Daily Life, 16 May – 5 June

Sliding back into rainy season and home base routines—but not without new discoveries, capital city adventures, and a handful of big milestones on the horizon.

By Dave

Filed in: Expat Life, Laos

Speaking of new discoveries…

We used to come across these guys regularly in Belize—INSIDE both of our residences there. However, this is the FIRST scorpion I’ve seen in and around our house in Vientiane in the 21 months we’ve lived in Laos. And…he was a pretty big one.

I was working on my laptop on a table in our carport when I heard a rustling behind me. I initially thought it was the wind. But after a while of listening to the sound, it was apparent it was NOT the wind. I turned around and found this guy inches away from my left foot!

Many Lao people eat scorpions, particularly this size. A few years back I might have attempted to trap it and take it to the neighbor, but with Noe playing around the house, I’m no longer so patient with the critters.

It had felt like ages since the three of us took an evening walk along the Mekong downtown. We’ve been downtown several times, but not up and over the levee since the return of the rains. We were pretty surprised at what we saw! What was completely underwater by this time last year is a sea of green this year. Yeah, we’ve had a bit less rain this year so far, but I didn’t think this much less. For comparisons sake, this is what it looked like last year—from almost the same exact vantage on nearly the same day:

There’s currently a community campaign by a local artist to try and save this old typing school building along the Mekong. I’ve long been fascinated with this particular building, for it’s art deco styling and striking state of decay. These old buildings are disappearing at an alarming rate here in Vientiane, replaced with unimaginative, soulless boxes. They’ve got two years to find investors before its razed. We’ll see what happens.

In the meantime, a funky bar made out of old shipping containers has sprung up to take advantage of the prime location along the river. It’s an outlet for the well-known regional boutique distiller, Laodi. A perfect place to watch the sun set…if it weren’t May, when the sun sets too far to the right to view along the Mekong.

While we’re on the topic of booze…

You will never, ever see this in Vientiane—at least not in any bar or restaurant, and at least not yet. Rock Brew is one of a handful of—alright, let’s be honest, the ONLY—currently viable craft breweries in Laos. There are others, but they all seem to have critical issues with production and meeting demand. Rock Brew is the most consistent craft brewery and currently can be reliably found on tap at four locations around town (though it’s always a surprise which beer they’ll have on…and I say ‘one’ because it’s a rarity when there are more than one on offer. Heck, it’s a novelty just to have draught beer here in Laos).

So back to the taster. I was fortunate enough to know a guy who knows a guy (actually…the guy who makes Rock Brew out of his house!) and we convened for a small gathering at his brewery to taste some of the beers he’s currently thinking of putting into production. It was a treat, to say the least, to be able to sample stock that wasn’t yet available to the public, and even more of a treat in Laos, where such exotic styles of beer—like an English Bitter or New England IPA—are impossible to find anywhere.

I’m hoping in the future to do a whole post on the Rock Brew brewing operation, so stay tuned!

Moving away from booze (for the moment), and now, to food.

Yep, that’s salmon! When Lori was pregnant the first time around with Noe, I made my baked salmon about once a week, due to its health properties (particularly for pregnant women). Good, quality salmon isn’t difficult to find in Portland, Oregon at a reasonable price (and Fred Meyer would frequently run 50% sales on their wild Chinook (King) salmon fillets (my favorite for baking!) By the ninth month of pregnancy our small apartment freezer was crammed full of salmon fillets after a good sale (it helped that Noe’s due date coincided with Alaska King salmon season).

So, back to Vientiane. As you might expect, salmon is not so plentiful in a landlocked country thousands of miles away from the nearest run. I got this small fillet as a special treat for Lori at the Thai high-end grocery store (Rimping). Flash frozen farmed from Norway. Not quite the same, but still delicious.

One of my hopes for AwayGoWe in the future is that it will become a repository for talking more about the nuts and bolts of our daily lives here in Laos, in order to give a better picture of what it’s like, not only to live in Vientiane as American expats with a kid, but living in a developing country. There are many things that we do without thinking and take for granted. One of them is doing the laundry. This is our machine:

We’re lucky to have a fully-automatic washing machine, as many rental properties here in Vientiane are equipped with a spinner, which gets the job done, but with quite a bit more effort.

I don’t have any complaints about this machine. It’s simple and straight-forward, and I much prefer it to the new fangled ones in the U.S. that locks you out of your laundry for an hour!!! Sometimes, you just need to throw in a wayward sock mid-cycle, or pull a scorpion out of the load (e.g. Belize), ya know?

The only thing I would change is adding a hot water connection. We’ve got hot water in the house, but the machine only takes one connection. If this were my own house, undoubtedly I would have rigged up some sort of crazy plumbing system to have the option of running hot into the machine directly. If we do want hot water, I currently fill a basin up at the tap and dump it into the machine. Fortunately, as we live in the tropics, the “cold” water that feeds into the machine is pretty warm most of the year.

