Monday, October 29, 2007

251206 Pak Mong - Nong Khiaw - Ban Sop Houn

Yesterday's route in grey, today's route in blue, & approximate location of PS's village in green circle:

As arranged, PS met the cat at 7:00AM to return it the blue backpacker bible & run through the pronounciation of some of the English words he had copied down. The first word he asked the cat about was 'diarrhea' =P Also had to explain to him the difference between 'went' (bpai laew) & 'when' (waylaa/meuadai).

The yellow Big Brother Mouse book 'sadt nai thawiib aafrikaa' (lit. 'animals in continent Africa') book (below right) became PS's Christmas gift:


Not that Christmas meant anything to us, it just happened to be Christmas day in falang world, & the cat realised this 'Christmas gift' thingy only as it was writing this post 10 months later. Inside the book:


For each featured animal there is a passage in Lao & the corresponding English translation on the facing page. PS continued his Lao lesson for the cat (started the previous evening), & the cat learnt names of animals like 'seua dao' (lit. 'tiger star' = cheetah, the fellow cat shown above), 'ling kor lin laa' (lit. 'monkey gorilla') & 'maa lai khor yao' (lit. 'horse stripe neck long' = giraffe). Pronouncing the English names was a little tricky for PS - 'ch' has been replaced by 's' & 'r' by 'h' in post-1975 Lao language. Closest he could get was 'jee-dta' & 'jee-laugh'. Interesting how these 2 books would end up travelling to places far beyond the cat's route - the other book would end up somewhere in Hongsa district of Saiyabuli province later on. Inside the other book, which has a cat as the main character:


PS showed the cat photos of the uncle he had just visited in Luang Namtha, an elder sister(?), & a friend from Vientiane. This led to the first time a Pak Mong lady ever touched a camera in her life:


She was too scared to press any button, & the cat ended up setting the Olympus mju300 to remote control mode, asking her to be a 'human tripod', & activating the shutter using the paw-held remote control! Turned out quite well despite the fact that she had no clue which way a camera should face...lens away from her would get us our photo, lens towards her would get us a really interesting self-portrait of her =P She was delighted with her accomplishment =))

PS managed to write his address in English for the first time, although after he was done we decided that it would be safer to have the Lao version as well - the cat could easily copy it out or cut & paste a photocopied version onto the envelope. Around early May 2007 the cat would receive a snail mail reply from PS, saying that the photo, Lao stamps & envelope (for him to send a reply to the cat) had somehow reached his village of about 40 households in the mountains that straddle the Lao-Vietnamese border, where postmen are unheard of. Probably reached him via the local 'pass-the-parcel' system. To post his reply he had to wait till the next time someone made a trip ~60km down the Nam Xeng river to Vieng Kham town, where the nearest post office is.

Bountham Vonethabing Guesthouse:


The tables covered with blue canvas & topped with a yellow Beer Lao crate full of khai phaen are where Boten grandpa, guesthouse owner & daughter & the cat sat at the previous night to watch the buses go by.

HWY 13 stretching on to Luang Prabang from the Pak Mong junction:


Parted ways as PS took the songthaew that would continue beyond Nong Khiaw to Vieng Kham, where he would find onward transport to Vang Xiang & from Vang Xiang to his village, while the cat took another one that would terminate at Nong Khiaw, so as not to disappoint Mr One-of-the-Songthaew-Drivers.

Set off with 4 old ladies & Phaen, an 18 year old girl with a huge sack of stuff who chatted with the cat in a mixture of Thai & Lao before she alighted at some project centre (vocational training for youth?) near Nambak town. The 6 of us huddled together for warmth in the frigid wind, giggling & sharing jacket pockets with those who had no gloves =) In Nambak town, the songthaew stopped by a petrol kiosk where a graduated cylinder was filled by cranking a wheel by hand to measure out the desired amount of petrol, before loosening a clip at the end of a hose to let the petrol flow into the vehicle tank, & 2 of the old ladies got off at the district 'hong mor' (hospital). The rest alighted in Nong Khiaw, & Mr One-of-the-Songthaew-Drivers continued across the bridge to drop the cat off at Ban Sop Houn, seemingly amused by the cat's correct pronounciation of the village's name (thanks to PS!).

Sunday, October 28, 2007

241206 Christmas eve in Pak Mong

For a typical northern Lao town of its size, Pak Mong stays up pretty late. Large buses plying the marathon routes between Vientiane & Phongsaly/Udomxai/Sam Neua/Luang Namtha all stop by here in the evening, as well as huge trucks running between China & Vientiane.

