Tag Archives: Luang Prabang

House hunting and the powers that be

It is the season of busy (it is also the season of ash falling from the sky as they have started burning the rice field in preparation for planting, but does not make me more busy, that just makes life a bit more unpleasant).

No, the busy these last six weeks has coming from a whole bunch of different things: two sets of parents in town, little boys with big casts, two unplanned trips to Thailand, one to Vientiane, and someone who’s decided that he’s ready to eat solid food so now I have to start attending to things like breakfast, lunch, and dinner for him every day. I mean, seriously, every day, can you believe it?

And we’re moving house. The cumulative weight of child safety factors (our beautiful but dangerous spiral staircase and the unfenced pool out the front) and the ongoing noise issues with our woodworking neighbors finally pushed us over the edge. We’re moving house by April 1, then less than two weeks later we’re getting on a plane for the States to spend a month there on home leave.

Oh, and I’m publishing my book. For half a second I almost forgot the endless to-do list related to the new website (stay tuned, it’s coming soon), cover design, and launch planning. Release date still to be determined but either mid-April or June 1.

So, yeah, busy, and during the next six weeks I may occasionally re-run some old posts from the blog. This one, from last time we were house hunting here in Laos, seemed like a fitting choice for today.

House hunting and the powers that be (originally posted July 2010)

This may come as news to some of you – it did to me eight months ago – but Laos is one of the world’s few remaining communist states. The full name of the country is officially the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, and the only legal political party is the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party. The government publishes all newspapers, including two foreign language papers. Missionary work of any flavour is regulated. And when any staff of Mike’s organization visits the field projects they must be accompanied by a government official – an official who gets paid a per diem by the NGO for their time.

Here in Laos, I have been pondering how I may be able to periodically touch on the topics of God, the policies and practices of the organization Mike works for, or the government, without treading on any toes. I haven’t come up with anything brilliant yet. So, in the meantime, I’ve decided to try using the phrase “the powers that be” to refer to the three aforementioned entities and leave it to the reader to figure out which one I might be talking about.

I apologize in advance if this proves confusing. So, too, can life be here.

During the past two weeks we have continued the house hunting that Mike began while he was here without me in April and May. There are no classifieds we can read, or website we can search. If you need to find a house in Luang Prabang you have exactly two options. You can walk the streets looking for hand-painted “house for rent” signs attached to gates and then have a Lao-speaker call the contact phone number on the sign. Or, you can go through a local agent – someone who’s job it is to find out where all the houses for rent are hiding and to negotiate on your behalf with prospective landlords.

Phet is just such an agent, and the day after we arrived I took a deep breath, put on the helmet she had borrowed for me, and climbed onto the back of her motorcycle. We saw five houses that day, and I came back excited. Two, I thought, were good options. One of those options Mike hadn’t yet seen.

I tried to describe it to him over dinner that night.

“We went over the wooden pedestrian bridge across the Khan,” I said. “Then we turned left and went down a dirt road.”

“How far?” Mike asked.

“Oh, I don’t know. Not far. It was a really pretty road – all jungly and tropical. There were temples, and plants, and another wooden bridge. It was very atmospheric,” I said.

“Atmospheric,” Mike repeated, as if that may not be the most satisfactory of descriptors for an access road.

“What was the house like?” he asked.

“Oh, it was cool,” I said. “There was a big veranda on the top, and broken pool out the back, and two cute dogs. The dogs were very friendly, but they belong to the…”

“The house,” Mike reminded me.

“It had two big rooms up the top, and another room that was locked and they couldn’t find the key. So I didn’t see that one. But the stairs were good. And there were tiles on the floor. And lots of trees. And it was quiet. And I liked it.”

“What about water tanks?” Mike asked. “Was it on city water? Was there a big water heater? Was there glass on the windows, and screens? Fans? Did all the air conditioners work? Was there a phone line into the house?”

“I dunno,” I said, realizing for the first time that I may have neglected to pay attention to a couple of key attributes. “I’m pretty sure there was a phone line. I think there was glass on the windows.”

