Richmond Square Blog

I now have a new blog in my custody – albeit only for the next 3 weeks:

http://richmondsquare.wordpress.com/

Check out the cool stuff we’re doing at the library!

(PS -I just posted some pictures of a cow’s heart)

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Montreal Children’s Library

Tomorrow I’m beginning a creative writing project with the kids from the Richmond Square Branch of the Montreal Children’s Library.  I’m totally stoked about this project!  It’s called “A Community of Words” and is in collaboration with the Blue Metropolis Foundation, and of course, the Tyndale St- Georges Centre, where my branch is located.

As the project leader, I’ve been organizing a group of 9 kids to participate in this 6 week creative writing workshop.  A Canadian Author, Claire Rothman will be visiting the library to help teach the kids about the creative writing process.

I’m really excited to see the ideas the kids come up with.  They have some wild imaginations and are constantly surprising me.  Working with them has been so unbelievably mind-opening to me I feel like I’ll really miss their influence when I leave.  These kids totally have their finger on the pulse of what’s happening in Canada, and all over the world.  They’re not afraid to tell you what they like and don’t like, tell you your clothes look dorky, if Lady Gaga is cool, and try and cheat when you play checkers with them.   They know things you’d never expect kids to know about.  Most of them think reading is boring, though I’m slowing trying to change their minds about that.  One of them was telling me today about how Zac Efron is gay.

Most of the kids who use my library are black, and from the Little Burgundy neighborhood.  I also have a lot Bengali, North African, and South Asian kids.  Most of them speak English and French, in addition to their native language.  A lot of them have siblings who use the library, and I get to know their entire families.  Some of them are cuties and sweeties, while others are headaches and troublemakers.  After doing storytime at 3 different daycares, and seeing maybe 50 babies, then dealing with the wild animals in the library in the afternoon, I still manage to enjoy myself and find energy to play Uno, watch puppets hows, and read comic books with them.

Yesterday 3 of the boys did a puppet show for me – the first act went roughly something like this:

*curtains*

3 headed dragon enters stage left.

Skunk enters stage right.

Skunk: Hey dragon!  You have 3 ugly heads!

Dragon: Shut up or I’m going to melt your face off!

Skunk: I’m going to spray you!

*Sound of skunk spraying dragon*

Dragon:  AHHHH!!!

Narrator: The dragon shoots flames out of it’s heads and melts the skunk’s face off.  Then, he eats the skunk.

Skunk: AHHHHHHHHHH!!!! (as he’s being eaten)

Narrator: But the skunk smelled so bad the dragon died after he ate him.

Skunk and Dragon exit.

*Curtains*

The end.

Overall, amazingly believable acting and truly great puppetry from these young geniuses!

I’m looking forward to this project and hope to feel inspired yet again by these awesome kids.

She works hard for the money

I have now officially been the Branch Librarian at the Montreal Children’s Library Richmond Square Branch for 1 week!  And I love it!  It’s exhausting – the kids are a handful!  But so much fun!  They’re sassy and have personality. We’ve been painting, drawing, coloring, doing science experiments, and all sorts of other awesome activities.

I’ve also moved into my new place in St. Henri, and it’s great!

A piece of my computer just broke off, so I am going to try to get in touch with AppleCare now, since it should still be under warranty….

 

vientiane… home sweet home!

Sorry for not having written in so long.  Since I came back from Vietnam I have been incredibly busy, not only getting ready to go back home, but also visiting libraries around Vientiane.

When I first arrived back, Dr. Aree and some other experts from Thailand were here giving a UNESCO supported workshop on Information Literacy for library staff.  My friend, Mrs. Sypha, was one of the facilitators of the workshop, so even though it was all in Lao and Thai, I observed several of the sessions and discussed with Areee and Sypha the methods they were usuing and evaluation tools.  For those who are interested, they focused on the Big6 Skills and a new model I had never heard of, the “Empowering 8.”  Speaking of which, that reminds me I would like to make my powerpoints available that I prepared for the workshops I conducted in Vietnam, which I think are actually really good.  I also relied heavily on the Big6 Model, as well as another model I found called “Reflect Learn Connect” developed by Seattle Community College libraries or something.  Dr. Aree’s workshop was longer and therefore more detailled than mine, and it seems like most of the participants “got it”, more or less.

