A New Beginning


Noe tries out a new daycare after a three-month hiatus, and we inadvertently crash a fashion fundraising event at one of Lao’s finest restaurants.


For the past couple of weeks since we got back from the States, Noe’s been spending a lot of one-on-one quality time with his old man. It’s been like old times — the first few months after moving to Laos. But, instead of having a hungry, poopy, helpless infant that spends his precious few waking hours laying on his back and batting at whatever is in front of him, I’ve got a full-on little boy in my charge, with all the mischief and opinions that come along with it. Regardless, he’s a lot more fun now than he was a year ago — but equal parts exhausting as well.

As much as I love my time with Noe, with the rain, our relative isolation here, and his new-found mobility (he decided a few days after getting back from our trip that he wanted to start walking — all the time, everywhere), it’s clear that the right daycare a few times a week would be a really good thing for him.

He seemed to really enjoy going to daycare the first time around, but just couldn’t stay healthy for more than a couple of weeks at a time. It was fine when it was runny noses and mild fevers, but in the end it seemed we couldn’t make it a month without one of those runny noses turning into a full on respiratory infection.

So, we pulled him out of daycare for June, July and August, enlisted the help of a nanny for part of the week, and hoped the break would allow his immune system to make a full recovery and to become more developed by the time we got back from the U.S. Then we’d resume daycare part-time. When the time came to return, however, some changes had been made at the daycare that were enough to compel us to look elsewhere.

So, the search was on.

But first, a welcome discovery.

Yep, those are street tacos and tortilla chips…and, yes, that is indeed a margarita, with real tequila and all!

It would be an understatement to say that Mexican food is hard to find in Laos. When Lori and I moved here, we didn’t expect to find anything resembling Mexican food, and in reality, we didn’t. Ban Gai House of Chicken was about as close as it came for a long time (and we still eat there — their burritos are delicious). But for us and many others who craved Mexican, Ban Gai was the only game in town. Until now.

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The large red “Gringo’s” sign (complete with sombrero) caught our eye as we were driving one of the main roads we drive often. Honestly, it’s hard to miss the sign, so we knew the place must have opened recently — and sure enough, it had just opened while we were away in the U.S.

The food isn’t blow-your-socks-off Mexican, but it’s surprisingly good for Southeast Asia. In addition to the tasty Mexican fare, they’ve also got a large indoor kid’s play area, which undoubtedly will come in handy.

Lori recently discovered the Kids’ Garden and Cafe and has been wanting to check it out. So, Noe and mommy had some quality mommy-son time and went to check it out.

 

There are multiple rooms of play structures and toys that kids of all ages can access for a nominal fee (~$3.50/hour). On this particular Sunday, there were only a few other kids with their parents, so Noe got the run of the place. They even have a cafe inside for parents.

 

We’re quickly learning that Vientiane has quite a few spaces like this for toddlers and kids in a variety of malls and coffee shops throughout the city. So far, however, Kids’ Garden is our favorite.

As much as Noe enjoyed his time at the Kids’ Garden, nothing beats hanging out at home in his splash pad.

And YES, that is the same splash pad from Nanny and Poppy’s house in Oregon. It was one of the few things that was both adored by Noe and small enough to bring back with us in our suitcase. We were even fortunate enough to get a weekend with sunshine, the only couple of days without rain we’ve had since being back!

 

After many phone calls, emails and Facebook messages, we finally found a daycare that was going to work for us. It isn’t perfect (it’s on the other side of town from where we live and where Lori works and will add a considerable amount of time to her commute on the days he attends, it’s predominately taught in French and Lao, rather than Lao and English like his previous daycare, and it’s a bit more structured than we’d prefer for a toddler), but we were pleased with what we saw when we visited and think it will be really good for him.

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Noe will start with half days a couple of times a week with the eventual plan being attending Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and having him home with me Tuesdays and Thursdays. That way, he gets his English and free-play time with daddy, and daddy still gets his Noe time, but also time to work on other things.

“Creche” is the French term used for their daycare system in France, and “Xang Noi” means “little elephant.” Laos was once known as Lane Xang, the Kingdom of a Million Elephants.

Always the tough little guy. The new beginning didn’t seem to phase him one bit. Daddy on the other hand…

For the first couple of hours, they have free play outside in the yard (outside play areas are rare here and were a big selling point for us). Afterwards, a typical morning is filled with structured group activities indoors such as reading (playing with books), playing with blocks, arts and crafts and others, with a mid-morning snack. Lunch is around noon, followed by shower time, nap time, and some more activities before parents come to pick up the kids.

We were encouraged by a focus on nutrition for lunch and snacks, and that the kids got showers instead of baths (which Noe tolerates better and are less likely to breed infection). Noe’s used to having a morning and afternoon nap, but they generally only do an afternoon one for the kids. They’re going to try to put him down, but we’ll see how he does. Generally, if he misses his morning nap, he’s generally pretty good about catching up in the afternoon.

There are about 17 children at the creche, all toddler-age and mostly Lao, though there’s one French boy who is not much older than Noe. We definitely like the fact that Noe will continue to have the cross-cultural experience having mostly Lao in his class, but think it will also be nice for him to have at least one other kid in his class that looks more like him.

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Noe’s first week went really well. Fortunately, he seemed to adjust quickly and has been eager to return, while enjoying daddy time more than he had been. We’ll see how the coming weeks unfold, but for now, we’re very pleased with the new place.

 

All of this, of course, called for a date night to celebrate a successful first week at a new daycare (let’s face it, we’ll find any reason to have a date night). We visited our favorite Lao spa and had a couple of Lao massages before being led on a wild goose chase to find our next stop.

The bar at Settha Palace Hotel. Lori thought it was in one place, I thought it was in another. We found it in the end, and just before it started pouring, thankfully. We had just ordered our beverages when a large group of very well-dressed people poured in and started ordering expensive drinks. “What is this place?” we wondered. Are we still in Laos? We thought we had dressed appropriately, but were becoming increasingly self-conscious of our duds with every new arrival that walked through the doors of the swanky lounge. We busied ourselves sipping our drinks, eating our complementary nuts (and sneaking them into our pockets for later…), and looking on dumbfounded at the room full of people.

On our way out, the mystery was revealed in a large poster at the front entrance. Apparently, we had inadvertently crashed a fund raising gala dinner in support of young local designers. We likely could have even snagged some hors d’oeuvres if we had played our cards right (and if we had dressed about ten notches up), but were contented with our pocket full of peanuts and comforted by the notion that we may someday be allowed to return if we just left then and there. Given that there was a momentary break in the storm, only reinforced our decision. Next stop? You guessed it. French food!

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Birthday Weekend on the Nam Ngum
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