Sunday, March 31, 2013

Loving Life in Luang Prabang

Many of you have sent me messages asking "Where are you now? We have missed the updates." I am sorry about the lack of updates. I am still in Luang Prabang, Laos. I planned on being here for 5 days then decided to stay 8 days and now it will be 13 days. Yes, I love it here! When I went to the hotel reception desk to talk to them about staying longer, I was told my same room was going to cost $75/night! Wow! That was outside my budget and I decided to visit a few hotels and find something within my price range. I found a room 2 blocks away for $13/night. You are probably wondering what I am doing. I call it living life and being joyful and happy. I read a blog ( that hit a chord with me. It asked the question to readers "What do you do when there are no demands on your time?" For me, this trip has been about enjoying my life and thinking about who I am and what I hope to gain out of traveling. From previous trips, I knew I was a culture vulture with some outdoor activities mixed into the activities. I did not know how it would go traveling solo but Luang Prabang has captured my heart. I have never loved a city like this city. I started off doing the typical tourist activities and then had an encounter that changed the focus of my stay in Luang Prabang. I met the novice monk Bandit. He encouraged me to spend time speaking English with the locals. I was timid at first but in the end I enjoyed it. This is why I travel!  I love meeting the locals and sharing my life with them as I learn about their world. I have spent the last few days doing the things I love. I enjoy learning and sharing my knowledge. I have spent my time learning to speak with the locals, taking a cooking class on Lao food, volunteering with students, visiting art galleries and working on photography. I am happy and enjoy living my life. So, this post may be boring to some of you. Sorry about that but it is what it is. :)

As most of you know, I love eating good food. Obviously, a cooking class in Lao was high on the list. I wandered around town looking for a good class.  I was walking by a restaurant and saw a sign for a cooking class. A couple tables saw me looking at the sign and they asked if I was interested in the class. I responded "yes." They told me that the food was excellent and asked if I would like to try their leftovers. Really?!? Why not? The food was fantastic and I immediately signed up for a class with Tum Tum Cheng's for the following day. Mmmm...I loved what I sampled and was excited to learn more wonderful recipes.

Class started at 9 am. I laughed when Rykka walked in and sat down. She and I ran into each other everywhere in Luang Prabang. We were on the plane together, stayed at the same hotels, ate at the same restaurants and shopped the same streets. It was not a surprise that she was in the class.  We all sat down and decided which foods we wanted to cook. I chose the chicken with red chili and coconut sauce. We also chose ginger fish, steamed vegetable salad, stuffed lemongrass, Luang Prabang beef stew and pineapple-banana soup for dessert. Oh, and sticky rice off course...we were in Laos! We jumped in a tuk-tuk and headed off to the market to get the fresh ingredients.

We returned and our teacher, Linda, taught us about Lao culture and food while the chefs prepared all the vegetables for us. Of course, we were given knives and vegetables to do a little chopping but she said it would take 5 hours for us to chop everything. Since her staff could do it faster, it would allow us to learn about the Lao food culture. I was fine with it. The chopping I did was enough to make me happy. We headed to the kitchen and started cooking. My chicken with chili paste and coconut milk looked and smelled delicious. I was excited when she handed me a spoon and said I could taste it. Yummy! It was nice and spicy but not too hot.
 Each of us helped with the dishes so everything would be ready simultaneously. Then we sat down and enjoyed our delicious meal. I loved the chicken stuffed lemongrass. 

Bon appetite! Time to enjoy the meal.
We were all happy and full as we left Tum Tum Chengs. I have a recipe book full of food and can't wait to share it with you. I promise I will make you a meal when I see you next!

