Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Kuang Si Falls

This past week a couple friends who are teaching in China have been visiting. Not only has it been awesome to hear all their stories about life in China and catch up on everything that has happened since we last saw each other in Colorado, but having them here has also provided an excuse to go back to all the best touristy places in Luang Prabang.

I have been to Kuang Si Falls twice now. The first was back in October shortly after arriving in Luang Prabang. A typhoon had recently hit Vietnam and effected Laos as well. As a result the water level at Kuang Si was crazy high; my friends and I were soaked from just standing on a bridge near the waterfall. On my second visit to Kuang Si the waterfall wasn't as strong and powerful as the first, but the water transformed from a mucky brown color to a mesmerizing turquoise. The falls were much safer for swimming this time around and though I thought it was still a bit to cold for that, many tourists took advantage of the blue waters.

Kuang Si the first time I visited during rainy season

Kuang Si the second time around in dry season

It's hard to believe that it is the same waterfall, and even more difficult to choose which season is the best time to go. During rainy season Kuang Si is powerful and an incredible sight, but in dry season the waters sparkle and allow for a chance to cool off from the hot Southeast Asian sun.

If you do ever get the chance to visit Kuang Si whatever the season may be don't forget to take the hike up to the top for an incredible view of the mountains.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Six Months In

Today marks 6 months since I left my home in Georgia and 5 months that I've actually been in Laos. It's been a crazy, fun, exciting, frustrating, exhausting, exhilarating 6 months. Some days are so good that I want to live in Laos forever. Then there are the days that I feel like I can't take any more and all I want is to be back in the comfort of my family and home in America. Heck, sometimes my emotions change hour by hour.

Living here is an emotional roller coaster. Take this morning for instance. My computer wasn't charging but everything else was so I knew it had to be my computer that wasn't working. I quickly ran (actually I tiptoed because people are visiting and are sleeping in my living room) and silently panicked as I tried to plug my computer into all the outlets in our house. None of them worked except one. I unplugged our washing machine (which just happens to sit inside our shower.) and crossed my fingers that it would work. Nope. But then I remembered there is a switch to turn the power on for the outlet. I flipped the switch and a magical beep sounded from my computer telling me that it was charging. So I sat in my shower/laundry room charging my computer listening to the leaking pipes drip drip drip happy as a clam because this meant my computer wasn't broken.

This pretty much sums up life here in Laos. Things don't always work and you have to get resourceful. But when thing do work you are extra grateful.

Not only have I learned to be more appreciative when even the smallest of things go right, but these past six months have held lots of adventures. 

I left the good ole peach state for the Rocky Mountains. Taking a quick pip stop in Boulder to visit my lovely cousin/best friend.

From Boulder I headed off to Greeley for TEFL training. Here I also got to meet the other teachers moving to Laos as well as soon to be teachers headed to other Asian countries. 

Me and the other Lao teachers flew to Phnom Penh for our teaching practicum 

After we finished practicum we traveled and hung around Siem Reap

My new teammates and I dipped our toes into a tank of flesh eating fish

Then we finally arrived in Luang Prabang at sunset

We explored the capital, Vientiane 

A dream came true and I went swimming and rode with elephants

After a month of living in a guest house my roommate and I finally moved into our Lao home

I started teaching and fell in love with Lao students

Got a Lao license and began driving again

Survived being away from home for the holidays and shared Christmas cheer with my students

And finally ended up sitting in my shower, charging my computer, waiting for my friends to wake up so we can show them more of this beautiful city I get to call mine. 

Now to another 6 months in this beautiful city which I am sure will be filled with just as much adventure as the first. 

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Views from Chomphet Hike

When I first came to Luang Prabang I expected to do much more hiking than I have. My lack of hiking isn't due to laziness or busyness but simply due to a surprising lack of trails in the city. Luang Prabang is surrounded by mountains, you would think that hiking would be a big deal here. But I guess when peoples' villages and homes are scattered through those mountains it would be a little intrusive for falangs to be walking through all the time.

However, this past weekend after discussing the lack of hiking and a quick Google search my friends and I found a trail across the river known as Chomphet Hike. We made plans to meet back up after lunch to catch a boat across the Mekong and to the start of our trail.

The Chomphet Trail begins along the riverside taking you through several wats before curving up along the mountain where you can see spectacular and I truly mean spectacular views of the city. The hike follows along through thick bamboo and palm tree forests before bringing you to a long dirt road that crosses through a small Lao village and loops you back to the Mekong. Despite being just a boat ride and a short walk away from the heart of town, I don't believe many of these people are used to a small group of foreigners making their way through the neighborhood. We got so many waves and hellos (and about caused a motorbike wreck) that I am sure we were the hot topic at dinner that night. I just imagined them running to their neighbors and gossiping "Did you see the falangs?!" "Yah, do you think they're lost?"

We returned from our hike just as the sun was setting on the river bank making for one last beautiful snapshot of the day.

More views from The Chomphet

Friday, January 16, 2015

My Lao Kitchen: Sticky Rice

Here in Laos sticky rice is a staple. It is one of the few truly Lao foods and therefore natives are very proud to call it their own. I haven’t had a Lao meal where sticky rice wasn’t served in abundance. Surprisingly though Lao people are for some reason convinced that foreigners can’t eat it. “Can you eat sticky rice?” they ask before the meal. “Yes,” I say in fact I really like sticky rice.

