pusao lao

In Laos, when you go to someone’s home or workplace, they will usually have large portraits of them selves decorating the walls.  These portraits are taken in numerous photo studios found throughout the city, and cater to people getting married who want to do wedding photos, and women who like to get dressed up and have photos taken of themselves.  Once I walked into a massage shop and on the wall in front of me was a series of 5 portraits around the 11 x 17″ size, framed, of what I assume was the owner of the shop, each portrait in a different outfit and a different pose.  This is apparently considered tasteful decorating in Laos.

After realising that the photo studios actually provide all the clothing and accessories for a portrait, and also do your hair and make-up, I decided it would be a great momento of my time in Laos to go and get a traditional Lao portrait done.

So, here are the results.  Please note that the portrait studio took it upon themselves to air-brush my face to the point where it doesn’t even look like me.

It was really quite a funny experience.  In particular, the application of my make-up and styling of my hair was incredibly bizarre.  I have no idea what products were used on me, and false eyelashes were glued to my eyelids and my hair was teased to an unbelievable height.  Then, a black cone of false hair was placed on my head, which did not look like it could have possibly been part of my actual hair.  However, when they put all the jewellery on it, it was less noticeably incongruous.  The shoes…are also possibly the funniest footwear I have ever had on my feet.  And the poses I was instructed to take… the whole experience, as I said, very funny.  Despite the humour of the situation, I tried very hard to maintain a straight face, as Lao people tend not to smile in their portraits.

So, now I am just waiting for my 11 x 17″ enlargements and gilded frames to put these babies up in my office and living room.

on facebook

I hate Facebook.  Up until recently, I had plainly refused to ever join Facebook simply because I am stubborn and wanted to be annoyingly different.  However, recently, I have come to realise how much I truly dislike Facebook and how glad I am I have never given in to the many pressures and occasional temptations to join.

It’s true: it would probably be a lot easier to keep in touch with many of my friends scattered across the planet if I used Facebook.  I would know where everyone as and what they were doing and see pictures of them in front of various landmarks (i.e. Mt. Rushmore or the Sphinx).

It is also true: Moving to a new city (i.e. Wellington) and attempting to develop a social community where you know no one, have no co-workers, and no classmates, is already difficult.  In obstinately refusing to join Facebook, I have actually made it even more difficult for myself, not only to find out about events and activities, but to maintain contact with the individuals I encounter with whom I may want to pursue a social relationship.

However, despite these somewhat convincing arguments for swallowing my pride and signing up for Facebook, I continue to refuse to join.  Until recently, when asked why not, I had a difficult time answering.  In fact, I was a bit ashamed, because my reasoning seemed almost vain: because everybody else is on Facebook and I want to be annoyingly different.  Because my housemates in Montreal talked about Facebook non-stop to the point that I wanted nothing to do with it.  But, I feel now better able to articulate my reasoning for what has become my vehement dislike of Facebook.

  1. It’s a huge fucking waste of time.  The amount of shit people post on there… “I’m going to the corner store to get toilet paper then I am going to sit at home and watch ‘How I met your mother’.”  I’m sorry, but I don’t fucking care.  I have better things to do with my time, scrub the scum out of my shower, than read about the mundane banalities of your everyday life.  This includes all of the petty dramas that play out on Facebook and the whole notion of “Cyber-bullying”.  It’s bad enough these kinds of small-minded jealousies or arguments have to happen in real life on the secondary school playground, but for grown adults to perpetuate such behaviour in a globally public online environment, most likely when they are at work and getting paid to be doing other work, is just embarrassing.
  2. The insular nature of Facebook.  Hello. Not everyone in the universe is on Facebook.  When you make it impossible to access information or contact you through other channels, you are effectively limiting yourself, your organisation, or your business.  If I can’t participate in your event because I am not on Facebook… I probably don’t really want to go to your event.
  3. Facebook makes you lazy.  I think it’s important to keep in touch with your friends and family.  So much that I dedicate a great deal of time to writing, both physical analogue letters, and e-mails, as well as telephoning (though I will admit I am not the best about phoning) those whom I call near and dear.  I also make a great deal of effort to send regular updates about my life, plans, and current location to nearly everyone I know.  I also spend some time writing this blog, which I hope you find well written articulate, and somewhat interesting, so that people I don’t get to see on a regular basis can still have an idea about what is happening in my little world.  I am not hard to get a hold of.  I have had the same e-mail address since 2001.  I also (now) have a cell phone. If you want to get in touch with me, it doesn’t take a lot of effort.  You don’t have to hand write a letter and physically go to he post office between 9 am and 4 pm and buy a stamp and send it to me by a slow boat.  But, you do have to take a few seconds of your time to think “Ok, I want to get in touch with Nicole”, and then call and/or e-mail me.  If that is too much work, seriously, I don’t know if I really want to be your friend.
  4. Facebook’s lack of privacy.  I am not familiar with the exact details but I do know that Facebook sells your personal information to various businesses and that is how they make money.  I don’t agree with that.  In addition, I don’t understand the need to broadcast on a public forum the intimate details of personal communication between 2 people.  In fact, it really annoys and irritates me when people will only communicate with me through a public forum.  To me, that seems like vanity.  I would rather my conversation with you be private; I have no desire to make a private conversation, relevant to only 2 people, publicly available.  What is the point of that?  I not a particularly private person, but I do think that personal correspondence is best done privately.
  5. Facebook decreases your productivity.  Of course, this is quite closely related to point #1.  I know how easy it is to procrastinate.  I can literally spend hours comparing recipes on epicurious.com and looking for the perfect cardigan knitting pattern on ravelry in lieu of doing any work.  I do not need an extra incentive to procrastinate.  My office is directly next to the SIM postgraduate students’ computer lab.  When fetching my printing, a teapot refill, or heading to the loo, I often notice that somewhere between 70 and 80% of the computers in use are being used to access Facebook.  I have actually observed and calculated these similar statistics in VUW’s central library, as well as most other computer labs in a number of tertiary institutions.  Sometimes the figure can be as high as 9 out of 10 users on Facebook.  The amount of time these individuals spend on Facebook must limit the amount of time they can spend on legitimate, productive engagements.