“You think,” Mike closed his eyes and took a deep breath. I hoped he was visualizing us sitting in hammocks on a tree-shaded veranda, debriefing our days over a cold drink. But I figured it was more likely that he was lodging a quick request with the powers that be for extra patience.

“OK,” he said after he opened his eyes again. “We’ll see if we can go see it together this weekend.”

We did take a truck to go see it that weekend, and by the time we’d found the vehicle bridge over the river Khan (a good deal further away from the house than the pedestrian bridge suitable for motorcycle traffic) and bumped our way down three torturously slow, bone jarring, head-banging, kilometers, I was deflated.

“Getting in and out of here on anything other than a motorcycle would be tough, wouldn’t it,” I said.

“Yeah,” Mike said gently. “It’d be tough. Especially when it rained. And you might end up feeling very isolated.”

My beautiful vision of us on the veranda dissolved and was replaced by a picture of motorcycling along a dirt road to do the grocery shopping during a monsoonal downpour. That was the end of our quest to acquire the jungle house – which was just as well, really, because Phet informed us later that day that the landlady had changed her mind about evicting the current tenants after all – and it was back to the drawing board.

But we’ve now seen 27 houses, and it’s beginning to get seriously demoralizing. Some houses have no air conditioners, or glass in the windows. Some have no phone lines installed (and, hence, no possibility of in-house internet). Most have no external hot water heaters. Some are nestled in between construction sites, of which there are many in Luang Prabang at present. Some are beautiful, but sit right on a main road and beside local restaurants. And where there is a local restaurant there is beerlao. And where there is beerlao there will likely be karaoke.

If you don’t count my short-lived infatuation with the jungle house, or the stunningly beautiful way-out-of-our-price-range house in the hills outside of town (a house of two pools, luscious gardens, hanging plants, shinning wooden balustrades, and an in-house bar), we’ve found exactly one house we really liked. Number 18. A wooden house perched on the banks of the Mekong.

But on Sunday afternoon (after three visits to this house, four long emails, and two extended meetings with Phet and the prospective landlord) the negotiations broke down. The landlord, you see, had suddenly decided to only offer us a contract for rent that went to the end of April 2011, and the powers that be require us to rent a house for an entire year at a time.

To complicate matters further, the powers that be require us to pay the entire years worth of rent in advance. This removes any economic incentive for landlords to make ongoing improvements to the property. This means that what we move into is probably what we will be stuck with.

To complicate matters even further, the powers that be have decreed that those on tourist visas must rent rooms in guesthouses, rather than renting houses privately. Just this week, the powers that be have been visiting houses inhabited by foreigners, checking up on them, and evicting any who hold tourist visas.

And, to complicate matters even further, the powers that be have not yet issued Mike’s work visa (although it has been in progress since February). Yet other powers that be are very eager to see us in a house, and are urging us to make a decision and just get on with it.

I am not eager to get on with it, as the leading option at the moment is the house on the main road beside the restaurant. I am also not eager to stay indefinitely in the guesthouse – that bastion of slamming doors, late-night voices, and neighborly circular saws. I am, in other words, a bit stuck.

So if any of you dear readers are in a position to have a quiet and respectful word on our behalf with the powers that be regarding these matters, please… go right ahead.

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Links to laugh at and Mekong adventures

Happy Wednesday! Mike and I are spending the day flying down to Vientiane and driving into Thailand. Then we will turn around immediately, line up on the other side of the border, and come straight back into Laos.

This is long story that I don’t want to write too much about because it tempts me towards feeling frazzled and making unwise public comments about the powers that be. Instead I’ll just say that flying down to Vientiane, then crossing the Thai border, then going to to the Australian embassy to get Dominic’s four month vaccinations (on that note, happy 5 month birthday yesterday little man), and then flying back up to Luang Prabang will make tomorrow feel about as long as this sentence.

