Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Just Anther New Year Post

HAPPY NEW YEAR!! Now I know what you’re thinking. “Dani, you’re a little early. Yes, I know you live in Asia and you’re a few hours ahead, but it’s still 2014.” And all I have to say to that is… not if you are Hmong.

Soon after I began teaching here in Luang Prabang I quickly discovered that a majority of my students aren’t actually Lao. Most of them are ethnic minorities coming from Hmong or Khmu families. And if you are either Hmong or Khmu you have already celebrated the new year. From what I have gathered between a lot of broken English and Lao is that both cultures mark the end of the year by the end of “working” season. At the end of the season everyone takes a month off for some rest and relaxation. Oh and of course a two week long celebration for the new year because one night is certainly not enough.

I have also been told that because the new year is based on working season that the official day the new year begins varies from province to province and from village to village. Here in Luang Prabang the new year was celebrated on December 20th. There was a big festival that lasted from that Friday night before to just this past weekend. Being the ever so popular teacher that I am (but not really) I was invited to go twice.

The first time was the Sunday after the new year began, and I tagged along with a friend and her student. The festival was filled with people in a variety of traditional and colorful Hmong clothing. (Though upon interrogating some of my Hmong students this clothing is only worn for the new year, and not day to day life).

Hmong new year is also the time for securing oneself a boyfriend/girlfriend. However, instead of talking to get to know the person of interest you throw a ball back and forth. If someone drops the ball they must sing a song. Not going to lie but I think the Hmong are on to something here. You’re forced to sing a song and potentially embarrass yourself; therefore, you know if the person doesn’t run away they might just be a keeper.

Fortunately at this festival there was no pressure to find a special someone to toss the ball with and playing with just your friends was perfectly acceptable. And fortunately for everyone’s benefit I was not forced to sing a song despite dropping the ball several times. Other than ball throwing, there was dancing, singing, throwing darts at balloons for prizes games, bounce houses, dressing up in costumes and taking cheesy picture booths. I even ran into a couple of my own students who were there celebrating, and asking if I was going to come back the next weekend. Apparently the next weekend was promised to be even more fun.

I did go back the next weekend with a couple of girls from my year four class. One of the girls who was actually Hmong has made traditional clothes for me, my roommate, and my other student (who is Lao) to wear. I admit I was excited to wear the outfits but once I had them on I felt so silly. I clearly wasn’t Hmong or even Lao, but oh did everyone love it. Another student of mine who lives across the street from me and just so happens to be Hmong walked by and spotted my roommate and I in our costumes. He was beaming when he saw us. Also, somehow word must have spread fast to all of our neighbors that we were dressed up because they began poking their heads in our doorway to take a glance at us and to gush on about how beautiful we looked.

Once at the festival my roommate and I gained even more celebrity status. I’m just waiting for the moment when my picture pops up on some random Facebook page with the caption “white girl in Hmong clothing”.  Our picture was snapped so many times I lost count. Some pictures were taking discreetly while others mustered up the courage to ask. I can’t really blame them though and it didn’t really bother me. It was just fun and we were definitely a sight to see. Besides I was snapping pictures of all the locals dressed in their outfits as well. I even got to talk to Hmong family who lived in California for a couple years after I asked if I could take a picture of their adorable daughter.

Happy Hmong New Year Everyone! Cheers to 2015!
Friday, December 26, 2014

December Snapshots

Hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas! I definitely did. The day started off opening gifts my family sent, drove downtown to borrow some WiFi for skyping my parents, went to say good-bye to my Lao teacher as she is off to India for a a few weeks, and then headed over to a friends house for Christmas brunch.

Between the carol sings and endless amounts of cookies the whole month of December felt like one long Christmas celebration actually.

Santa Claus delivered presents via motorbike

There was some makeshift Christmas tree decorating

early morning futbol games

Coconut carving and eating after school 

Gingerbread house making

Hmong new year celebrating

Christmas eve lunches with students

secret Santa gift giving (my secret Santa knows me well)

Facebook messages being sent. Including pictures of my "puppy" back home. (sorry, couldn't resist)

And french toast eating, hot chocolate drinking, and White Christmas watching.

