Monthly Archives: August 2010

Renter’s Remorse

Last night, after Mike got home from work, we packed up our various suitcases into the office car and moved over to our new house!

We are lucky to have this house… this I know. It’s only been five weeks since we arrived in country – it could have taken us much longer to find a place. And this one has windows, with screens. It has air conditioners. It even has actual shower stalls instead of the toilet showers that are standard here and that leave the bathroom floor, toilet seat, and (frequently) toilet paper, wet for hours.

Our landlords speak excellent English, and have semi-furnished the house with a couple of beds, a fridge, a gas cooker, a microwave, a table and chairs – even a desk and small bookshelf for me. The internet is hooked up and working.

I think, I hope, I will feel safe here during nights that Mike is away in the field.

Yes, logically I know that we are very lucky indeed to have this house. So can someone perhaps explain to me why Mike and I sat at the breakfast table this morning staring glumly into our cereal bowls? (Cereal bowls, I might add, that our accommodating landlords have lent us until our shipment arrives.) And why, as Mike was walking out the door at 7am this morning, did I have to fight the urge to throw my arms around his neck and beg him not to leave me alone here to deal with…

The dead cockroach on the floor by the sink.

A hot water heater in the master bedroom shower that doesn’t work.

Missing toilet seats.

Missing keys for the front door.

Air conditioners in the bedrooms that don’t have the cooling muscle I’d hoped for.

A fridge that’s on the small side.

A posse of roosters just over the back fence that crowed us awake just after five this morning, and a loud and angry dog who apparently hates them as much as we do.

The sheer amount of work that needs to be done to make this place feel like a home.

It’s not as simple as popping out to Target to pick up a drying rack for clothes, or dishwashing detergent, or a couch. I have no transport right now, and there is no Target.

Then I look out this window – the window above the stairs – and I see this. And I remember again that we are lucky, very lucky indeed, to have this house.

Now I have a cockroach to go deal with, but what about you – ever had renter’s remorse?

Date Night

“What do you want to do tonight?” Mike asked me after he got home from work on Monday to find me where he’d left me that morning – sitting on the bed under the air conditioner, writing.

I looked up and smiled at my play buddy.

“I want to have hamburgers and French fries at 28 Degrees in Alhambra,” I said, thrilling at the thought. “And then I want to go to Coldstone for ice cream. And then I want to go to the movies.”

There was a long pause.

“Oh,” I said. “You meant things we actually could do. Realistic plans.”

“Those are generally my favorite kind,” Mike said.

“Boooooring,” I said. (Not, I will admit, because I thought this allegation had any merit, but simply because I felt like being difficult.)

“I want a daaaaaate night,” I whined. “I want haaaaamburgers.”

“Listen to you,” Mike said. “You’d think we hadn’t had dinner together in months instead of spending every night of the last four weeks together.”

“Eating bamboo and egg,” I said.

That was just one or two nights,” Mike said sternly.

I grinned.

“They have hamburgers at Utopia,” Mike said.

“Alright,” I said. “Let’s go to Utopia.”

I think Utopia is my favorite restaurant venue in Luang Prabang. To get there you leave the main road down the Khan River and walk down a long, twisting, alleyway and over a stream on a small wooden bridge. Just before you start to think that the alley is leading you straight into a thicket of green along the river, stand a set of heavy wooden doors with brass trim. Inside these doors is a stone courtyard shaded by a thatched roof. If you walk through the courtyard, past the low wooden tables surrounded by cushions, and down the stone path across the grass, you will reach a bamboo platform overlooking the Khan.

On Monday night Utopia was particularly atmospheric. There was a storm brewing and every ten seconds or so the sky sheeted white. Across the river the occasional incandescent spear was being tossed from cloud to cloud. The scent of coming rain arrived, thunder growling at its heels. Lit only by candlelight, our bamboo perch felt perfectly suspended across that paradoxical canyon that lies between cozy and wild.

And they had hamburgers! And saffron robes – a nectarian concoction of mango and tamarind that is a Utopian specialty and possibly the best drink in Luang Prabang. This was turning into one of our best date nights ever.

Except they didn’t have hamburgers or saffron robes, our waiter eventually managed to communicate. Because they didn’t have any electricity. Because of the storm.

Hence all the candles.

“OK,” I said, with a small sigh. “What can you make?”

“Sausages and potatoes,” they told me. “And lemonade.”

“OK,” I said. “Sausages and potatoes and lemonade.”

“Sorry,” Mike said.

