Archive for February, 2010

no add meat pork, add meat chicken.

Sunday, February 28th, 2010

wordsHere’s the problem: Lao is hard. I mean seriously hard.

It’s tonal, it’s duplicitous, it’s backwards. Every word has infinite meanings. A little extra gasp on the ‘h’ sound, and you ordered your soup with no dad, not no spice.
A slight inhale on the ‘b,’ and you told a group of preschoolers that you live in a sandal.

And context is of no help. A Lao person will stare at you like you’ve just offered them a plate of your own feces if you order a bowl of phu rather than phuu. The confusion will be endless, and you’ll walk out with a coke, the one universally recognized word.

And to add to all of this, there’s no help; you’re going it alone. You pick up what you can by listening, you ask for translations, but at the end of the day that’s all you got, and trust me, it isn’t much. There’s no book, no computer translation program, no magic CD’s that promise fluency in 30 days.

So, to combat this? Flashcards. Always the best answer. An endless amount of flashcards. Potato, hangover, electricity, month. Piles for numbers, action verbs, time placers, foods, pronouns.

So you practice. Practice alone, with some friends who do their best not to laugh, some people who politely pretend to understand. You practice until you can go to the woman at the noodle shop down the street and order a bowl of pho, no pork please, and not spicy. ‘Kway thong kong kin pho, bo sia siin moo, bo phet.’

And then you sit there in this little outdoor restaurant, eating your bowl of noodles with the groups of Lao people on lunch break.

And afterwards? Well, you’ve earned it, of course. A stop at the waffle stand on the way home for a fluffy, sweet, heart-shaped treat. Just one please, no spice.

our international language.

Friday, February 26th, 2010

Playing with the kids of Pha Theung.

and thus we enter the year of the tiger.

Sunday, February 14th, 2010

On our way to dinner, Allison and I feel a Christmas Eve-like anticipation. Streets are empty and strings of lights are lit.

A coworker of A & J’s, here in Taichung, has invited us to have Chinese New Year at his Taiwanese girlfriend’s house. We have, per usual, no idea what to expect.

When we get to the apartment, we’re given slippers to wear and pointed towards the table; the kitchen is small, crowded and smelling wonderful. The rooms are close together and cluttered, the walkway tight and the dinner table filled with plates of food.

We’re pointed to our seats where we drink a little rice whiskey (much like the burning Lao Lao we’re familiar with) and watch some TV (also a comfortable Lao norm–TV always on). Inside this family’s home, we are welcomed, warm.

The food keeps coming out and Minni, the girlfriend, does her best to explain each item and it’s New Year’s meaning, most of which have to do with a coming year filled with prosperity and money.

Our host, Minni’s mother, soon comes out after what must have been a long day in the kitchen. She sweetly, softly, in Mandarin, thanks us all for coming and says she’s happy we can be here.

With small bowls and chopsticks, we eat. And eat, and eat. Tofu skins, deep fried cakes, rice noodles, pork balls, grilled peppers. I’m impressed with my performance; I pass off only one item I can’t stomach into Allison’s bowl. B sits across from us, filling and refilling his bowl with pork ball lamb soup, slouching from fullness and going back for more.

And we continue this way, eating way past our fill, until the dinner is over.

After we thank our host and say goodbye, Minni leads us down the road to a small, smokey bar, the only open place on the street.

So here, with some 24 oz beers, a growing group of locals, and a little bit of family, we ring in the year of the tiger.

And its possible, just maybe, that we close out the night with a cousin karaoke duet of Like a Virgin .

And you’re the best thing that he’s ever seen.

Thursday, February 4th, 2010

DSC_0447Noy and I excuse ourselves from dinner; it’s just after eight and people are heading to bed. The generator has been turned off, the moon is out and the fires are smoldering.

Here in Phayong Village, several hours from any main town, we live by the sun, the stars, the roosters.

This village of about 600 people sits in the middle of the mountains. An adventurous motorbike ride up a windy, uneven, and often flooded dirt road to get here. During the summer months, Phayong is cut off from any other village or town; rain falls and rivers rise, leaving them here, in this lush green pocket, alone.

As Noy and I walk the main path of the village, we hear sweet, low voices singing children to sleep, the crack and sizzle of water on flame, and the few lone roosters already starting to crow

Noy, who grew up in the city, in fascinated by life in the village. She is a part of Pencils of Promise because she deeply believes that everyone, regardless of status or location, deserves access to knowledge and opportunity. She says she can’t imagine being a woman out here, having a predetermined future of pregnancy, birth, work, repeat. Says she’s lucky for her wealth and choice.

At the top of the hill, we hear what is undeniably a teenage girl giggle. We shine our light ahead and see two girls, huddled together over a cellphone. This point, at the very peak of the village, is the only spot with phone reception.

I whisper to them, ‘saibaidee,’ and we share a quick understanding that nobody should know they are out here.

By all appearances, we share nothing, these girls and I.

But on top of this hill, huddled together, we smile, blush, and call our boyfriends to say goodnight.