As stated in the name sticky rice is very sticky. The rice is different than regular steamed rice so if you’re at the market make sure you don’t just pick up any bag of rice. Sticky rice is special because when you cook it the rice clumps together making for one giant glob. Once the rice is finished cooking you pack it into a little basket and serve it with laap, omelets, papaya salad, fish, soups, basically anything and everything. Now don’t take this as absolute fact because I am still learning the art of how to eat sticky rice, because no you don’t just eat sticky rice there is a specific way. My students taught me to grab a fistful of rice and to sort of squeeze it in your hand into an oval shape. Then you pull off a little piece with your other hand and squeeze it so it is flat and round and use it as a makeshift spoon to eat your laap or papaya salad or whatever other dish you are having.

Sticky Rice Recipe:
2 cups of sticky rice
4-5 cups of warm water

You will also need a: Large pot and a steamer basket

Pour the sticky rice and water into a large pot. Let the sticky rice soak for 24 hours. Drain the sticky rice into the steamer basket. Boil water in the pot and place the steamer basket over the pot and leave for about 20 minutes. 

Take the rice out of the steam basket, mold together, and place it in serving basket. 

Note: Sticky rice does not make good leftovers due to the fact that it dries out very quickly. So I suggest making only what you will need for one meal. Between my roommate and I, 2 cups was way to much.  

Friday, January 9, 2015

The Sky Can Change Its Mind (A Weekly Recap)

"No, but the sky can change its mind." This is what a student said to me when I asked him if it was normal for it to rain in January. For the record Lao people are very nice, but they are also very sassy.

This week was my last week of classes for the first term and this upcoming week I will give my final exams. Oh how nice it is to be on the one giving finals instead of taking them. Though I am relieved to have a break from teaching for a while i'm sad for the semester to be over. Thursday was my last class with my year 4s before they go off to do practice teaching in the other provinces. My year 2 students are still stuck with me though.

Speaking of year 2 students this week was a major breakthrough with them. One of my favorite classes that I teach is OT, an extra tutoring class for the lower level English speakers. The students in that class hold an extra special place in my heart and fill me with so much joy and encouragement every time I teach them. Unfortunately these students are often the shiest and the last ones willing to invite me to spend time with them. But something must have triggered inside of them this week. I hung out with them almost every day this week.

Monday morning as I was walking to school two of my OT students were walking in the opposite direction. "Have you had breakfast teacher," they asked. A normal question here in Laos, it's essentially the equivalent of "how are you" back home. And just how you always respond "good" here in Laos you always say "yes" when someone asks if you have eaten. "Yes" I have had breakfast," I responded. "Teacher we are on our way to eat breakfast" "Oh you know what I was wrong I haven't had breakfast yet." "Oh teacher you should come have breakfast with us" "Okay!" So I turned around and followed them to where I would eat my second breakfast that morning. 

The following afternoon I was standing around talking with students when a few of them invited me to go to Phuo si. Phou si is a small mountain in downtown LPB to which I have had countless invitations to go walk up. Almost anytime a student invites me somewhere it is to Phou si. Often times I decline because as a falang I have to pay to visit, but since these were my OT students I knew if I said no this offer may never come again. 

So up Phu si we went. Though there was little conversation I had a blast walking through town and taking selfies with the girls. My students also spoiled me to death (shouldn't it be the other way around) they bought me two bracelets at the market and paid for my dinner. I swear to you, you can't out kind a Lao person.

Wednesday my students invited me to come watch the dance competition. Both my year 4 and year 2 students had been practicing for the competition since early November, and now the time had come for them to show off all their hard work. My year 4 girls got 3rd place which I thought was pretty great; they were disappointed.

The guys sat in the crowds with signs cheering the girls on. Too adorable.

Though the dance competition was intended for students I somehow ended up having to dance. Why I thought I would escape the humiliation, I don't know. As the judges tallied up the scores a small dance line/circle (not sure how to explain it, but if you live in Laos you know exactly what i'm talking about) began to form. The students come up and asks the important people in the room. A few minutes into the dance and still no student had come up to me, I thought I was in the clear. Suddenly the room filled with clapping and I was walking out to the dance floor. 

Thankfully my humiliation ended after only one song, and the falang's horrendous attempts at Lao dancing was forgotten. Well probably not forgotten, but my students were still willing to be seen with me. 

After a week of reviewing and fitting in all those last minute grammar and vocabulary lessons, I had my OT students over for pancakes. They asked earlier on in the week if they could come to my house Friday to learn how to cook American food, but we never confirmed time for them to come. I expected that would mean a no show. I ran out to the market to pick up what I need anway, and as I was walking home I got a call. "Teacher we are at your house. Where are you?" I booked it back home afraid that if I didn't get there fast enough they would leave. Fortunately they were still there eagerly waiting. I let them in and taught them the magical art of flapjack making. 

And yes my stove (along with my oven) sits on the floor. You do what you have to do when you have only one working outlet.

Fingers crossed that my OT students wanting to spend time with me isn't just a phase. I tell you one of these days my students are going to realize i'm not as cool as I pretend to be and in reality I am just that weird teacher from America. 

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