We don’t really follow basketball, but somehow managed to have our own little dose of March Madness right here in Vientiane. March was an eventful month, particularly as a family of four, which is a big part of why I’m publishing one post covering the entire month rather than posting a few each week.
I’ve had Riley home alone with me most days, and between a five-month-old, a 33-month-old, illnesses, social engagements and events, and the added time of doing anything in a developing country, writing these updates has have been slow coming. Here’s a recap.
The month began with a bang, and a pool. Lori’s supervisor had to cut his contract early to tend to family matters back in the U.S., so we inherited two things: Lori got his added workload for the time being…and I got his pool.
The hope was to clean it up, set it up, and lounge around with Lori and a couple glasses of wine after the kids had gone off to bed, but the pool had other plans.
It was obvious the pool was no spring chicken, but I still felt compelled to clean it up and use it. I spent a couple hours on a Saturday doing just that, and set it up nice and neat in our yard, anxiously awaiting Noe to wake up from his nap.
Unfortunately, when he did wake up, he was in rare form, and we could not in good conscience offer a reward (i.e. swimming in our pimpin’ pool) for his bad behavior.
So…Noe watched on the sidelines while daddy tried the pool out for the first time. I cracked open and beer and went about the business of giving the impression I was having way too much fun and Noe was missing out because of bad choices. My plan was foiled when a relentless bee chased me out of the pool. But I think he got the message.
I called it a day and looked forward to sharing the pool with Noe tomorrow, but it wasn’t to be. Noe came down with a fever and was out sick for a week, then I was out sick for another week. By the time we were healthy again, the pool had almost completely deflated and had become a cesspool of dead frogs and other nastiness. We gave the pool away to a neighbor and moved on with our lives.
Fun Fact: Poor a cup of white vinegar into a pool this size and it’ll stay clean and algae-free for over a week without chemicals or saltwater. You won’t smell like vinegar either (but you may find a few dead frogs from time to time…)
Russian to Eat
Later that evening, we loaded up the stroller and walked down to our neighborhood Russian restaurant, Privet. Noe was thrilled to see that dancing and singing were on the Saturday menu. Also on the menu, these delicious crepe-y things. Yum.
The great thing about these sorts of places in Vientiane is, you go to a Russian restaurant and it’s full of Russian diners speaking Russian. You go to a French restaurant and its packed with Frenchies. You go to a Tex-Mex place and it’s…well…packed with ‘Mericans eating Tex-Mex thinking they’re eating Mexican food.
Biking & Bugs
After returning to Vientiane in January, I was happily able to get back into running, just in time to take advantage of the gorgeous weather and get some solid runs in before the hot season (and then the rainy season).
Then, in early March, I landed wrong on my foot and badly bruised it. So…I ramped up my bicycle riding.
It took a half dozen rides to get used to riding in Vientiane with motorbikes, debris in the roads, unpredictable drivers, dogs, people, monks, and everything else, but after a while, it’s not so bad.
For a few hours a week, we have a nanny, Ms. Kham, come by and watch Riley, which gives me a bit of time to get out of the house. On my mornings off, I’ll ride downtown, or head to a coffee shop in another part of town.
Noe’s fever turned into a mild infection, which meant he wasn’t able to attend the creche (nursery school) for over a week. So, he was home with Riley and me, and eventually we both got sick as well. Yipee.
I had a high fever and was pretty useless for several days, and Lori was in charge of a consultant from the U.S. for two weeks, meaning she was working longer hours and even had to fly out of town at one point. Fortunately, Ms. Kham was able to help out a bit more, and eventually we all got healthy again…just in time for the toxic smog to roll in.
Now, on to the part that many of you have been waiting for — the rugrats.
I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t spend nearly as much time as I should (or would like to) talking about my boys. Our lives are all boys right now, so there’s not a lot of time for reflection. And when I do have a bit of time to myself, I tend to try to do something unrelated to kids in general. But just because I don’t write as much about the kiddos doesn’t mean I love my boys any less. Riley’s definitely drawn the short end of the stick in this respect, so I’m going to be including a lot more pics of him this time around. Sorry, Riley.
Big brother has really taken to Riley and is very gentle and protective of him. He rarely displays jealousy and is happy to share [most of] his baby things with Riley. We were actually really surprised about this, but certainly aren’t complaining.
