, and the going from a mac to pc type stuff.

Another surprising difference – I didn’t have a digital camera.  Since I hadn’t assumed I would have electricity or a computer, I didn’t bring a digital camera, so I only have the developed prints of pictures I took during that time, which I never had time to scan or put on my computer.  I didn’t get a digital camera until about 3/4 through my service, when I visited home.  Then I made up for it by taking pictures of EVERYTHING, and posting them all online.

There are a million other differences, of course.  I had so much free time back then, my typical day involved spending 4 or 5 hours cooking, and 3 or 4 hours reading, randomly going on long bike rides, walking around with my dog, sitting by the river and looking at it for hours, doing corssword puzzles, playing scrabble.

I wish I had the time to play scrabble now.  I actually brought my scrabble board with me to Laos, and a clarinet, thinking it would be like Benin, and I would have free time to play.  That is totally the opposite of the real situation.  I am working about 50 hours a week, and sometime spending 1 or 2 hours a day commuting.  I don’t really mind the bus to Dong Dok, it’s actually the only free time I get to read.

Anyway, I suppose also living in the capital I also do a great deal more socializing.  I could be at home, practising my clarinet, but I could also be out, drinking Beerlao with my pals.

Anyway, I’m feeling nostalgic.  Not only for the time I spent in Benin, but the time I spent in Chicago, the time I spent in France, the time I spent in Montreal.  It’s strange how I put so much effort into creating friendships and significant links to places, only to leave.  But the more I think about it, the more I think Wellington is where I want to go!  Don’t get me wrong, I love Laos, I love Chicago, I love Montreal, I love San Francisco, I love France, etc etc etc.  But I think I’m getting ready to move onto something new, Lao is pretty comfortable for me now, and I hate the winter in Montreal, and I’m over the Chicago scene.  So… please keep your fingers crossed for me that everything works out.  And then, if it does, you’re welcome to come visit me in New Zealand anytime.