Saturday, February 23, 2013

Buddha Park

       Today, I visited the Buddha Park just outside Vientiane. It is a large, grassy area along the Mekong River, filled with statues that seem to have been dropped there accidently. There appears to be no rhyme or reason to their arrangement, since they create a kind of maze without a destination, but each statue is unique. You're drawn through the park, almost simply because you can't imagine what else they could have possibly carved and placed there.
       The most interesting structure is three stories tall and shaped like a ball, one with little windows carved in the side and precarious stairways inside. If balance is not your forte and hights are not your friend, do not attempt to climb to the top. Once you emerge, crawling, through the small opening at the top, the new perspective is worth the climb.
       As I made my way back to land, a group of monks arrived to tour the park. Monks are highly regarded members of Lao society, and they are easy to spot around town in their orange robes. Foreigners often need to be reminded to respect their routines, and pictures are discouraged. I snapped a few from a distance, but I did not approach them or interrupt their wanderings.
       But here's where things became strange. As I was resting on a bench in the shade, the monks started taking pictures of me. While I tried to be subtle with my camera, they stood in a group, talking loudly, and snapping pictures in my direction. Not every day does a monk take a picture of you.
       Now, granted, I had a baby on my lap. That's really what they were taking a picture of, and had I set the baby down and removed myself from the frame, they probably would have been happier. Still, somewhere in a temple in Laos, I am immortalized on some monks' SD cards. That is, until they realize it was silly to take a picture of a hot, tired foreigner and wisely decide to delete it.

 The encouraging entrance

 The outer, well-lit hallway

Having their picture taken 

A sea of statues

Buddha Park

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Weather Forecast

I have stopped complaining about the weather here. This has happened for two reasons.
  1. I start to think about people in the Midwest who are engaging in one of my least favorite activities, scraping ice off car windshields. 
  2. This is the conversation that follows whenever I do complain.
    • Me: It sure is hot here!
    • Wise local who has been here far longer than me and is well aware that it is about to get much worse: Ha!
       From the way they talk about the approaching heat, I'm starting to wonder if I would welcome ice-scraping in its place, a thought that suggests my brain has already been addled. I've started to prepare now. Since it was a cool 95 degrees yesterday, I wore a sweater, even while I walked around outside. I tell myself that it will feel refreshing when I stop wearing sweaters during the hot season. My logic here is unshakable. Don't question it. 
       The hot season is not the only legendary phenomenon here. People have been trying to prepare me for the rainy season as well. From what they tell me, the type of hourly precipitation I am imagining can only be accurately compared to Niagara Falls. It appears that it makes no difference that Laos is a landlocked country. According to my predictions, there will be enough water to swim in the streets. I hope the Niagara Falls tour guides are here to hand out ponchos.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Pity Party Postponed

       I think some people worried when I mentioned I was moving to Laos. Let me drive that worry away once and for all, or momentarily, depending on how prone you are to anxiety. I'd like to debunk the idea that I may be washing my clothes in the Mekong River or bartering for food.
       I woke up this morning and ate a chocolate croissant. Then I read through underlined, beloved segments of my favorite book, Nomad's Hotel. It is the only book I have ever marked up with a pencil. I bought it at my favorite book store in New York City, and it is the sole book that has made the cut each and every time I've gone somewhere for an extended period of time. It has traveled in my suitcase to the Czech Republic, Scotland, Italy, and now Laos. In it, I find old postcards, playbills and ticket stubs that bring me back to Venice or Prague when they were used as bookmarks. Every time I read it, a different thought speaks to me depending on where I am at the time or what has happened in my life since the last time I read it. When the pencil marks start to wear off, I read through and darken them again. It provides a connecting link between my destinations. 
       After reading and pondering over literature, I got an hour long foot massage for six dollars. Then I drank a banana frappe. And that's Thursday. 

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Communication: Made Possible By Skype

       Sometimes I marvel at my good fortune. Today, I found my way around my new city, only getting lost a time or two, and then only for a couple of minutes. I learned a couple new words in Lao. I drank coffee. Then, when it seemed that the only thing that could perfectly top off the day would be to fall asleep, I talked to a roomful of about 70 second graders in Indiana.
       I thought about complaining that the internet connection was poor, meaning that we typed most of our questions and answers to one another instead of seeing faces. Then I remembered that until only recently, a journey such as mine was truly isolating. The very thought of instantaneous communication between one person going through a bedtime ritual with another person, one who is finishing up a morning routine at that exact time, was unthinkable. I occasionally mention that it would be liberating to untie myself from technology, but then my decisions to move around the globe would be much more difficult to justify.
       We discussed food, transportation, and the shocking lack of video games in my life. I talked about how much rice I now consume, and I confessed to eating ice cream quite frequently, okay daily, to cope with the heat. Also, because it's delicious, and I'm supporting the economy.
       What is more important than these topics, and what I hope my students will learn, is the fact that there was any communication at all. I don't only mean communication between a teacher and her students who happen to miss each other, but between people who are living differently. How can I expect everyone to value what is unknown and strange to them unless I tell them how rewarding it is to feel a little displaced sometimes? The benefits of throwing yourself into a different way of life far outweigh the time it takes to feel normal again. I fear the people who assume that their way of life is the only way of life.
       It was comforting to hear their voices, even for a few moments. I was so thankful that they had so many questions, because it meant that they are trying to understand. They are trying to imagine life in a context other than what is familar to them. To hear curiosity buzzing around them gave me hope that people will continue to communicate across borders. And when there is ice cream on both sides, I don't really see why there would be any holdup.