I have a number of topics I want to cover on a Writing Wednesday, but our little jaunt is making this week feel squeezed and I don’t want to shortchange any of them. I’ve received way too much sad news via email and facebook recently so, in the spirit of smiling, today I’m simply going to share a couple of links that have made me laugh and some photos of what we got up to on the weekend.

Without further ado, the links:

The 50 most brilliant, obnoxious, or delightfully sociopathic Facebook posts of 2011: This made me laugh until I almost cried during a recent 4AM feeding, and anything that can make me laugh that early is some seriously funny stuff. My favorite was the fourth last one about chicken casseroles.

2011 lesson #2: Don’t Carpe Diem: Loved this post over on Momastery so much I immediately subscribed to her blog: “Every time I’m out with my kids – this seems to happen: An older woman stops us, puts her hand over her heart and says something like, “Oh– Enjoy every moment. This time goes by so fast.”… But as 2011 closes, I have finally allowed myself to admit that it just doesn’t work for me. It bugs me…”

Australian Tourism: Questions Answered: This is a list of real questions asked by potential tourists and the (not so serious) answers posted on the Australian Tourism website.

Now, the photos of our Saturday rock-climbing adventure on the Mekong. I hadn’t quite banked on the steep scramble up the banks while carrying Dominic in the Ergo, but I’m so glad we went. It was a great day out.


Here we are, all ready to go boating on the Mekong. More pictures in the slideshow below.

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What about you? Read anything that made you laugh out loud recently? Leave the link below.

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The exhortation of the dawn

Happy Monday morning folks. It’s 5:30am here, I’m saluting the dawn as I have almost every day for the past four months, by feeding a little one. So in honour of early morning wakings here are some beautiful words from the Quran to kick off a fresh new week:

Listen to the exhortation of the dawn.
Look to this day, for it is life, the very life of life.
In its brief course lie all the verities and realities
of your existence,
the glory of action – the bliss of growth
the splendour of beauty.
For yesterday is but a dream,
and tomorrow is only a vision,
but today, well lived,
makes every yesterday a dream of happiness,
and every tomorrow a vision of hope.
Look well therefore to this day.
Such is the salutation of the dawn.

We had a great weekend over here – the kind that make dreams of happiness. Here are a couple of pictures of what we’ve been up to recently.

What about you? How do you salute the dawn? Have you read words recently that have stirred your heart?

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Around the block: The UXO Museum

So I’m starting a new theme on the blog here called “Around The Block”. Some days I get to 11am and find Dominic looking at me and I swear he’s wondering whether it would be possible for me to get any more boring. So most days we take grateful advantage of the cooler weather here at the moment and go for a walk.

Last week, as I was walking him around the block, I thought I should take a camera and give you some glimpses of things we find on these daily perambulations. Today we’re going to start with the UXO (unexploded ordinance) museum, which is just around the corner from our house.

UXO museum entrance

Some facts about UXO in Laos…

Per capita, Laos is the most heavily bombed country, in history. Despite the fact that Laos was not officially involved in the conflict, more than half a million bombing missions were conducted over Laos during the Vietnam War in an effort to disrupt the supply lines between north and south Vietnam. During these missions, the US Airforce dropping 270 million bombs on Laos.

Up to 30% of these bombs failed to detonate.

About 80 million unexploded bombs remain in the ground, and about 25% of villages in the country are contaminated with unexploded ordinance.

Most of this UXO is related to cluster bombs. A cluster bomb is pictured below. Just one of those little balls can injure or kill a person.

A cluster bomb

Most years someone is injured or killed every day in Laos by UXO. Last year, however, the number of UXO accidents dropped to one injury or death every two or three days. Most accidents happen when children pick up these little balls, or when farmers disturb them while they’re planting or harvesting.

UXO Lao employs over 1,000 people and needs on an average US$6.5 million to cover operations every year.

No funny stories to end this post, just a link to the UXO Lao donation page. You can see that they’re not exactly up to speed yet in terms of web presence or leveraging international support, so if you would like to donate to UXO Lao feel free to write to me and I’ll try to help you figure out how best to do that.