That all being said, and hopefully said well so that I don’t just sound like an asshole, when I was invited to join Google+ I did so, simply because I didn’t really know what it was.  Now, after using it a bit in the past two weeks, I feel like I may have to cancel my account.  However, I do use Google, Gmail, Gchat, and Picasa web albums already, and frequently share information with groups of people.  However, it basically just seems like Facebook to me.  I still haven’t quite made up my mind about the Google+, but irregardless, you can get in touch with me anytime, and share your shit with me anytime too, which I hope you will do, so long as it’s somewhat interesting and/or funny.

That being said, I am not against social networking online.  I am a member (though not very active) of academia.edu.  I used to have a myspace account, and I also once used linkedin (at my aunt’s suggestion for helping me get a job).

Last night, after some one mentioned something about getting information about plans for an August birthdays party on Facebook, and I replied “Oh, I’m not on Facebook”, they responded “What century are you from?”, to which I replied, “The future! Where people don’t use Facebook!”.

Oh, and I’m sorry, call me a cynical bitch, but I also hate pictures of cats.

back in the Lao PDR

(if only the Beatles had sung about Laos instead of the USSR)

I have conducted about 5 pilot interviews, which have been getting progressively better.  I think I will be able to start collecting data full steam shortly.  In the meantime, I am seeing lots of old pals and enjoying catching up.

Being back in Laos after 2 years away, seeing familiar faces and places that have changed, but haven’t, has been quite surreal.   I think it’s also been stimulating my subconscious mind and stirring up quite a few dusty memories.  The other morning I woke up from an extremely vivid dream in which a friend of mine from Peace Corps Benin was getting married to one of my high school classmates who worked at Schaumburg Library with me from 1995-1997.  I haven’t seen the Peace Corps friend in something like 6 years, and my co-worker from STDL since… 1997.  It’s quite strange how memory works.

Anyway, I have enrolled in a traditional massage class, which I started yesterday.  It’s a week long class about 2 hours day and so far I have had 2 lessons.  It’s really quite good and I am very glad I decided to enrol.  I have been making studious notes, as well as photos of every step, and getting to practice under the teacher’s careful watch.  The teacher, known around town as “Ajarn (teacher) Sak”, is from Ubon Rachitami in Thailand and has been doing massage for over 20 years.  His English is not fantastic, but he is an excellent teacher and I am really enjoying his tutelage.

If you are planning to be in Vientiane for more than a week, I would highly recommend visiting the White Lotus Spa and taking a course from Ajarn Sak.  A 10-hour course costs $150 USD.  If you are in Vientiane for less than a week, just go to White Lotus and get a 1 or 2 hour massage from Ajarn Sak.  You have to ask for him specially, and you may have make an appointment ahead of time, but he is well known in town as being the best of the best, and the man seriously has magic fingers.

I plan to type up my class notes and post the photos I have taken when I have some time.  For now, these photos from around town will have to do!