Thursday, March 14, 2013

Pha That Luang

       When I pictured my visit to Pha That Luang, I pictured a bustling complex filled with tourists and monks. I imagined little available parking. I thought I'd wait in line to pay my admission. Instead, to protect against the dust that was being whipped around by the wind, I covered my face as I walked across an empty lot toward the temple. Vendors driving tuk-tuks called out for me to buy ice cream at the gates. Unfortunately, I don't think they made very much profit that afternoon. 
       As I completed my quiet loop around Pha That Luang, I tried, with difficulty, to imagine the festivals that cause thousands of Lao Buddhists to flock to the temple. I stopped occasionally to stand underneath sprinklers attempting to keep the gardens from wilting in the heat, and I captured a picture of a lone monk. Soon after, he called out to other monks I could not see, making me wonder what else was going on around me that I was too unobservant or culturally ignorant to notice. 
       I slipped off my flip-flops at the door of a smaller temple in the complex. I peered in the door, sure that I was welcome to walk inside, but hesitant in the absence of other tourists. I was greeted by a tinny medley of Christmas tunes, most notably, "Santa Claus is Coming to Town," and I wondered which novice monk was put in charge of that playlist. 
       You can find this collision of cultures in many large, Southeast Asian cities. However, you would struggle to find another one that matches the slow pace with which Vientiane should be discovered. Here is a city that invites you to explore nearly empty temples, but not too quickly, and not without an ice cream in your hand.

Pha That Luang

Lone flip-flops

Lone monk

"You better watch out. You better not cry. You better not pout. I'm telling you why..."

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Weeks in Review

March 9, 2013

My dear students,

       I must apologize for the lack of updates. To keep you from worrying, I will give you a list of terrible things that have not happened to me during the time that has passed.
  1. I did not get trampled by an elephant.
  2. I did not get sick from drinking too much coffee.
  3. I did not forget about you.
  4. I did not take a boat ride down the Mekong River, lose control, and end up floating into the South China Sea.
  5. I did not forget how to turn on my computer.
  6. I did not get locked inside a temple.
  7. I did not fall asleep on any public transportation.
  8. I did not get lost during a trek in the Lao jungle.
  9. I did not lose my passport.
  10. I did not move to Thailand and forget to tell you.

       Now that you know what unfortunate things I avoided, I suppose I should tell you what I have actually been up to.
  1. I climbed Patuxay, one of the most famous monuments in Laos. When I say that I “climbed” it, you may picture me whipping out ropes and a harness and scaling the side, but there were handy stairs already in place to do the hard work for me. As I climbed (the stairs) higher, I discovered t-shirts, postcards, and other Lao souvenirs for sale in the “cool” shade inside the concrete structure. I believe it’s no coincidence that the spiral staircase leading to the miniature room at the very top of Patuxay is located conveniently inside one of the shops. So, after taking in the view of Vientiane from above, I bought some things. They sure know how to reel me in.
  2. I received another official stamp in my passport, saying that I can, in fact, be in the country. It’s comforting to know this.
  3. I talked to teachers at an English school and scheduled days when I will cover a few classes! There may be more teaching opportunities for me there as time goes on, and I am very excited to be in a classroom again. If you think I moved to the other side of the globe to escape children, think again. You guys just seem to find me wherever I go.
  4. I also started conducting some private tutoring lessons. Non-native English speakers are eager to practice pronunciation and conversation, and as you know, I have no trouble carrying on long discussions. It’s a perfect fit.
  5. Here is a groundbreaking turn of events: I drank quite a few coffees since the last time you heard from me.
  6. Some of my new friends are letting me borrow an electric scooter, so I took it out for a few test drives this past week. It turns out that I am a decent scooter-driver. It also turns out that I am an excellent scooter-pusher, because it turns out that the scooter needs new batteries. Details.
  7. I affectionately named one of the stray dogs in the neighborhood Stan. I later found out that Stan’s a girl.
  8. I delightfully took a walk along the river in misty, 70-degree weather while natives pulled on sweaters and jackets.
  9. I saw two signs that read, “Over than 30 years of service,” and “One of the best pizzas you may ever had.” Fix these sentences.
  10. I bought hangers.

       Some of these things may not sound thrilling. In fact, losing control of a boat in the Mekong would surely have resulted in better storytelling than buying hangers. However, I think it’s important that you know that living in another country does not provide non-stop exploration and adventure. I still have an alarm clock. (Whether it is effective or not is irrelevant.) I still have to buy groceries. I still use a weekly planner and fill out paperwork. I’m just doing it in a place where I don’t have to shovel snow, and I'm okay with that.

Miss Ross

Patuxay (Pah-too-sigh)

Looking down Lane Xang at the Presidential Palace 

Lane Xang and Vientiane 

Beautiful Patuxay at night 

Downtown Vientiane 

A temple across from the Mekong River