Week 6: Gin Khaow

Around 11:40am the murmurs around the office start to pick up. From our room on the second floor we can hear people slowly saying, “Gin Khaow? Gin Khaow.” Gin Khaow literally translates to eat rice, but metaphorically means any act of eating food. In Lao culture, pretty much every dish is paired with sticky rice, which I presume is how the phrase developed. Sticky rice is a more important utensil here than knives (which are rare). It’s common to dip your sticky rice into the “family style” dishes crowding the table.

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Week 5: Bridging the Linguistic Gap

“Lina if you add “-s” to the end of a word it becomes plural, meaning there are more than one. For instance, how many chairs do you see here?” Lina looks very focused as she slowly counts in English, “One…two…three…” In response, I ask “Is that more than one?” “YES! So you add an “s” to the end! ChairS!” she jubilantly exclaims. Every day after work one of my co-fellows or I teach our coworker’s seven-year-old cousin English grammar. Because in a country so ethnically (and linguistically) diverse and whose main language (Lao) has such a small international presence, oftentimes English is required to get a better job.

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Week 3: Green Earth Centre and Sustainability

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Week 4: Lessons from Laos

After living in Laos for four weeks, here are 25 things I’ve learned:

  1. Bo Pen Yang: The saying has permeated all aspects of Lao culture. In short, it’s the Lao version of Swahili’s Hakuna Matata. But it’s so much more than that. It’s how you say “you’re welcome,” it’s how to say “no worries.” It’s a positive affirmation that everything will work out and a way of expressing gratitude.
  2. Vientiane has the best cafe culture (surprisingly somehow bigger than Salamanca, where I lived in Spain; albeit this is a counterculture)
  3. Sticky rice can be paired with everything
  4. “Gin kaow” figuratively means get food but literally translates to eat rice, see lesson number 3, rice is life
  5. If you wear your sinh incorrectly, people will go out their way to fix it
  6. Wat spotting is a great game to play while walking/biking/riding in the back of a tuk tuk; they’re gorgeous and in every neighborhood
  7. Home remedies sometimes work (key word: sometimes)
  8. Overnight buses have beds
  9. The word falang, embrace it
  10. Chinese investment is oh so visible
  11. The difference between water buffalos and cows
  12. Office Karaoke is phenomenal
  13. Tonal languages can be terrifying
  14. When in doubt, say saibaidee- it means hello, healthy, and good (and is used multiple times in every conversation)
  15. Yes, it is possible to sweat this much, apparently
  16. The government is visibly different, more thoughts on this later (as in, more thoughts in mid-August when I arrive home)
  17. Chopsticks are difficult to use (I would rate this as a lesson I am in the progress of learning)
  18. Beerlao has its’ own culture. By the end of the summer I hope to be able to explain it but it’s impossible to comprehend the scale and importance of Beerlao. It’s all anyone drinks, the company sponsors every restaurant sign, table cloth, everything. You can’t walk five feet without seeing a reference to the drink.
  19. Buddhism seems to be more of a cultural phenomenon than a religion in a way, will investigate more and have more thoughts on this later
  20. Western food is out there if you know where to look, for instance: Soul Kitchen / Pizza Company has pizza, Comma Coffee has pancakes, Annabelle has good bread, Starbooks has pancakes too, Joma has bagels, and crepes are sometimes in the street market (I recognize these sound like small things but omg they mean the world)
  21. People will constantly be surprised if a falang knows Lao (ok this hasn’t really happened to me yet because my Lao needs a lot of work but I see this happening with my friend Christina who is fluent); why is the expectation that they should know some English when I am a visitor here? Shouldn’t I be the one adapting? (the answer is yes, but why is this not the expectation?)
  22. People constantly take pictures of my co-fellows and I / with us. How does one react / how should one act? Is it best to make light of the situation, silently go along with it, or just not respond? I guess this is a half lesson because I don’t have an answer
  23. Traffic laws are suggestions: people constantly run red lights, don’t alternate at “stop” signs, cross roads randomly, and go the wrong way down one way streets. However, just because everyone else is doing it doesn’t mean that I, as a non-motored cyclist, should do it.
  24. VFI has introduced me to mak mao juice (we love sustainably & ethically produced goods that support local communities!) and I think I need my own supply back in the US
  25. The time difference is hard (I miss you friends and family)

COPE: Helping People Move On

Upon arriving in Vientiane, Abby and I spent our first 4.5 days adjusting to jet lag and exploring our new home. In the first few days, what stood out to me most was our visit to COPE center, thus here are my impressions!

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