One Standard Thursday: Life unmasked

Life: Unmasked Dominic wakes up from his morning nap at 8 AM (so you can imagine how early he was up the first time). On the way into his room I almost step in dog puke – Zulu’s clearly been begging food from the neighbors again. Dominic’s clothes are wet when I pick him up, despite the fact that his diaper was changed less than two hours earlier. These cloth diapers appear to be leaking more than I had thought they would, perhaps because we have no running hot water to wash them in as per the manufacturing instructions.

Dominic is grumpy and there’s at least an hour to go before I wanted to feed him next, so I put him in the stroller and walk fifteen minutes down to the tiny grocery store that I’m hoping will have the ingredients I want. No. No cream cheese, or hoisin sauce, or fennel. I think about buying one of the two imported tubs of vanilla icing on display (I’ve been flirting with the idea of trying to make a chocolate cake in the toaster oven) but I don’t. Nine dollars is a bit of a stretch for icing, even if it did wing its way here from the U.S.

Dominic starts to fuss. I can’t fit the stroller into the small store, so I pick him up and try to juggle baby, basket, and picking up necessities. That doesn’t go well and I cut the expedition short. As I’m trying to hold Dominic and pay, my phone rings. It’s Mike. He says there’s no electricity at the office all day and he’ll be working from home if there’s electricity there – is there electricity there? I say I don’t know.

But.

It’s cloudy and cool as I walk home and Dominic falls asleep in the stroller as motorcycles zoom past us. Back at the house there is electricity. My bed has been made and my laundry done by a dear woman who shows up five days a week to do these thing for us. When I arrive she is busy squeezing four kilos of oranges that Mike bought off the back of a truck last night for $1.25.

Mike made fun of me for thinking that cream cheese, hoisin sauce, and dried fennel would be available in our town but I would like it noted that I was being an optimist. Have you written a life unmasked-esque post lately? Leave the link below.

Noisy neighbors (cont…)

Once upon a time in the land of Laos there lived a noisy woodcutter running an illegal business. Next door to him lived a frazzled woman and a little baby boy who did not, for some reason, sleep nicely to the lullaby of power tools screeching right outside his bedroom window…

One day four government officials met to discuss the matter of the noisy woodcutter and his illegal business. They sat around outside the house of the noisy woodcutter and drank tea and smiled, as one must always do in Laos. They saw that noisy woodcutter was the sole breadwinner for four old ladies. They felt very sorry for noisy woodcutter and the four old ladies (they felt a little sorry for the baby, too, but they felt more sorry for the four old ladies).

The government officials decided that noisy woodcutter could keep operating his illegal business from 9-11:30am and 2-4:30pm every weekday. The government officials wrote this down on a piece of paper and everyone except frazzled woman signed it and everyone except frazzled woman seemed to be happy with this solution.

(Well, frazzled woman’s husband isn’t happy with it either, because he has to live with frazzled woman. Frazzled woman’s husband is doing everything he can to continue to figure out a “creative solution”. Frazzled woman loves her husband. She thinks that without him in her life she would not enjoy living in Laos nearly as much. She doesn’t think too hard about the fact that without him in her life she would not be living in Laos next to noisy woodcutter, because that line of thought would not do anyone any good. Plus, were she to remind him of this fact all he would say is, “you need me to make your life more interesting and provide unto you material for your writing. You’re welcome.”)

No one is quite sure how this story will end. Will frazzled woman and her long-suffering and hard working husband decide to move house? Will they try to rent noisy woodcutter other premises? Will frazzled woman magically learn to cope better with the din of power tools ringing through the house every single day? Will the noisy woodcutter stumble across the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow and therefore have another viable option for feeding the four old ladies?

Stay tuned.

-------- Me: "What are we going to do about the noisy woodcutter, Dominic?" -------- Dominic: "I don't know mama, what ARE we going to do?"

Have you had any bad neighbor experiences lately (or good ones, for that matter)?

