Wednesday, 31 December 2014

A Day in the Life

7:00 am - Wake up time, I've ignored the roosters for a few hours now, light is starting to stream in through the opaque blinds at the head of our bed and the view of our mosquito net greets me.

7:15 am - A liberal dousing with DEET before I start moving around too much.  Dengue mosquitos are day-biting and are more active at dawn and dusk....after suffering from Dengue last year I'm not taking any chances.

7:20 am - Breakfast time - Bolaven filtered coffee, water to rehydrate and muesli with yoghurt.  Occasionally I'm joined by our resident singing cat and visiting Triceratops beetle Mr Jack (RIP dear friend...)

7:50 am - On the moto and off to work.

8/8:30am - Arrival at work - usually I'm the first one in if I make it here by 8am.  My work colleagues trickle in as the morning starts.  I work with three young Lao women on a daily basis - incredibly talented and gifted - and the wider office group.  The Agriculture Section of PAFO are in many ways my "Lao family", with three younger sisters that I work with (kind of like my own family, four girls, but at home I'm sister number 3!)

Like the Lao women, I wear the traditional Sinh to work - it's such a lovely custom, keeping weaving arts alive, and is a guaranteed way to impress your local counterparts and break down barriers!

8:30 am - At this point in the day (actually, make that any time of the day, almost...) anything could happen - field work, lab work, emails, teaching accounting, teaching computer skills, teaching nothing (as no one told you it was a holiday....don't expect a memo!), teaching plant pathology (oh yeah, that's what I'm here to do!)

12:00 pm - Lunch time, which can activate as early as 11am and run as late as 3:30pm on any given day.  Though, ordinarily it's 12:00-2:00.  If I'm in town I tend to haunt one of two options on a regular basis - Lao Vida Bakery, basically a good Aussie style cafe (although it's run by New Zealanders), and Champadee, a local coffee shop with a good value selection of Asian dishes.  If we're up on the plateau doing field work though it's almost always Moukdavanh in Paksong for a quick bowl of Pho or Fried Rice with egg on top.  Although, I have also had Korean BBQ up in Paksong - with Korean visitors!

2:00 pm - This is when the food coma has set in and it's almost impossible to get work done - sometimes it's like pulling teeth to get things happening in the afternoon as it's only a couple of hours to knock off time.  But if we've been in the field we'll often buckle down and get the isolations done and twice a week my dear Gavin has been taking English language classes with our local staff - which are always fun!
Workshops can always finish with a glass of Beer Lao and a spot of Karaoke, of course!

4:00 pm - The  work day is done!  If anyone is still in the lab at this time I'm astonished - usually until I notice it's pouring outside and they wouldn't leave in that weather unless it was absolutely necessary.  I jump on my bike and head home to decompress and maybe do a spot of yoga.  In my first twelve months I would head off to Lao language classes three times a week too - something I'm really happy I did - Lao isn't widely spoken outside of Lao itself and the locals really appreciate it when you speak it.  Oh, and farmers, they have little to no English - so best to scrub up if you want to know what the hell is going on when you're in the field!

7:00 pm - Dinner time, where Gav and I spend a lot of time at the incredible Dok Mai Lao Italian Restaurant, Nazim's Indian or Pakse Hotel when we eat out.  I still cook quite a bit at home though, it's such a lovely release - and given my guts have been upset more often than not I try to keep it simple and western,  We eat a lot of vegetarian dishes at home now though, lentils and eggs, as I'm not always out at the market in time to be sure that the meat is still good (there is no refrigeration at the local meat market, and I make the single concession of only buying from the market with the stainless steel benches, not the wooden tables covered with lino and occassionally sporting local animals grooming themselves right next to the entrails!)

Friday, 7 November 2014

Paying it Forward

This weeks blog is brought to you by a guest post I did for the RAID (Researchers for Agriculture in International Development) website.

Check it out here.

And check out their website - - and Connect, Engage, Support!


Friday, 10 October 2014

Letting Go, Giving Thanks and Future Blessings

People releasing their boats on the river at Tat Luang temple - you can pay a small child to release it for you and ensure it gets out into the flow of the river for just 5000 kip (falang price - I heard 1000 quoted to a local....)
This week Gavin and I participated in Loi Krathong/Boun Awk Phansa - the end of the Buddhist Lent.  Stories differ on the meaning of the holiday presently, it is the day that the monks are released from a 3 month "rains retreat" period and can be out and about in the world again.  But in the evening Lao people set small "boats" with candles to float away on their nearest river and/or send "spirit orbs" (floating Chinese lanterns) floating into the sky.

The day before the Full Moon we made our boats at my work, with the help of one of my wonderful colleagues - she rolled her eyes and giggled at our poor attempts and when we went to pick them up on the Wednesday night she had made the time to decorate our boats with flowers (on her own time, during a public holiday I might add!)

The boats are made from banana leaves and bananas stems (which float incredibly well!)  A certain amount of oragami, staples and pins finish the gorgeous little boats.

My own personal "Kratong"
The holiday is a mixed process of letting go, giving thanks and asking for blessings for the year ahead - be it from Buddha, the nagas (spirit snakes) in the river or some other form of deity or spirit you believe in.  And, next to the holiday of Thanksgiving in the USA it rates among my favorite global holidays.  Couples, holding hands (typically taboo in Lao culture - I got a bit of a shock!) typically let off a boat together to ensure a long-lasting and happy relationship, people let go of angst and anxiety and let the river take it downstream and we all dream of a better year ahead with love, laughter and fulfilled opportunities.

Gavin and I released two boats together (one discarded with roses and sparklers that Gavin found on the road - he really knows how to spoil me with discarded goods!) and also released what some Lao were calling a "Spirit Orb" - the lantern.  So - here's to the worries of last year behind us and the promise of the future ahead - I have a feeling it's going to be a good one!

Our spirit orb, with the light of the full moon to the left, takes off into the atmosphere!

Sunday, 30 March 2014

This is Lao

"This is Lao".   A phrase which is rapidly becoming one of my most spoken, not far behind the commonly understood "TGIF" every single week.

I love Lao, it has so much to offer.  The people are slow to warm to you, but once they do they are some of the best people I have ever met in this world.  Their smiles warm my heart and I know that when I leave those Lao Smiles will stay in my heart forever.

Lao Smiles!

However, my life is daily filled with "This is Lao" moments.

Staff forget to tell you it's a major religious holiday and no one will come to work today....."This is Lao"

Returning to work after lunch to discover a Karaoke Party in the office...."This is Lao"


Postage ending up in opposite directions...."This is Lao"

Gift cakes, complete with swimming pools and fluorescent animals....."This is Lao"

Cows, yes, I repeat, cows, sorting through trash....."This is Lao"

Roundabouts, where you stop to let the incoming traffic on....."This is Lao"

And the list goes on...........but that's okay......."This is Lao"!