It’s festival time! For the Lao that means beer, parties, and temple time (seemingly, in that order). And for us—bad kale and a visit from Sherlock Holmes.
The week begins with our bi-monthly stop at the Thai supermarket north of town on our way back from a weekend away.
And, the occasional run-in with a temple in the middle of the road…
So, it’s festival time here in Vientiane! A year on and we’re still working to figure out what that means, exactly.
One thing we have learned is that it’s different every year. In Laos there are a variety of “holidays” (we’re going to use the word “holidays” for the sake simplicity):
You’ve got your national (government) holidays—not celebrated as widely, but still a reason to party (as if there weren’t enough reasons), which are observed on the same calendar date each year;
You’ve got foreign holidays—like Christmas, Halloween, Valentine’s Day, Chinese/Vietnamese New Year, Gregorian (Western) New Year—for which most Lao don’t get any time off from work but are still widely observed, particularly in the capital;
To make things even more fun, in addition to the holidays that essentially all Lao celebrate, each “village” or neighborhood have their own set throughout the year—which may be religious (set by the village temple) or administrative (set by the village authority);
Finally, if you are a foreigner (say, an American working for an American organization or company), you may also actively observe (and even get time off for!) American holidays such as Thanksgiving, Fourth of July, Veterans Day, etc. (in addition to all the ones above, of course).
In terms of days off for Lori, her Belgian employer takes a measured approach across all countries they work in, basically letting local staff take the standard bank holidays most people have off, and giving international staff (like Lori) 10 days of holidays—it doesn’t matter which 10 (each field office determines this amongst themselves), but 10 it is.
Inevitably, holidays and festivals do overlap from time to time, and October 2017 is no exception. When that happens, well…
…sleepy Vientiane starts to look a bit more like India than Laos. This was the view recently in our neighborhood at around 10am in the week between the end of Buddhist Lent (Awk Phansa/ Boat Racing Festival) and some other Lao festival for which we were not clued in.
All that partying can do a number on a little dude…
This wasn’t actually the result of having too much fun, unfortunately, but we suspect some kale puree gone bad. Noe used to love our homemade kale puree with rice cereal, but over the weekend began to lose interest. As a result, the kale pouch kept getting put back into the cooler (we were out of town). On Monday, we thought we might try the kale one last time, but it apparently had turned, resulting in Noe’s first puke fest. It was an intense hour-long affair (I asked Lori to rush home to assist—yep, it was pretty bad). In the end, poor Noe just passed out from exhaustion while rehydrating. A couple hours later, he was running around the house and eating everything we could throw at him like nothing happened. Unfortunately, he has refused any and all kale since that episode (I don’t blame him!).
Later in the week, we had another minor crisis when Noe came home from daycare without his monkey Wubbanub (this, for the uninitiated), which he sleeps with morning, noon, and night. Worried that he’d be up half the night distraught (he gets pretty distraught if he throws his Wubbanub out of his crib in a fit of rage—poor life choice, dude) Lori had an idea. She grabbed her needle and thread and quickly flew into action—in no time producing this:
Not bad, right? Noe seemed none the wiser and we all had a peaceful night.
After the whole kale fiasco, we figured it was about time Noe just cooked for himself.
One day, I caught Noe doing this out of the corner of my eye:
At first, I thought he was trying to itch his behind before quickly realizing the dude just wanted to sit down. He does quite a bit of that at his new daycare—sitting down in pint-sized chairs (how French, right? At his previous Lao daycare, the kids just squatted or sat on the ground). Then it dawned on me, we don’t have a single chair his size in the house! So, taking a page from mommy’s ingenuity, I came up with this:
And sure enough, it became his new favorite hangout place for the rest of the week.
It was shaping up to be a gorgeous evening, so we took a stroll down to the Chinese SEZ (Special Economic Zone) to see how things were shaping up. Not much has changed with the development (though construction appears to continue), save for a new Chinese supermarket in the works.
As the occupancy rates are seemingly very low in the nearby apartment blocks and there’s another Chinese supermarket just around the corner, it will be interesting to see how much business they get. Such realities might pose problems for other developers, but not for those looking forty years into the future (which might very well be how long this development takes to turn a profit…)
We noticed a makeshift bar had popped up for the construction workers and decided to join them for a sunset beer.
Time to walk home.
Finally, something completely different.
There isn’t a lot in the way of performing arts here in Vientiane—Laotian or otherwise. So, when we heard that an internationally acclaimed traveling act from London was coming to Vientiane to perform a play based on a Sherlock Holmes story, we thought we’d find a sitter and check it out. It ended up being a bigger deal than we imagined, complete with bottomless cocktails and hors d’oeuvres at one of the town’s more upscale hotels. The UK ambassador was even on hand to say a few words to introduce the play.
It only seemed appropriate to follow up a high-brow evening with only the highest of brows watering holes in this fair city: Rootin’ tootin’ Wind West. And no, that’s not a type-o. This old west-style tavern really is called WiNd West.
One of the things we love about Vientiane is that you can stroll into some place like this around 8 or 9pm and there are still plenty of seats and vibe is very relaxed. Contrast that to any major city in the U.S. where we’d already be standing around waiting for a table and having to shout at each other to be heard. The musician this particular evening was pretty good (as they all seem to be in this town—certainly no shortage of talent here—and her rendition of low-key English favorites was pretty spot on. We may have completely forgotten that we were in Laos but for the fact that in the middle of a song the woman’s phone rang—she stopped the song, picked up the phone, and started casually chatting for the next five minutes before resuming the song where she left off—after having lived here for over a year, the whole thing seemed oddly typical.