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Laos Life: 1-20 March 2018

The Garden of Love, a tenacious fern, the gourmet hotdog of death, Houdini strikes again, fountains and dinosaurs, and…a lime.

Daddy Days aren’t quite the same these days. Couldn’t imagine when our little rugrat was creeping and crawling around on the floor just months ago (August?) that he’d be climbing up on the settee on his own and lounging around “reading” books in February and March.

I was walking down the street, minding my own business when I stumbled upon:

Wasn’t sure what to make of the ladyboy John Lennon, and odd ’60s scene playing out behind him/her. Lori was the one to point out that they were having a “Feb” festival in March, which only added to the mystery. Cool, I thought. Some sort of music festival…or hippie festival…or cross-dresser festival…or hippie cross-dresser music festival.

The next day (again, walking down the street, minding my own business..) I encountered a long row of booths selling large stuffed animals, flower bouquets, and candies along the road in front of the Business College.

Then, I saw a sign for “FebFest” and things suddenly clicked. Ah, another typical BS event here in Laos to sell cheap crap by exploiting the Lao (and much of East Asia’s) obsession with all things “love” and all things “cute” (never mind Laos ALREADY all-out celebrated Valentines day a couple of weeks ago with the same stuff…maybe leftovers?)

My heart sank (as it often [EDIT: always]) does with any sort of non-religious event or festival here in Vientiane.

Same sh*t, different day.

Many moons ago, this was my favorite table at my favorite coffee shop in our neighborhood. It was a corner table next to a huge window, offering me a commanding view of the outside world while I toiled away on my laptop and drank iced Americanos. It had a power outlet (one of only a handful in the coffee shop), and a large overhead fern, which I adored and admired both for it’s size and it’s shade.

As the months went on, however, I began to notice the fronds increasingly obscuring my line of sight. Then, they began to encroach on my personal space. I pointed out the fern issue to the staff but they never seem to understand the problem. I guess to them, it was a fern doing what ferns do. So I made due, tucking the odd stray frond up temporarily so I could work unmolested and see the staff when they came by to take my order.

The fern continued to grow until one day I came to the gut wrenching realization that the benefits of sitting in my favorite seat no longer outweighed the costs. There were too many fronds to tuck up, not enough room on the table for my computer, and it was no longer feasible to sit there. So, I moved to the next table over.

The fern has since completely reclaimed the table and no one sits there anymore. Occasionally, a first-timer will arrive at the coffee shop and take a seat under the fern, somehow not noticing that something is amiss. The moment they do is priceless.

Welcome to the jungle!

A couple of weeks ago, this was a hardware store. Just what we need, another Vietnamese beauty salon. Our neighborhood has more beauty salons (mostly Vietnamese salons) per capita than probably anywhere else on Earth.

On our street, we’ve got about a dozen along a couple of blocks. On Rue. Dongpayna there are another dozen lining the road. If Lori’s favorite person isn’t around for mani/pedi, hair wash, blow-dry, etc., she tries the next door down. If that person isn’t there, she goes two more doors down.

The second most common type of shop are hardware stores. Frequently, we’ll see hardware stores go out of business and get converted into beauty salons and beauty salons go out of business and get turned into hardware stores.

Hey, I have an idea. Why don’t we try something OTHER than a hardware store or beauty salon in this neighborhood?

So this happened.

I’m not sure how it happened, but it happened.

The weather was nice, so I decided to walk a mile to a coffee shop I hadn’t been to in several months. I told myself I’d only get coffee and have PB&J for lunch at home. But then something on the menu caught my eye:

“Gourmet Hotdog.”

Looking back, I’m not sure where the disconnect was. I know full and well what a hotdog means here in Laos–the saddest, flavorless, colorless tube of pork bi-product you’ve ever seen or tasted. Thai people love ’em for breakfast (what they call breakfast sausage…). Chinese people love ’em pretty much any time of day (they sell them in Chinese supermarkets in the dry goods section heat wrapped like beef sticks, right next to the plastic-wrapped chicken legs…).

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I guess it was the word “gourmet” that got me. I read that word and my imagination ran wild. They make some awesome local sausage here in Laos. For a moment, I pictured one of those plump, juicy brats on a gourmet bun with cheese or chili or sauerkraut…alright, I was really delirious, I guess. I mulled it over for a good 30 minutes, then finally decided I try it. What’s the worst that could happen?