The buses pulled up right in front of brightly-lit restaurants with TV sets tuned in to Thai channels showing the 37th King's Cup Thailand vs. Vietnam football match in Bangkok, which did a brisk business feeding the dazed passengers in search of a proper seat & sustenance that the buses disgorged. The match was at about half-time, which would make it close to 8:15PM. Kids in the family-run establishments were kept on their toes clearing tables, taking orders, picking up fallen chopsticks & serving steaming bowls of noodle soup. After a week in northern Laos, the cat had forgotten what it felt like to be in a place with more than 10 people that wasn't a market, bus station, songthaew, boat or bus.

Just-as-brightly-lit roadside stalls sold tangerines, khai phaen, bananas & the usual liquids - bottled water, sickly sweet orange juice, M-150, Pepsi, Fanta, Lactasoy, etc displayed on low wooden tables the height of kindergarten classroom desks:


khai (presumably from the Lao word for moss 'khai dton mai') phaen (maybe the Lao/Thai word แผ่น meaning 'sheet'?) is a type of moss plucked from the riverbed, dried & made into sheets & seasoned with stuff like garlic, sliced tomato & chilli, & sesame seeds:


Someone's photo & a Bangkok Post article on the production process. The cat was told that the best comes from the Nam Khan, which is why it is a Luang Prabang specialty.

After dinner, guesthouse owner & her daughter, Boten grandpa & the cat sat on tiny wooden stools at their stall in front of their guesthouse, watching buses, trucks & life go by:


The cat tested out its newly acquired ability to recognise the names of major northern Lao towns in Lao script on bus signs. Boten grandpa tested his Chinese vocabulary on the cat. He can speak Vietnamese & a smattering of Chinese, & was on his way to Vietnam to visit friends, waiting to hop on the Vientiane-Sam Neua bus when it passed through. Bored daughter of guesthouse owner doodled away in her exercise book, & Boten grandpa nagged at her for not spending the time, ink & paper on studying. A few doors away, PS pored through the language section of the cat's copy of the blue backpacker bible on 'overnight loan', copying out English words & phrases & the corresponding Lao script translations into his new notebook that had survived the Nam Ou soaking in a ziploc.

end of day 8 (241206):
noodle soup/pho/feu/khaaw soi eaten to date = 07 bowls

Sunday, October 14, 2007

update on the lack of updates

There is/has been/have been:
  • two harddisk crashes
  • one harddisk replacement
  • a second trip in July-August 2007 (6 days in Vientiane)
  • a hell lot of work
  • an upcoming relocation of workplace
  • an upcoming trip to Krungthep
  • a PhD thesis to write
Hence the cat has yet to write about the Nong Khiaw, Luang Prabang, Pak Beng & Huay Xai parts of its first trip to Lao PDR. Those who can't wait & need logistics details or have answers to the cat's questions in various posts may email: e dot little dot straycat at gmail dot com

Meanwhile, two of the lao*miao* consultants have graduated from high school. One is now studying (FOC) at a branch of one of the two Buddhist universities in Thailand. The other is balancing studies at a Sangha College & a private college in Lao.

A third consultant for whom Pali is the subject 'I dislike the most' has started college studies in parallel with his final year of high school. Two schools, twice the amount of classes, homework, assignments & exams...& this aspiring overachiever is trying to maintain a minimum of an A grade (maximum would be top score) for every subject - except Pali ;) A younger brother of his has also ordained as a novice in order to go to high school, the fourth boy in their family to do so for that reason.

A fourth consultant has passed the level 4 Pali exam in Thailand (passing level 3 earns Thai monks the title of 'Phra Maha'). He is now supporting himself through university by teaching a heavy schedule of level 3 classes fulltime on weekdays & in the evenings on weekends after his morning & afternoon university classes, earning the same pay as what the cat's Akha friends earn by working on farms in Chiangrai.

Has not been smooth sailing all the way, there have been hiccups, entrance exams, 'wat politics', uncertainty, hilarious 'lost in translation' moments, worries, adjustments to city life, a 'wicked' abbot (an example of a 'lost in translation' moment), power failures, studying compulsory subjects that they have zero interest in, etc. On good days we are grateful, on not-so-good days we appreciate how such days help us appreciate the good days even more =)

There are still many others who wish that they could have the chance to study beyond high school, like PS, who is now back to farming for a living. & higher education alone won't solve the problem of the lack of job opportunities...