He never takes out any sort of anger or aggression on Riley, but apparently that’s what his once-prized Little Monkey is for. Little Monkey was really getting some stern talkings to and rough play for a while. Now, the two of them are apparently on the outs, and Noe wants nothing to do with Little Monkey. Big Monkey is now his world, and God help you if you mess with Big Monkey.
The second weekend in March was a three-day holiday weekend, owing to International Women’s Day. We took the opportunity to get out of town (our first night away from Vientiane since returning two months prior) and stay at Lao Lake House, where we had a great time with friends. When we returned, Vientiane’s air quality had dipped to hazardous levels, so much of the next week was spent indoors. I was feeling under the weather, but still managed to snap some pics of the little guy.
He loves his Lao play gym…until he’s over it…
This is actually the same play gym Noe had when he was Riley’s age. We sold it a long time ago, but it ended up finding its way back to us after their child outgrew it. Here’s Noe around the same age with his play gym:
Daddy wasn’t feeling well, so he had Noe give Riley his bottle while mommy was at work. It started out as a joke photo-op for Lori (though I really wasn’t feeling well), but Noe actually did really well and fed him the entire bottle himself.
Did you happen to notice Riley’s wearing the same shirt that Noe wore in the previous pic?
Before long, we were all healthy again, the air quality returned to normal dry-season levels, and we were able to resume our evening walks and explorations. This is a wat (temple) near our new house. We have three with in ear-shot.
Enjoying some drinks at a local rooftop bar we like to go to on walks. Noe likes the karaoke and making eyes at the female beer-tenders. Riley thinks his brother is funny.
The big news with Noe this month is he’s well on his way to being potty-trained. He’s taken to the challenge with the level of seriousness it deserves and by months end is, for all intents and purposes, potty-trained at nursery school, where he wears big boy underoos for the entire day with no accidents. Honestly, he’s been ready for this for several months, but circumstances haven’t been optimal until now. He still sleeps with a diaper, but that’s really only a formality at this point. We are very proud of his efforts.
Mid-month, I was still recovering and not up to doing much biking. So I caught a ride with Lori on one of Riley’s nanny mornings and decided to try out a coffee shop on my list that I hadn’t been to: Naked Espresso in That Luang Plaza.
Bar none, Naked is the best local “chain” of coffee shops in Vientiane. They’ve got 3-5 locations around town, depending on which ones have closed and which ones have opened (they seem to be in a state of flux right now). Their coffee is consistently very good, and the new(ish) space uptown near Lori’s work looked like it was worth checking out.
I was impressed by the swankiness of the coffee shop and the presentation of their cold brew. Clearly, this place was aimed at the Hi-So of Vientiane — which makes what happened next even more astonishing and horrifying.
The cold brew was both smooth and strong — just the way I like it — and before long, the inevitable happened: Nature called. I asked the barista where I might find the toilet and he motioned in that direction.
This particular coffee shop is located in a large, newly-constructed, multi-story shopping complex.
Honestly, the term “constructed” is a misnomer with shopping centers in Vientiane. The correct term should be “newly-constructing,” as they are rarely finished, and retail occupancy rarely climbs above 50%. Yet there are probably a dozen of these massive structures across the capital, rising three to nine levels above the dusty streets.
Now, why investors would build a dozen of these structures all at once when they can’t even fill one to anything near capacity is beyond me.
But this is Laos, and what happens in Laos often defies logic or reason. But we won’t get into that.
The designated toilets for this coffee shop were the public restrooms deep in the bowels of the shopping center, which I fully expected.
What I did not expect was to weave my way through the labyrinthine recesses only to find “nature” screaming at the top of her lungs, and not a roll of toilet paper within a football-field radius (I even forced my way into the janitor’s closet, only to find a mop, bucket, Lao lysol, and 20 cans of cockroach spray).
But this is Asia, and in Asia, there’s the ever-present butt sprayer (or Bum Gun, as it’s affectionally referred to in Malaysia), so all was not lost…or so I thought.
After answering the call, I proceeded to tidy up with the Bum Gun. Unfortunately, the Bum Gun had a mind of its own and I made a pretty good mess of my stall, completely soaking my underoos and shorts in the process.
To top it off, there was no soap to be found in either of the restrooms (nor the janitor’s closet, as I revisited it several times just to make sure I hadn’t missed anything).
I gathered myself and returned to my Hi-So coffee shop, shorts and underoos soaked, to marinate in my cultural incompetence for the next two hours.