“Meh,” I said. “Watching this storm is worth the death of a dinner dream.”

“If we stay too much longer we’re going to get wet walking home,” Mike said.

“Yeah,” I said. “But it’s warm.”

It was, too. By the time we’d lingered over our lemonades and fully debriefed our respective days the storm had pretty much passed, leaving only a slow misty rain and distant thunder in its wake. The streets were fresh and slick, and by the time we were halfway home we were both more than damp – our hair crowned with shiny beads, the drops of water on my glasses creating a dozen different worlds.

“Wowee,” I said happily, as we walked along hand in hand. “We should walk around in the rain all the time – it’s so nice and cool. And there’s a whole box full of DVD’s back at the house, so we can even watch a movie on the laptop on our date night! I love Laos!”

Thirty minutes later we were all clean and dry, and excitedly anticipating the first movie we’d seen in a month.

Well, I was. I don’t actually think Mike cared much one way or another about the movie. Which possibly explains why he was the one to keep his cool during the subsequent parade of DVD disappointments.

The first one we tried, Letters to Juliet, was a movie I’d really been looking forward to seeing after hearing rave reviews. Sadly, however, the version we were trying to play (as best we could figure out) been re-filmed on a hand-held video camera in a Chinese movie theatre. The cinematic entrepreneur had managed to get rid of all the annoying Manadarin subtitles, but he accomplished this by focusing the camera above the subtitles and thereby cutting off about a third of the screen. The picture was grainy and so was the sound.

I was desperate, but I wasn’t that desperate. So it was on to option two.

Option two started out promisingly. The cinema lady appeared on the screen, announced by trumpets, in all her pomp and glory. All the familiar warnings about how we’d go to jail for the rest of our natural lives if we were caught watching a pirated copy of this movie were there, crisp and clear. It even had previews. We couldn’t fast forward through them, but we figured ten minutes of previews was a small price to pay for what we hoped would be one hundred minutes of good comedy.

Except, we ended up paying it for nothing, because as soon as the previews had finished the sound receded to something vaguely resembling the low buzz of drowsy bees on a hot summer day.

We tried turning up all the volumes we could find. We tried plugging in travel speakers. No joy.

By the time we put in the third DVD, Date Night, I was frazzled.

“If this doesn’t work we have plenty of options,” Mike said. “We’ll find one.”

“But I was emotionally invested in the first movie,” I said. “And then, while we were watching the previews, I was getting all invested to the second movie. This sort of sequential emotional commitment takes a lot of energy, you know.”

Mike looked at me in a way that made it perfectly clear that, no, he did not know.

“Let’s just try the next one,” he said carefully.

Again the previews, loud and lovely. And I was so relieved that the movie, when it came on, was also loud and lovely, that it took me approximately six seconds to realize… that it was dubbed.

“Ahhhhhhh,” I wailed, throwing myself sideways on the bed and burying my head in my arms. “They are speaking Korean!

“Maybe we can fix it,” Mike said, rescuing the laptop from the vicinity of my flailing.

“You can’t!” I said. “They’re speaking Korean.

“OK,” Mike said, scrabbling around on the keyboard while I lay there and moaned.

“What else?” Mike asked, wisely recognizing that I had ventured into Fully Unreasonable Territory and that maybe, just maybe, hyperbole would prove a quick shortcut exit.

“We’ll never watch another movie,” I said.

“Probably not,” Mike agreed, still working on the language settings.

“And this is the worst date night ever!” I said, smiling just a little.

“It is,” he said. “The absolute worst one we’ve ever had. What else?”

“Nothing else,” I said, pathetic, lying there limp and spent.

“There’s more,” Mike said. “There’s always more.”

“I hate Laos?” I offered.

“Yes!” he said. “You hate Laos.”

“Look,” he set the computer back on the bed. And, lo and behold, there was the movie. In English. With a choir of angels singing the Hallelujah Chorus in the background.

You are a genius,” I said, bouncing upright. “And this is the best date night ever.”



This past weekend Lisa and Mike went on an adventure to buy a thank you gift. There was some initial disagreement over how much they should spend.

Mike: “But I like giving people more than what they expect.”

Lisa (choosing, for once, affection over argument): “You give me more than what I expect.”

Mike: “And just look at all the rewards I reap from that.”

(Pause while Lisa tries to figure out whether or not she is being mocked.)

Lisa: “There better not have been any sarcasm in your tone there, young man.”

Mike: “Lao has six tones, honey. And we both know that you’re not always very good at distinguishing between them.”