Tug Of War Over My Underwear

This post is for everyone who has ever been jealous of the fact that I can trot down to the Lao Red Cross and get one hour of massage for five dollars. You may be both entertained and a tiny bit gratified to know that these adventures in massage can sometimes go quite wrong.

Down a road about a four-minute walk from our gate there is a sign pointing up a dirt alley to an old wooden house. The sign advertises traditional massage, and the other day Mike told me that these massages were provided by blind men.

This sounded perfect to me. Blind men, I figured, may have compensated for their lack of sight by developing extra-perceptive hands. I imagined oil, a masseuse who could almost “see” my sore muscles with his talented touch, and no possibility of being ogled while I was relaxing into the experience.

It was a lovely vision, and Saturday afternoon I handed the baby to Mike and went chasing this vision.

The first hint I had that all might not play out according to the spa script in my mind came when I followed my fumbling masseuse into the back room to see three mattresses lying on a cement floor, no privacy curtains, and a tall, half-naked, white man being enthusiastically pummeled.

I was momentarily taken aback.

But then I thought about how, after giving birth, stripping down to my underwear in front of some old man I’d never see again was a walk in the park. So I took off most of my clothes and lay down on the threadbare sheet my masseuse had spread out for me.

It quickly became apparent that whatever other skills this man had developed to help compensate for his lack of vision, good massage technique was not among them. There were no sensitive, skilled hands. There were no smooth, tension-taming, muscle-stretching strokes. There was no oil. What there was was a lot of deep-pressure pressing with thumbs. I’d just resigned myself to a wasted hour when I became aware of small faces peering in the window above me – the neighborhood kids coming to check me out.

My blind masseuse must have realized what was going on, because after yelling at them a few times to go away, he got up, felt his way to the window, and closed it.

That shut out the faces and the giggles, but it also shut out all of the light. As the window swung closed I suddenly became aware that I was mostly naked and in a dark, locked room with three strange men.

I had just reminded myself that it was highly unlikely that two blind Lao men and some random tourist would take it into their heads to gang up on me for the purposes of assault, when the man massaging me put a hand somewhere south of the equatorial bellybutton border. Somewhere that, in all my years of being massaged in various countries around the world, no masseuse has ever before ventured to approach.

I was rendered immobile by the shock of it all until he grasped the waistband of my underwear and tried to pull them off.

I put my hand on his and said “bo dai” [cannot] at the same time he said “dai” [can].

He gave another experimental tug.

“Dai?” he said again.

“Bo dai,” I said firmly. “Khop jai.” [Thank you].

I remain puzzled even now as to what I was trying to communicate with this thank you. I would like to think that it was something along the lines of, “I am so in control of this situation that I can still afford to be polite.” However, deep in my conflict-hating heart I suspect I was also trying to shrug it off to put him at ease. Even as I said it I wondered whether I’d gone too far, whether what I had actually inadvertently communicated was something more along the lines of: “Please don’t feel at all awkward about the fact that I’m telling you not to take off my underwear. It’s not that what you’re doing is making me very uncomfortable. It’s more that I’m not in the mood.

After this exchange I perhaps should have been expecting it when, fifteen minutes later after working his way up my arms, the masseuse reached out and gave one of my breasts an experimental squeeze through the tee shirt I had draped over my front.

“Dee?” [good?] he asked.

“Bo dee,” [not good] I said, putting a stop to that immediately.

I have a baby, I explained in my broken Lao. The baby eats a lot. That makes a lot of pain.

This last bit was a total lie as breastfeeding no longer hurts, and you might wonder why I didn’t just get up and leave instead of going to all the trouble of inventing and then trying to communicate an actual reason why I wasn’t interested in having my breasts massaged, before enduring the last five minutes of an experience I was not enjoying in the slightest.

Yes, well. In retrospect I wonder this, too.

I think, though, that I didn’t leave because I couldn’t figure out what was really going on. Was he coping a feel for kicks or was this a standard part of his massage routine? Had I somehow inadvertently signaled a desire to be fondled in such a manner?