Though I was sad that I was once again missing out on all my favorite traditions by not being home, I still had a really great Christmas. And not to sound cliche but I can't believe that 2014 is almost over. I remember saying last January that this is the year I leave for Laos, and now this January will mark 6 months since I left my home in Georgia. Crazy! isn't it?! Again hope everyone had as "Laosy" of a holiday as I did. Merry Christmas Everyone!
Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas from Laos! Hope everyone is enjoying their holiday. This Christmas has been surprisingly very Christmasy and I will share more about it later. For now please enjoy this clip from A Charlie Brown Christmas one of my all time favorites,

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

My Lao Kitchen: Gingerbread Men

No dessert feels more Christmasy to me than cookies. I don't know what it is, maybe its that they both start with a C but Christmas and cookies go together like peanut butter and jelly. Fortunately cookies are easy to make here in Laos and all the ingredients are readily available. (Side note: chocolate chip cookies are my absolute favorite and I CAN NOT resist the temptation to devour them. Second side note: chocolate chip cookie dough is even more tempting.)

Now back on task, while out shopping one day I spotted some gingerbread men cookie cutters and knew they would be perfect for baking cookies with students. And as you might have seen in my previous post the gingerbread men were a hit with my students. I hope that you enjoy them too!

Gingerbread Men recipe:
Mix together:
1/2 cup of butter
1 egg
2 tbs of honey (molasses was the one ingredient I couldn't find which is why I used honey)
1 cup of brown sugar

Separately combine together:
3 cups of flour
1 tsp of baking soda
2 tsp of cinnamon
2 tsp of ginger (I used fresh grated ginger from the market one of the perks of living in Laos)
1 tsp of allspice
1/2 tsp of salt

Then add both mixtures together. Once ingredients are well combined roll out the dough onto a flat surface until it is thin and smooth. Then use cookie cutters to cut out dough into gingerbread men. Lay out cookies on a baking sheet and stick in the fridge for a few hours or over night. Once the dough is cold, heat the oven to 350F (or 180C). Bake for 10-15 minutes.

The recipe makes about 40 small-medium sized gingerbread men.
Friday, December 12, 2014

Christmas with Students

Last week I invited my year four students to come over and celebrate the holiday with me. I told them that Americans like to celebrate all month long with parties, cookies, gift exchanges, etc. I reminded them everyday in class about my Christmas party on Friday night. Several said they were going to come, but let's be real you can't always trust a Lao person. Warning: They will always tell you yes even when they can't. So when Friday rolled around and it was half an hour past when I invited them to come, I started to worry. But just as I was getting ready to drown my sorrows in a batch of ginger bread cookies I saw three little shadows walking towards my door. "Students!" I shouted! (really I did) and ran to the door. Three students are better than none. As we ate cookies, made cards, and watched Arthur Christmas (in Thai I might add) slowly but surely more students began to trickle in. By the end of the night our bellies were full on gingerbread men and I was left with a stack of Christmas cards wishing me happiness.

Also one more note before I end this post gingerbread cookies are a big hit with Lao people. As one students put it, "Not as good as pancakes, but I like." So be on the lookout for the recipe sometime later this week!

Friday, December 5, 2014

My Lao Kitchen: Christmas Tree Brownies

Only 19 more days until Christmas, but who's counting? This week thanks to a few lights, paper, markers, and a whole lot of scotch tape it is starting to look a lot like Christmas. I've put out a little Christmas tree which even has a present under it (That I bought myself for myself. Don't judge me.) My roommate and I taught our neighbors how to make paper snowflakes, watched Elf with some friends, made a Christmas countdown chain, and baked delicious Christmas tree brownies.

Christmas Tree Brownies:

After baking all the pumpkin recipes we could find my roommate and I still had lots of puree leftover so I decided it was time to whip up some of my favorite pumpkin brownies. Now normally I like to bake everything from scratch but this recipe is just to good and easy to pass up. All you need is a box of brownie mix and some pumpkin. Mix the two ingredients together, stick it in the oven according to the directions on the box, and your done! See easy peasy!

But because it is Christmas season I didn't want to make just any ordinary old brownies. I spotted this idea on Pinterest (of course) and decided to give it a go. Once the brownies were cooled I cut them out into triangles. Now this was a little difficult because I didn't have a triangle cookie cutter and instead had to use a knife. Most of the triangles came out decent looking, the tricky part was trying to cut them all the same size. With all the "trees" cut out I topped them with cream cheese frosting (my favorite) colored with green for the trees and red for the ornaments. My brownies by no means turned out perfect looking, but they were fun to make and really delicious (and that's what's really important, right?!)