And, of course, there’s no dryer. I don’t know anyone here who has a dryer. We’ve got a covered area right off from the laundry room with a drying rack and some lines, which is great for overflow and rainy days (like this time of year). For non-rainy days, we’ve got the collapsible aluminum rack. Two hours in direct sunlight gets a pair of jeans bone dry. In the rainy season, it may take 36+ hours to get a t-shirt feeling sufficiently dry to wear without feeling gross.

And yes, we do our own laundry. All of it. Actually, I do most of it, but Lori does do the cloth diapers. A lot of expats…okay, most expats…we know in Vientiane have a full-time housekeeper that does their laundry. We hire a lady to come for four hours a week to give the house a good scrub down (floors, bathrooms, etc.), which in our minds is well worth the money. We do everything else ourselves like laundry, cooking, washing dishes. It’s the same as we’ve always done, so no skin off our backs. Maybe we’ll change our tune with a second kid…we’ll see.

A coffee shop in our neighborhood that I frequent recently came out with a new menu. Even Lori (who loves both macaroni and cheese and croissants) was skeptical of this one.

A number of cafes and coffee shops (mostly those frequented by foreigners/expats) here in Laos are replacing plastic packaging and straws with biodegradable options. In the straw department, I’ve seen bamboo straws (which we have at home), paper straws (above), and straw-on-request. I welcome the changes, and hope it’s the beginning of a larger movement across the country and region. With that said, at the rate that I drink my iced Americano, I’d just assume not use a straw altogether, given that the paper straws last about an hour before becoming soggy (and stick to your lips!). The fact that they do start breaking down so quickly only proves that they won’t be around in a hundred years…kind of like biodegradable toilet paper that starts to biodegrade before its even finished its job!

Before leaving the coffee shop, we had an unexpected visitor. A guy rolled up on his motorbike with a baby goat. He looked like he was fixin’ to come on in and share a beverage with his kid, but to my disappointment opted not to at the last minute. He picked up his goat and rode off. Just a typical day in Vientiane…

 

Need an industrial bubble-tea sealer? Or how about a box of apple juice in support of SickKids? Just another visit to D-Mart, the Chinese department store in town.

 

David, does this baby make me look fat?

We tried out a new coffee shop Saturday morning (Lori surprised me—it’s difficult for me to surprise her like this these days, as I CAN’T DRIVE). Cabana Cafe is a little hidden contemporary Japanese cafe (and apartment block) along the Mekong in town that serves up tasty and healthy breakfast and lunch items. And they are one of the few places in town offering Cold Brew coffee (above)!

 

The last time Lori and I had a date night was in mid-February, so we were definitely overdue for one. In 2017, we averaged one date night per month, but between guests, events, and two weeks in Malaysia, time got away from us. We started as we often do, with Lao massages at our favorite place in town, Manee Spa. Lori opted for the 60-minute foot massage. Instead of getting the traditional Lao massage that I always get, I went for the oil massage, which is closer to the type of massage that people are more familiar with in the U.S. It was very relaxing, but I didn’t feel the healthful benefits as much as I do from the yoga-style Lao massage. Lori loved her foot massage. Is 60 minutes too long for a foot massage? Lori says heck no.

Afterwards, we thought we’d head to Rashmi’s rooftop bar to catch the sunset. We’ve been there a few times in the past on date nights and have enjoyed the vibe. We made it all the way to the rooftop, only to find that it was most definitely no longer functional. Funny thing is, we must have passed half a dozen staff who knew exactly where we were headed (and even pointed us in the direction). Um…do y’all know your restaurant closed down? You’re right, I don’t expect you to tell us and save us the journey to the ninth floor. Oh, Laos.

This kind of thing isn’t at all unusual. I suspect on average one of our planned stops per date night doesn’t pan out, either because it’s closed (on a Saturday!), went out of business, was marked incorrectly on Google Maps, or…was demolished overnight.

We got back in the car and headed to Vientiane New World complex, and watched the sunset from one of the newly opened rooftop restaurants. Because the sunset actually sets in the west this time of year (as opposed to the southwest), these rooftop restaurants are the best place to catch it along the Mekong. I’m not sure we realized this last year, because it was so gloomy we rarely saw the sun set in June. Outside of summertime, you can catch a brilliant sunset anywhere else in town along the river.

Next, we paid a brief visit to Icat gallery to see the current photo exhibition. Due to its proximity to a handful of prominent city temples, there is a string of colorful shops across the street selling Buddhist offerings.

 

We’ve been wanting to try Easy Bar for the past 18 months, but the seating never looked ideal. They recently expanded, so we thought we’d check it out. In addition to its trademark minivan bar, it’s one of the few places in town that serves up Mediterranean food (Egyptian here). The food was pretty darn good. Another one off the list!

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