If this had occurred in a Western context I would have known that nothing I had done justified his behavior, but here I don’t live in a western context. I live in Laos. And men in Laos typically treat women with great respect, even deference. A Lao man usually won’t even presume to shake my hand upon meeting unless I offer it first. This is a gentle, conservative culture, and for all I knew, I realized as I lay there last Saturday, locals don’t typically undress for traditional massage. The masseuse may initially have been just as confronted by my actions in casting aside my jeans and tee shirt as I was by his suggestion that I ditch the underwear as well.

This small seed of doubt in my mind was enough to keep me on the mattress for those remaining few minutes. If he wasn’t putting sleazy sightless moves on me and I got up and walked out without being able to communicate why, I’d leave him wondering where he went wrong. I’d hurt his feelings. And only a loser hurts the feelings of a blind person if they can help it.

Or should that be, instead: Only a loser endures unwanted physical contact to avoid hurting someone’s feelings?

I’m still not sure. I am, however, sure that from now on I won’t be exploring any traditional massage parlors I find down dusty side streets. At least, not alone.

What’s the worst massage misadventure you’ve ever had? And, have you ever been unsure as to whether you were being taken advantage of or whether you were just hopelessly mired in an unfortunate cross-cultural miscommunication?

Things to love about coming home

We’ve been back 48 hours, and I’m way too tired to write anything deep on the current theme of love, so I thought I’d just offer a look at things I’ve loved about being back so far…

The power went out before 9am the first morning we were back, so instead of unpacking and organizing necessities like change tables and diapers we spent three hours mostly trying to stay cool. Well, Mike and I tried to stay cool. Crazy baby didn’t want to lie on the tiles for some reason so he lay on Mike and sweated his way into a bad mood. A really bad mood.

Oh, wait. I was supposed to be talking about things I’ve loved. My bad.

OK, lets talk about the stroller. I love this stroller. Seriously. I spent more time researching this stroller than I spent researching the first and only car I ever bought. Way more time. The car decision (a silver jetta) was based on two qualities – shape and colour. The fact that VW’s are pretty safe was an incidental bonus. The stroller decision, on the other hand, was made after hours of online research, the waylaying of total strangers to check out the model they were pushing and solicit their input, and much cruising of e-bay.

The stroller I finally chose and bought second hand (a City Urban Baby Jogger) is a BMW of baby prams. It has suspension and sturdy rubber wheels to deal with Laos streets, mesh panels to keep things cooler, and a swivel front wheel you can lock straight when needed. The thing slides as if greased with astroglide when you give it the merest nudge. Not for the first time, I find myself jealous of my own baby. I wish someone would put me in this stroller and push me around while I did this…

Luckily for us, Dominic seems to love the stroller almost as much as I do. We’ve taken him out and about a couple of times now as we’re reacquainting ourselves with our favourite restaurants, and he hasn’t cried once. Well, not while the stroller’s actually moving. We’ve managed one meal out of three with him asleep in the thing. The other two meals have been eaten in shifts – one of us gobbling while the other walks the grumpy munchkin.

I’m not sure Dominic likes the heat. When he hasn’t been fussing he’s spent an awful lot of time looking something like this since we arrived home:

"Gosh, life is exhausting. I could really do with a big ice cream right now"

But he hasn’t been grumpy the entire time we’ve been back. Sometimes he does this.

"Did you SEE that??? It's a red and green COW!!!"

Awwww, isn’t that cute? I love that too. I haven’t got to see that face too much in the last 48 hours, but lets not dwell on that, it’s awesome when it comes to visit. Or when he snuggles down in my arms at 4am and spits out his dummy for the sole purpose of smiling up at me. Yeah, that’s almost as good as sleep. Almost.

So what else have I loved about being back? Cinnamon buns and a mint lemon freeze at Joma. Walking the familiar streets here with Mike and not coming home absolutely dripping – the cool season’s not here quite yet, but it’s on its way. Seeing trees near the house that were knee-high when I left which are now taller than I am. Feeling our little dog lick my hand, searching for affection. Sorting and stacking baby clothes – a weird one, I know, but even though I’m absolutely exhausted there’s something fun about organizing our own space to make it baby friendly. I think they call this nesting. I think most people do it before they have a baby, but hey, I’m not always the fastest player in the game.