Christmas Tree Brownie Recipe:

1 box brownie mix
1 can of 15oz pumpkin or homemade pumpkin puree

Directions: Preheat oven according to the directions on the box. Mix together brownie mix and pumpkin puree. Bake.

Cream Cheese Frosting
4 oz of butter
8 oz of cream cheese
2 cups of powdered sugar
1 tsp of vanilla extract
Green food coloring
Red food coloring

Directions: Beat together butter and cream cheese. Slowly add in the powdered sugar, still mixing as you go. Next stir in the vanilla extract. Separate the frosting into two bowls one for red and one for green. (Tip: You will use more green frosting than red.) Mix in the food coloring a little at a time until you reach desired shade.
Tuesday, December 2, 2014

The ABCs of Travel

A couple weeks ago I posted The ABCs of Me with promise that I would soon post my ABCs of Travel. I absolutely love making lists so its no surprise that I had a lot of fun making this one. Hope you enjoy!

Age I first traveled- I think I was about 11 or 12. I went to the Bahamas and soon after I went to Mexico.

Biggest Traveling Fear- Finally making it wherever I’m going but that my luggage won’t.

Cuisine- Spanish, Italian, or Mexican. Any of those will do.

Destination- Currently in Laos

Event Abroad- I was in London as the start of the 2012 Olympics.

Favorite Mode of Transportation- I love flying, but I can never stay awake. I have a talent for sleeping on anything that is in motion. Whether it’s a car, plane, train, boat, or bus I will pass out if it’s longer than 20 minutes (and I’m not the one driving). I’ve even been able to fall asleep while riding in a tuk-tuk.

Greatest feeling while traveling- The excitement of it all. I always feel like a kid on Christmas morning when I travel.

Hottest place I’ve ever travelled to- Phenom Penh, Cambodia. As soon as I walked out of the airport I was drenched in sweat.

Incredible Service- Heaven forbid that you carry your own suitcase in any hotel in Southeast Asia. If you’re a guy it might be a different story, but as a girl the hotel staff insisted that they carry it all for me.

Journey that took the longest- Denver-LAX-Hong Kong-Phenom Penh

Keepsake- My Spanish soccer jersey. It’s lucky I tell you. I swear to you that it is the reason Spain won the Euro cup in 2012 (that and there amazing soccer skills; just ignore this past year’s World Cup. I knew I should never have washed it.)

Letdown site and why- Pisa, Italy. You hear so much about the gravity defying leaning tower, then you see it, and that it all it is. A tower that is leaning, big deal.

Moment you fell in love with travel- My first trip to Europe. I was thirteen. How could a thirteen year old not love roaming around Europe without the supervision of her parents at every turn? For the record I was very much supervised. It was an academic trip and there were teachers supervising me at every turn, but nevertheless I loved Europe.

Nicest hotel- Le Sirenuse in Positano, Italy. I mean look at that view!

Obsession- what I photograph while traveling- I am such a people watcher and I love snapping candid photos of unsuspecting locals or other tourist.

Passport Stamps- I really don’t have that many despite having traveled quite a bit. But once you are in the EU they don’t give you stamps when traveling between countries. I do, however, have two stamps for England, one for Portugal, one for Guatemala, and one for Italy.

Quirkiest attraction- I haven’t really been to too many “quirky” attractions. I will say I thought the Tate Modern in London was a little quirky though.

Really frightening travel experience- This actually happened quite recently. My friends and I were riding to Kuang SI waterfall and our tuk-tuk driver was going so fast. We were speeding around curves and I was just waiting for the moment we drove off the edge of the mountain.

Splurge- While studying abroad in Spain, a friend and I spontaneously booked a trip to Paris.

Touristy things I’ve done- Some friends and I posed (well attempted to pose) like the Beatles while walking across Abbey Road.

Unforgettable moment- When Spain won the Euro 2012. Being in Spain to celebrate with the locals is something I will never forget.

Visas- A few from Laos, one for Cambodia, and one for Thailand.

Where to next- My current top five are Greece, New Zealand, Argentina, India, and The Netherlands.

eXellent view- The walk along Holy Rood in Edinburgh, Scotland

Years Spent Traveling- After this year in Laos, if you add all my time abroad up together it will equal about a year and a half total.

Zealous sports fan- Without a doubt the Spanish. !Yo soy Espanol!

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