I went to visit my friend Pachoua’s village last weekend.  She is Lao Hmong and from a town about 2 hours North of Vientiane, near Ban Keun.  We took the bus to her house on Saturday afternoon, arriving at her parents farm about 2pm.  We spent the afternoon having lunch of Ping Pa (grilled fish) over looking their pond, and then her brothers and I went to the Nam Ngun Resevoir.  This is the resevoir that was created by the construction of the Nam Ngun Dam about 20 years ago.  The dam supplies electricity for most of Laos and even enough to sell to Thailand.  When the Nam Ngun river was dammed, the entire river valley was flooded, creating a huge lake about 10km wide, full of little islands that used to be the tops of small mountains.  The river valley lies in the Phou Kwai (Buffalo Horn) Mountains protected area.  It’s stunningly beautiful.

The Nam Ngun Dam
The Nam Ngun Dam
The resevoir and Phou Kwai Mountains in the background
The resevoir and Phou Kwai Mountains in the background

CIMG2201

Pachoua and her brothers overlooking the resevoir.  The water is a bit low due to it being the end of the dry season.

After visiting the resevoir, we went swimming in the river below the dam, and then back to Pachuoua’s house for dinner.

CIMG2199

The following morning we woke up early, had breakfast, and then Pachoua and her mother dressed me up in Hmong Traditional clothing.

Pusao Hmong!
Pusao Hmong!

We hung around her house and farm for the rest of the morning, and then in the afternoon me and Pachoua and her 2 brothers got back on the bus and headed back to Vientiane.

On Tuesday we started the LALIC (Laos Library and Information Consortium) tour – a whirlwind visit to 12 libraries in 3 days.

1.) NUOL Faculty of Engineering Library (Sokpaluang Campus)

2.) NUOL Faculty of Political Science and Law Library (near Sokpaluang somehwere)

3.) Laos Institute of Public Administration Library (next to Wat Sisaket, downtown)

4.) National Library of Laos (downtown, next to Nam Phou)

5.) National Science and Technology Documentation Centre (near Patuxay)

6.) University of Health Sciences Library (near Patuxay)

7.) NUOL Faculty of Agriculture Library (Nangbong campus… about 30 km from downtown)

8.) NUOL Faculty of Forestry Library (Dong Dok Campus)

9.) NUOL Lao-Japan Center Library (Dong Dok Campus)

10.) NUOL Faculty of Management and Economic Library (Dong Dok Campus)

11.) NUOL Faculty of Architecture Library (Dong Dok Campus)

I guess if you include the Central Library that makes the 12 members of LALIC.  In the past weeks I have also visited the Vientiane Internation School Library, and the Lycee Hoffet Library, the Lao-American College Library, the US Embassy Public Information Unit Library, as well as the French Language Centre Library.

I’m still planning visits to the Room to Read Library, and the Vientiane Capital Public Library.  And I will probably go back to VIS this week because the librarian there invited me to see what she is doing to celebrate “Library Week”.

Of course, I took photos and detailed notes on all of the visits and will be posting my commentary soon.

This past week I also had a few small parties in my home, including a birthday party for my friend Nang and a dinner for some other friends.  I also met up with Sack, my friend who’s about to move to Ireland and get married, and we went to the disco this past Saturday with about 10 other people.  Lots of celebrating and enjoying Laos in my final month here!!

ending radio silence

I just got back from a 4 days trip to Luang Prabang, and I have lots of news!

Firstly, I went to Luang Prabang to celebrate my 29th birthday.  Just thinking about it makes me feel old but I had a lovely time in the former royal capital.  I took a bus Saturday morning from Vientiane, and the route took us through the mountains and jungles of central Laos for 12 hours, around twisty curving narrow roads and through tiny villages.  Despite being extremely remote, I actually saw a full-sized drum kit through the doorway of one of these wooden shacks perched on the top of a mountain somewhere between Vang Vieng and Luang Prabang.