The remainder of my time, I have spent volunteering with English students. They are all very anxious to practice speaking English with the tourists. As an American I am a commodity!  Seems the novice monks and the students all like the American accent the best. I had previously met some wonderful young men that were novice monks. They had told me about the organization Big Brother Mouse ( where I could buy and donate books for village children and practice English with students. I became a proponent of the program on my first visit. There were students with a variety of ages and backgrounds. When you arrive, you remove your shoes and go in and sit down with students. Then you introduce yourself and they start asking you general questions about your life and family. I have spent time talking with novice monks and students of all ages. Some will have homework they need help understanding or ask you to help with their pronunciation or to explain a word. My first night, I was sitting with two novices and a high school student. After we went through the formalities and introduced ourselves, they got out a notebook. The young novice opened the notebook and searched for a word he did not understand. Then pointed at it and asked me to explain environment. I smiled and asked if he had anything easier then proceeded to explain the environment the best I could. Until I started doing this, I did not realize how many different meaning there are for the same word in English.  They asked me to use it in a sentence and then each of them used it in a sentence. We went through their words and practiced spelling and using it in a sentence. Then they asked if I had photographs from home. I started showing them pictures of friends, family, where I have lived and traveled. They enjoyed this and asked many questions. We went to a map so I could show them where I lived and the distance my families village was from my home. They showed me where their families lived. Then, one of the novice monks asked if I could teach him American slang. I smiled as he shared with me the phrases he knew. There is nothing like a Buddhist monk dressed in his robe looking at you and saying "Peace Out" as he gives the peace sign. I taught him a few more. They were so funny. I enjoyed my evening and walked home smiling. Since then, I have returned every day. The last three days I have been there from 9-11 am and 5-7 pm. I have learned as much from them as they have learned from me.

Several of the students have asked me to come to their English classes in the temples with the infamous teacher from America named Michael. Everyone in Luang Prabang seems to be taking English classes from him because he does them for free. Last night as I was sitting talking to 5 students they all got excited when a western man walked in. It was the infamous Michael! I introduced myself and he asked the student why they had not dragged me to class. They laughed and said I was coming with them tonight! So, I did. We all biked over to the temple and started a 1.5 hour class. He called me to the front of the room to introduce myself and then play a the pronunciation game. He handed a slip of paper to the first student and he was to pronounce the word and I had to write what I heard. Oh, no! We all laughed as the students said the word and I could not get it. They were saying thorough but it sounded like anything from throve, thowrogue, throw up and thorouge. It was an exercise to teach them the importance of good pronunciation. The second activity was called English Slam. I got to help demonstrate the game to the students. The assignment was to speak as long and fast as you can about my clothes. The first person to stop was the loser....I lost but the students found it funny. Then it was their turn. None of them wanted to do it so Michael took the time to explain why these activities were important. He explained that Lao people are very nice and timid and don't typically stand up for what they want or actively ask for what they want. They are very sweet and shy. He wanted to teach them that their understanding of the English language was good and to teach them to think on their feet. Reluctantly, they started the game and had fun. The best were 2 students that were told to talk about their day and one of the boys asked if he could talk about his girlfriend instead. Sure! It was hilarious listening to these two Lao students talk about girls and lost love. They went on...and on...and on for a good 15 minutes. It was so cute and they were so shy afterwards. Then we got into a deep discussion about a riddle. I was amazed at their ability to argue and understand such a deep thought provoking topic in a foreign language. At the end of the evening, I thanked everyone and Michael. He asked when I was leaving. I told him I wasn't sure and wanted to stay for the Laos New Year. He laughed and said, "You aren't going anywhere for the next 2 weeks. Stay and enjoy your time here!" I laughed...he is probably right! I am suppose to check out of my hotel tomorrow....not sure I want to leave yet. I have loved working with the students and I was not ready to leave. After a little thinking I decided I was going to stay three more days in Luang Prabang. The new plan is to stay until the 3rd. Then, I will go north to Nong Khiaw, east to Vieng Thong and Vieng Xai and then southwest to Phosavan and back to Luang Prabang. The Laos New Year celebration is the 13th-15th. All the novice monks get excited talking about the festival so, I knew I would return to Luang Prabang to enjoy the celebrations. I just made reservations at the hotel for the 12-18th.  You are probably wondering what is special about the New Year celebration in Laos? It is a water festival! That is right! Everyone gets sprayed with water guns and buckets of water. It will feel wonderful in this heat! It will make for some wonderful photos and stories too!

I would attach more photos of the area but the internet connection is very slow. I have been trying to do this for 2 days. After 2 glasses of Chile wine I decided to just give up and enjoy the evening.  Good night! 

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