Have you been away lately? What’s one of your favorite things about coming home?

Best of Year One in Laos

It’s been just over a year, and 132 blog posts, since we moved to Laos. To celebrate that milestone, today I’ve drawn together some of the best of this last year’s blog posts.

Unless you’re independently wealthy and have way too much time on your hands (or you’re bedridden and desperate for entertainment) I doubt you’ll want to read all of them, so I’ve put them in categories for easier browsing. I’ve also marked a couple of my favorite funny posts with a double asterisk like this ** for those just looking for a laugh.

Thank you all for tracking with me and Mike on this journey. Blogging about our adventures and misadventures during this last year has been one of my favorite things to do. That’s partly due to all the emails, comments and other messages we’ve received. I am so grateful for your interest and your support.

So, thanks again for traveling with us through Year 1 and here’s to Year 2. I have no doubt Year 2 will bring plenty of adventures of its own as well as answers to a couple of key questions that are currently on my mind: Will Mike arrive in Australia before our son? Will my ambivalence about parenthood ease once the little guy is on the scene? Are we crazy to take our baby back to Laos? Will my memoir find a publishing home? And, will Mike give our whining, needy, Zulu dog to the Vietnamese noodle sellers down the street before I return in October as he keeps threatening to do?

However, all that is still to come, and in the meantime here is a glance back at an amazing year…

Cross cultural issues and our life in Laos

Family and pregnancy

Humanitarian work

Psychology

Writing

Over to you: I’d love to hear whether any particular post impacted you this last year or whether there’s anything you’ve been wishing I’d write about. If so, drop me a line or leave a comment below. Thanks again!

Ten things I learned this weekend

1.  Many people hold very strong views on circumcision. More than 30 people commented on my facebook status: “To circumcise or not to circumcise, that is the question. Thoughts?” Several more sent me private emails on the topic.

2.  The white mushrooms we buy from the lady down the street who sells vegetables off a tarp on the pavement are enoki mushrooms – originally Japanese and highly prized (and priced) by Western specialty food stores. We can buy a whole plastic bag for 60 cents.

3.  Don’t cook enoki mushrooms for longer than five minutes or they go tough and chewy.

4.  You can grill Japanese eggplant in a toaster oven.

5.  Commercial tomato-based pasta sauces must have enormous amounts of salt in them because when you make it from scratch it takes more salt than I think is reasonable to make it taste good.

6.  The neighbors are feeding Zulu pork ribs, which might be the reason why he is spending half his time whining at their door, begging them to let him in.

7.  Osama bin Laden is dead. While I do not mourn that fact, the sight of the midnight celebratory cheering and flag waving on the streets in the US also makes me a bit uncomfortable.

8.  The lovely afternoon storms we’ve been having that break the back of the heat of the day are worryingly early. Several years ago when a similarly premature rainy spell hit Laos many farmers planted their rice early, only to watch the seedlings sprout and then die when those early rains stopped.

9.  The Shinta Mani hotel has the best pool in Luang Prabang. It was the setting for today’s perfect swim – the water was just cool enough, we had it all to ourselves, and all you can see in almost every direction from pool level are the green mountains encircling Luang Prabang.

10.  If someone is going to take a photo taken of me when I’m six months pregnant and wearing a bikini it’s really best for everyone concerned when 80% of my body is underwater.

P.S. And discussing the pregnancy photos Mike took outside the front of our house this afternoon:

Lisa: “I look really pregnant in photo 590.”

Mike: “You look really pissed off in 593. Actually, you look really pissed off at me in a lot of these photos.”

Lisa: “I wasn’t pissed off at you. Really. I was more worried about the fact that when you told me to think about how excited I am about the baby it made it harder to smile nicely for the camera.”