My impression of Luang Prabang: the contemporary city, is that it exists solely as a tourist destination.  It is now “Low season”, yet the town was absolutely crawling with tourists.  The overwhelming majority of them were dirty, smelly, loud, obnoxious, drunk young europeans and americans.

Maybe I’m just getting old, and jaded, but I felt extremely disdainful of all the half naked tourists walking around Luang Prabang.  Visiting there made me really remember why I was never all that interested in visiting Asia in the first place – I find the whole “Backpacking around South East Asia” thing to be just a big cliché, involving little more than drunkenness and sleazyness in most cases.  I’ll admit that I did meet a few nice people who were doing everything in their power not to perpetuate that stereotype of the dirty, smelly, drunk, ignorant, culturally insensitive tourist, and I really like those people.  But I’m still really worried about the overall impression Lao people must have of all these tourists, and therefore their respective countries, considering some of the behaviour I witnessed.

Sunday was my birthday. Thanks for all the kind birthday greetings from everybody!

This day I climbed to the top of Phu Si, gazed out over the Mekong river valley in the rain, and discovered that my camera was not working.  I spent the rest of the day at the spa, and then ate a huge and delicious and extremely expensive dinner.  The family sitting next to me was also celebrating their son’s 8th birthday, so then they even let me share their chocolate mousse cake with them!

While in Luang Prabang I also visited a few Wats and took a boat to some caves.  It was mostly rainy the whole time I was there.  The Mekong kept rising higher and higher each day.  On Tuesday I participated in a cooking class at Tamarind Cafe, which I would highly highly recommend.  Our group included two really funny guys from Britain, a young British lady doctor who had been traveling around India for the past thee months, and a couple from Philly.  We learned to make Mok Pa, fished steamed in banana leaves; Buffalo Bile Laap (yum!); Luang prabang stew; lemongrass stuffed with chicken; sticky rice; jeow; and probably some other stuff I am forgetting.  It was really fun. I made plans to spend some time with the British folks when the pass back through Vientiane.

I took the night bus back, 12 hours which where mostly horrific, and sleep was nearly impossible.  I woke up from a strange dream about being in a bicycle shop where there were millions and millions of bicycles arranged by colour; like a rainbow of bicycles; to find I was back in Vientiane.  And it was still raining.

Other than that, Luang Prabang was quite lovely.  It certainly has a lot more charm and is much more attractive than Vientiane.  However I don’t think I would want to live there.  It’s very tiny and bursting with 19 year olds in thai pants and beerlao wife-beaters.

However, before I left for my jaunt up to Luang Prabang, the folks at the library threw a little birthday party for me.

We had lunch on the 2nd floor, and the ladies brought out a huge feast, including Lao Lao and Laap and sticky rice ball salad, and some of my other favorites.  I baked a cake, and everybody said it was “sep lae”, which means “very delicious”.

most of the library staff, and me!
most of the library staff, and me!

To the left of me is Mr. Chansy, the library director.  In bright orange is Sisavanh, one of my best pals.  Mrs. Bounsalome is on the very right, poking her head out.  She is my Lao teacher.  Next to me on the right is Mr. Vay, the only person at the library around my age.  He speaks almost flawless English and is going to Australia next year to study Information Science.

ucl staff singing happy birthday
ucl staff singing happy birthday

They all sang me happy birthday in english and then I blew out some imaginary candles.

me and my library ladies
me and my library ladies

It was a lovely lovely day.  I don’t know who that tall guy is though.

