Sabaidee Vientiane

The eagle has landed.  In Laos, that is.

Apologies in advance for lack of photos.  I will start taking more soon!

It’s really surprising how different a place can become in 2 years.  What I have noticed so far:

  • A lot more cars on the road.  Big cars, many driven by women.  A lot of traffic.  It’s impossible to cross the road on foot.  No one walks anywhere.  The footpath is overtaken by parked vehicles and vendor’s stalls.  No one actually uses it for walking.
  • A lot of massive, huge, multi-storey buildings have sprung up all over town.  Most seem to be virtually empty.  They’ve started construction on a new university library building, with 4 levels!  It won’t be done until 2013 but it’s still exciting.
  • Prices have gone up. A lot.  For everything.
  • Internet access is much more widespread.  A lot of people have internet in their homes now.  A lot of restaurants, cafes, and bars have free wi-fi.  The University library still doesn’t, but they’re working on it!
  • Crime rates have gone up.  A lot.  While I haven’t personally experienced any crime since I got here 5 days ago, I have heard a lot of stories.  There are a lot more muggings, thefts, and motor-bike jackings happening.   People have told me this may be drug related crime.  They have also told me the police don’t seem to do anything about it, and maybe even run away if they see somebody attacked.  A Lao person actually told me they hate the government and the police, which would have been unheard of 2 years ago!
  • Literally dozens of expensive clothing shops have opened up.  I don’t know who has the money to buy clothes there but they are everywhere.
  • Lao people are getting fatter!  I see a lot of young people bigger than a size a zero.  A lot bigger!  My friend told me some of her students from more wealthy families are so fat they can’t fit in their chairs.
  • Brand new road and park along the Mekong river, complete with giant statue of the last Lao king.  No more river-front restaurants!
  • International businesses like Swensen’s & The Pizza Company are now operating in Vientiane.  I’m assuming KFC & McDonalds are also on their way.
  • New developments everywhere.  My very good friend’s family home and his family’s vegetable garden that they have farmed for over 20 years is now being razed and developed into river-front condominiums.  The government is moving all the residents 30 kms out of town and giving them a pittance for their homes and land, and they can’t do anything about it.

Overall I would say Laos seems to be having an economic boom.   In many ways this might be good for Laos, however, it does seem to be having a negative impact as well.   I’ve only been here a few days so it’s a bit too early to tell, but thing have definitely changed.  A lot.

One night in Bangkok

A cockroach watched me eat my dinner.  It was khao pat, from a stall in front of the Hua Lamphong railway station, at 10:30 pm on a Tuesday night.

I just arrived in Bangkok and several things about the city strike me as different from the last time I was here, now more than two years ago.

The city seems grubbier, on the whole.  Billboards bigger than ones I have ever seen line an ultra-modern 8-lane expressway.  Perhaps it’s only because my perceptions have changed.  The smell of sewage and human waste is something I associate with my time in sub-Saharan Africa; not Southeast Asia.  I don’t actually recall having seen a roach in the last 2 years, and while I struggled to recall if I had ever seen one in my house in Vientiane, I suddenly had a very vivid memory of finding one in my tea thermos, which I then summarily filled with several cups of bleach.

I have a very strong aversion to roaches.  Yet, unfortunately, I have had to learn not to shriek and run for cover when one comes into sight, against my natural inclinations.   But the roaches of Thailand and Laos are nothing compared to the ones covering the walls of the latrine I had to use during my in-country training in Comé, Benin.  But, I digress.

Lying here in this tiny room, I remember how awesome being in Southeast Asia is.  If only I were here simply for leisure.  My data gathering hangs over my head like an ominous cloud.

Ticker would hate everything about this place.  The heat, the humidity, the dirty plastic cup I took my fork out of to eat my rice prepared in a thoroughly unhygienic manner.   The water pressure of the shower which can only be compared to a flaccid drizzle.  The thin foam mattress, the audible footsteps outside.

But hey, I love it.  I feel right at home here, and it feels so good to be back.

Tomorrow I catch the train to Nong Khai, then a bus to Vientiane.  But first… shopping in Bangkok!  Hooray!

 

windy city?

More “severe” weather makes front page news..

http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/breaking/chi-comed-service-restored-to-517000-20110712,0,4966588.story

In one article they describe the “blitzkrieg” winds… at 75 miles an hour!  Roughly 120 kms per hour, less than what we get around here on a regular day!  While lots of people in Chicago are still without power.. ours never went out.  I don’t know how Wellington manages to keep all the services running and power flowing despite the wild weather!

it’s seriously windy here.

As a follow up form my previous post… check out the windiest cities in New Zealand yesterday:

If you look closely, you will see that we had 126 km per hour gusts of wind here in Wellington.  And that is normal.  Or at least, nothing so abnormal as to have caused any damage or been newsworthy in anyway.

On the other hand, a storm with 80 km per hour gusts causes a huge amount of damage and makes front page news in Montreal.

 

sweet treats for the long cold nights

It’s mid-winter here in New Zealand, and the best way to stave off the soul-crushing depression of a dark, dreary Wellington winter is by getting busy in the kitchen.  And by getting busy I mean baking, though of course, what you do in your kitchen is up to you!

I had been wanted to try baking both Afghans and Pumpkin muffins for sometime.

Afghans

I finally remembered to buy corn flakes at the supermarket, and spent a Friday night at home, making  these delicious chocolate treats. The basic recipe is shown below:

I followed Alexa Johnston’s recipe from “Ladies a Plate” and they turned out really tasty.  Throw everything except the cornflakes in a bowl and mix it a bit, then massage in the corn flakes.  I had to add some water as my mixture was too dry.  These don’t really change shape (expand or rise) during baking, so how they look on the baking sheet before baking is basically exactly how they will look when they come out of the oven.

Pumpkin Muffcakes

My second baking project was a batch of what I have dubbed “pumpkin muffcakes”.  Sounds appetizing, huh? After reading Cameron’s post about Pumpkin-bran muffins, I decided to adapt the following recipe:

From the Tin Goose Cafe Cookbook and made some amazing Pumkin muffins with a chocolate icing.

I following recipe instructions as above, however, I used the following  ingredients:

  • 2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 cup white flour
  • 3 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 2 tsp mixed spice
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup rice bran oil
  • 2 cups mashed pumpkin
  • 1/2 cup rolled oats
  • 3 tbs wheat bran
  • 3 tbs oat bran
  • 1/4 cup sunflower seeds
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

Since we didn’t have any dark chocolate, I instead made a chocolate icing similar to the Afghan’s icing recipe, however, I substituted about 1/2 cup of  tapioca starch for icing sugar because I found the Afghan icing to be way too sweet.

So, since they are muffins with a sweet icing, I figured they were like a cross between muffins and cupcakes… hence, muffcakes!  This recipe made about 18 bright orange muffcakes, plus enough left over to fill a very small bundt pant.

Just a warning – this photo is deceiving!  Yes, it looks sunny, and it was for about 20 minutes this morning, but it’s raining now and we have 75 km/hour gusts. It’s even supposed to thunder… something that has only happened once since I have been in New Zealand!