Ten minutes later, a Wonder Bread bun on a plate arrived, loaded with heart-attack-inducing fried onions and peppers topped with half a bottle of mustard and ketchup. And beneath it all? You guessed it! a single, sad, flavorless, colorless tube of pork bi-product. Lesson learned.

The fries were pretty awesome, though. And the sprig of lettuce sure made it feel healthy.

Noe’s become increasingly demanding of us lately. He’s becoming very opinionated and insists that daddy or mommy (or daddy AND mommy) join him while he plays. But we can’t sit in any spot. The Mister shows us exactly where he wishes us to sit, and God help you, you better sit there.

I’ve been happy to join him lately. He’s a lot of fun right now to play with. He does most of the playing, he just wants company (as if he doesn’t get enough at his daycare the rest of the week!!!). We kept most of his toys in his 4′ x 4′ play pen, and he was insisting more and more that I join him in there. After a while, it began to feel like crawling into some crazy Medieval torture device to the point where I just couldn’t do it any more. That’s when I suggested it was time we get rid of the Mister’s house altogether. It no longer served any real purpose but to corral his toys (he figured out how to unlock it months ago).

So, that was that. One day, I made it disappear, and in it’s place, laid down his play mat from his room. Fortunately, Noe loves it. He’s had a major obsession with all things fruit (FRUWAH!) lately, so you might imagine his reaction when he saw the mat (fruit-side UP, which hasn’t been the case for about a year).

Even though Noe’s corral is gone, didn’t mean the end of Houdini.

Lori and I were sitting around one Sunday during one of Noe’s naps. He’d been down for a while and we hadn’t heard a peep, so we thought all was good. We’ve been using the monitor less and less because his naps are pretty straight forward–he goes down for one to two hours, then cries when he’s up and we go get him.

It was a particularly hot day so Lori asked me to fire up the monitor to check the temp in his room.

So, I did and saw this…

The first thing that struck me was the temp. 80, hmm a little high. Not too concerning, but maybe a bit uncomfortable. Then, I noticed something odd. Wait…where’s Noe??? Oh crap! The crib door’s open!

I darted upstairs as fast as I could trying to think of what might’ve been left out and what he might have gotten in to. I opened the door to his room and was surprised at what I saw. Noe had collected the soap pump dispenser, diaper rash cream, and his water bottle (all things left out before he went down) and lined them up on the end table. He had taken his sleep sack (and his pants) off and placed them neatly on the rail of the chair. And what was Noe doing? Sitting on the chair in the corner (in the dark) looking at one of his bed time books…until he saw me come in–at which point, he let out a big “UH OH!” tossed his book aside, grabbed his swaddle (and pants), hopped off the chair and darted for the crib–spent a few seconds trying to zip up the crib door in vain before flinging himself on the pad of his crib, shoving his Wubba Nub into his mouth and trying to pretend like nothing happened.

Needless to say, we will now be utilizing the zipper latch on his crib moving forward.

Lori recently came across a great deal on some second-hand toys–a wooden train and a musical instrument puzzle that plays music when you put a piece in (which has become one of his favorites).

I’m not sure I’ve mentioned this before (we don’t really make a habit of talking about it) but Noe generally isn’t allowed to watch TV or play with devices.

There have been, of course, occasional exceptions. Last July on our long flight back to the U.S., we tried showing him a kid movie–he wanted nothing to do with it (so I ended up watching it while he played with his tissues and straw…)

Sometimes, I’ll show him a YouTube video regarding something we’re going to see. For example, if we’re going to the beach, I might show him an underwater video of tropical fish.

It’s not that we necessarily have some strong ideological views against gadgets for toddlers…to be honest, we don’t really care what other parents do. But this is what works for us. Lori and I don’t own a tablet and have no games on our phones. We never expected to have a TV in our house in Laos (but ended up with two wall-mounted flatscreens with 20 terrestrial channels, which we turn on about once every two weeks). His daycare is a pretty rudimentary French creche, with no electronics or televisions, a big grassy outdoor area with toddler playground items, and lots of fun activities they do together (story time, Lego time, dance and sing time, color and paint time, feed the pet rabbit time…). I guess between Lori’s pediatric physical therapy and public health background, my general aversion to TV, social media, and non-productive screen time, and both of us aiming for quasi-minimimalism (does it count if the employer-provided house comes furnished?), it was bound to work out that way.