The big news of the moment is that the Mekong is on the verge of flooding the entire Vientiane area!  The library has created some kind emergency-action plan that involved shovels and sandbags and I also volunteered to help if needed.  If the river continues to rise… it will be bad news.  My house is about 200m from the Mekong so I will probably be in a lot of trouble if there is a massive flood.

buying a bike, taking the bus

So, I bought a 2nd hand bike from my landlord’s sister. I will take a picture of it soon. It looks like somebody puked tie-dye all over it, it’s a one-speed, chinese, cheap-ass-bike. But it’s nearly new and gets around decently, though the seat really hurts my bum. I tried in vain to find a road bike, the only one I saw was about 3 inches too big for me, and had a seat designed to look like an eagle. I may keep looking. I may also just buy a moto. Then I could actually ride it all the way to the University instead of a 5 minute bike ride  and then a 40 minute bus ride. But actually I like taking the bus. And this morning went pretty smoothly for the first time doing so in a country where I can barely communicate with anyone. The best part about taking the bus?

Sitting next to a monk.

I think all of the folks at the central library were pretty surprised when I actually showed up for work this morning, and manged to get there all by myself. Al though I have to admit some of the past few days on my own has reminded me of my first few days at post in Athiémé, where I didn’t eat anything but bananas for 3 days because I didn’t know how or where to buy food and I was too scared to ask. And I’m constantly afraid I’m paying the yovo price for everything, but I have absolutely no way of knowing, or doing anything about it, so I just try bargaining to the best of my non-Lao-speaking ability. I did eat a good sandwich yesterday though.  It was cucumber, some weird spam-like luncheon meat, hot sauce, and some weird dried stuff that looked like rope fibers but tasted salty and maybe vaguely fishy?

Maybe it’s the events of the past month, this whole whirlwind adventure, my unrequited missed connection love affair, my mom’s surgery, pre-menstrualness, culture shock, I don’t know but I’m feeling a little lonely and miserable. Also a bit useless, I don’t know what I came here to do, or how I can help at the library. I feel really intimidated by what they are asking/expecting from me. I’m not a computer programmer! I hardly know how to catalogue! I can’t read Lao and I don’t even understand what half the people who work in the library do. But I did manage to fix one computer that had a virus today, my first day at work.

They want me to learn how to use this software:

PMB

It’s an open-source Integrated Library Software (ILS), made in France.  Somebody at the French cultural center here is working on translating it into Lao, and so, for some reason I didn’t quite understand, the University Library also had to switch.  I guess this is a good project for me because I am in the unique position of being able to understand all of the user guides and documentation, which are in a strange melange of francais and english.
Anyway, I have to do a lot of trivial things like buy a bike lock, open a bank account, buy some dishes, etc. within the next week that probably don’t seem very interesting, but each represent huge ordeals for me that I’m not really looking forward to. I’m sorry I’m in a bad mood.

exactly 8 minutes

I have exactly 8 minutes to write a post.  Here’s the low-down:

It’s pretty amazing getting to watch Drs. Gorman & Dorner work, wow.  They are really my heroes.  The Lao participants of the workshop seem to be getting these pretty abstract ideas too, which impresses me.  I have met a few people who I will be working with in the library, and they are all extremely friendly.  Communication will probably be an issue, I hope to learn some Lao as soon as possible.  I’ve gotten a few words so far, but I’m excited to sit down with a teacher and really learn.

I know I’ve been here for nearly 5 days and I don’t have a single piece of photographic evidence, but I just haven’t had any time.  It feels a bit strange to be here in Vientiane, as a foreigner but not a tourist, and yet not even remotely integrated into the Lao culture and basically clueless.  I’ve seen a lot of young white folks, and japanese, walking around town, obviously backpackers, as well as some old heads, mostly men, around the neighborhood where my hotel is.  They probably live here, ex-pats I’m assuming.  I feel a bit isolated, but hopefully soon I will be able to make friends and feel more at home, and less like a stranger.

The library director wants me to move into the University guesthouse, which I am not too keen on.  Firstly, they are trying to charge me a shitload of money, secondly, it seems quite lonely.  I’m afraid to tell him how I feel for fear I will hurt his feelings, but I am meeting some one this evening who will take me to look at some other housing options.

Just in the car, to and from the University, and my short walks around downtown (including getting lost), it seems like there are gilded temples everywhere, monks in orange robes talking on cellphones and riding around in motorbike rickshaws, and

oh no!  my 8 minutes are up!