Fortunately, the barista allowed me to wash my hands in their sink after the ordeal, but the damage was done.
Our failed attempt at a family photo following brunch with a friend.
Lori and I have often commented that, as far as third-world cities go, Vientiane’s power grid seems surprisingly robust. Not this week. I’m not sure what the deal is but there have been more power issues across the city than usual. We went to do some shopping at one of our regular stops and spent half the time groping around in the darkness for peanuts.
The electric lanterns dimly lighting the way were helpful. I just couldn’t help but wonder if they were going to repackage and sell them. I’m sure they will.
We hadn’t had a date night in a few weeks (we had to cancel on the last because of my high fever), so we decided to do it up right for our next.
Since Riley’s been on the scene, we’ve been keeping our date nights to around two hours (a significant reduction from our 5-6 hour date nights pre-Noe).
See, in Laos, the customary rate for a good baby sitter is currently 50,000 kip (~US$6.00) per hour, capped at 200,000 kip. Because of this, Lori and I generally like to be out for three hours or five or more hours. Never four, because four just doesn’t make sense.
Now that Riley’s older and more reliable in his sleeping habits, we decided to try a five-hour date night again, complete with Lao massage at our favorite place, Manee Spa. Following Manee, we ate at Cafe Ango, a superb little Japanese place that is not kid-friendly. Then it was on to Earth Bar for some live music and local craft brew. Then, time to try something new on the recommendation of a friend.
Off this nondescript road, there’s an unmarked alley that looks like it leads to someone’s house. And it does. But before you reach their home, you make a left turn for this wooden door, under the understated “Cocoon” marquee.
Inside, it’s a long hardwood bar lined with chairs, facing perhaps the most well-stocked bar I’ve seen in Laos. Their signature cocktails are probably their best deal, but on this particular night I was feeling an Old Fashioned.
Afterwards, we headed to one last place, Tully’s Irish Pub. But not before we passed Vientiane’s infamous leaning i-beam.
I’ve talked about the story of this crazy i-beam in a previous post, but this time around it stopped me in my tracks. Whether it had happened over time or all at once, I cannot say. All I know is that on this particular walk, it caught my attention. The i-beam has received some extreme accoutrements. Below is a pic from two years ago when Lori’s parents came to visit. Technological advancement, baby!
Sleeping Like a Baby
Getting back to Riley (I said I’d focus more on him this post, and I intend to!), his favorite pastime currently might just be rocking out — in both the literal and figurative sense. He loves it when I set him up in his little rocker in an open doorway and turn on his favorite tunes. Of course, I don’t do this when the air quality levels are toxic outside — what kind of monster do you think I am? Though, sometimes, it’s all just a bit too much for the baby…
Speaking of sleep, another big development this month. Riley’s been regularly turning over (only from back to front, never from front to back like most babies start out doing). So…it’s time to start unswaddling.
We started with one arm, but eventually transitioned fully to two. Talk about a week from hell, but the transition is complete, and now we don’t have to worry about him getting stuck flat on his face. Woohoo!
After the air quality tanked, a friend who was returning to Laos on a work trip was kind enough to bring out a few reinforcements that we ordered off Amazon (Amazon does not deliver to Laos…). Among other things, we ordered an air quality monitor (I detailed our air quality combat tools at the end of the last post), and were excited to try it out. Perhaps we should’ve waited until we weren’t unwinding on our front porch after a long day…
Honey…I reckon it’s time to take this party inside…
Another day, another complete obliteration of his play gym. “Who, me?”
Return of the River Walk
At the end of March, we finally made it back to the river walk we love so much. We can’t believe it’s been over eight months since we were last here (counting a five month maternity leave in the U.S...), but we’re back, and things haven’t changed — which, these days in Vientiane, is rare, and often a very GOOD thing.
That doesn’t mean things didn’t change across the Mekong in Thailand. We noticed that, since our last visit, the beach across the river has transformed into party central, complete with loud, thumping music and a dozen water skis zipping up and down the river. We’re hoping that, like the para-motors before them, these too will be a short-lived fad.
A workspace with a view…
“Hey! That’s my water, bro.”
Everybody in Laos
Finally, I leave you with this. Geolocation ads online are a funny thing anywhere. In Laos, they’re downright ridiculous. I regularly see ads like this while reading the news on my phone. This one was too much.
Everybody in Laos? Um…really?