Either way, for now, Noe seems content with his books, wooden toys, and radio at home, crayons and paper at restaurants, and plush toys and Reggae music on long car rides.

More grillin’.

I get most of my meat at Lao Fresh Meats, a local butcher here in town. They’re always rotating their stock, which is both good and bad. On the one hand, you always know the stuff’s fresh, and they’re always offering new cuts or types of meat. On the other hand, if we try something new and really like it, we may not see it again for months! I’ve stocked up on meats without trying them and found ourselves stuck with a bunch of meat we’re not crazy about. So, I’m hesitant to buy out the place. As a result, it’s been months since I’ve grilled burgers (we were hooked on their delicious Brahman beef patties). Recently, Brahman kabob steak appeared–we tried it out and it was awesome (but haven’t seen it since).

Then…just the other day, the Holy Grail of pork appeared–BABY BACK RIBS. I bought one pack because I thought it was about US$7 for a rack. There were two other packs, and I should have just grabbed them. I took the rack home, opened it up and discovered there was not one but TWO racks (one underneath)! I baked/grilled up one and it was amazing. Lori went back today to grab whatever else they had on stock, but…you guessed it…they were wiped out.

On a completely unrelated note, here in Vientiane, we’ve got the venerable Vientiane Times newspaper. It’s a fairly thick English-language daily newspaper. When we first moved here, I thought, how in the world can such a sleepy and inconsequential city support so much news!? That was, until I read it.

“Head of the Wattay International Airport Expansion Project, Mr. Sengsangdouane Chanthavong, who is Deputy Director of the Aerodrome Division, Department of Civil Aviation, Ministry of Public Works and Transport…”

Heck of a title. And what did Mr. Sensangdouane Chanthavong say?

“The new facilities would become operational in July.”

Not a one-off. The whole paper’s like that…hence the 30-page daily.

No, Noe did not eat all of this by himself…just most of it. On a serious note, fortunately we had enough foresight to feed Noe before heading to breakfast, though he was happy to pour his cup of water all over himself.

So, we let him do it some more when we got home.

Noe “helping” mommy with laundry (Lori had a bit of cold, hence the awesome mask).

Student Driver.

So, we’re back on the Mekong riverfront. I don’t know how many times I’ve blogged about this development over the past six years. Let’s see, there was our first visit to Vientiane in 2012, when they had leveled the land adjacent to the Mekong in preparation for some sort of mystery development. Yep, 2012.

Then, there was our first walk along the Mekong after we moved here in 2016.

Then, about six months ago:

A few weeks ago…


And finally…last weekend…

We were not expecting the water features…

Noe saw some Lao people squatting and felt left out.

There are also animatronic dinosaurs on the far end of the complex, but we didn’t get to this today.


It’s actually kind of a mystery still as to what this all is. My assumption for years was that they were going to move the night market down here. Currently, the night market comprises several dozen tents just right over the levee pictured here. This new market opened up, and the old tents are very much still there. To our surprise, these stalls house a lot of little restaurants.

Quite honestly, I’m not sure how these places expect to survive. Just in the past year, we’ve been introduced to Vientiane New World, M-Park, Cowboy Park, Namphou Park and now this–all food-cart-like pods with the same less-than-thrilling food offerings (though Lao teens seem to love the food). Mind you, that’s in addition to the food courts at the various malls that have sprung up around town at Talat Sao, ITECC, and Vientiane Center. Oh, and that’s not to mention the gigantic new mall or something-or-other going in literally right next to the brand new mall that opened up a couple years ago (and is about ten times larger than said mall). We won’t even get into all the recently built (and vacant) malls, or the crazy Chinese SEZ development near our house, or the crazy Chinese business district going up north of the city, or the crazy new Chinese mall going up adjacent to the crazy 10-year-old Chinese mall that burned to the ground a few months back under mysterious circumstances.

But for now, none of that matters, cause hey…water features and dinosaurs!

Helping mommy get work done. What can I say, kids love spreadsheets. Who doesn’t?




Want to quiet a fussing Noe? Give the kid a lime!

20 March 2018

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1 thought on “Laos Life: 1-20 March 2018”

  1. I love your descriptions of the day-to-day life in Laos. Noe is having great experiences and new adventures. I can’t wait to watch him play and learn.

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