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Laos Life: 3-20 September 2019

Highlights from September 2019, a surprisingly subdued month considering what lay on the horizon. A relaxing month with amazing weather. The calm before the storm.

Outside of rainy season, it doesn’t take much to see why some people come to Vientiane and never leave. By most objective standards, Vientiane is an ideal place to raise little ones — a comfortable culture for Western expats, lots of fun things to do (for little ones, at least), low cost of living relative to Western Europe or North America, relaxed pace of life, comfortable climate 6+ months of the year, manageable traffic, and virtually no crime.

Our British neighbor (and, coincidentally, one of Lori’s coworkers) has two kids who were around the ages our boys are now when they first moved to Laos several years ago. After living away from Laos for a while, she and her husband decided they missed it and wanted to return. Now, with a 13 and 11-year-old, they are calling Vientiane home for the foreseeable future.

There are a lot of stories like this from the expat community here in Vientiane. There are also many others who see Vientiane as a boring, dead-end backwater with little to offer in terms of fun and excitement, outdoor activities, diverse social circles, and arts and culture.

Based on my experience over the past three years, I’d agree with both assessments. Vientiane is a place that either resonates or repels newcomers — not as much for what it is, but more so based on where expats are in their own lives.

For young, single, and ambitious foreigners, Vientiane has little to offer those looking to stay on longterm.

For families with young children or those looking to escape many of the trappings of the Western world in the 21st century and, say, return to the 90s, Vientiane has much to offer. Yes, the dream of the 90s is alive in Vientiane.

That’s not to say that young Laotians don’t wander malls with smartphones in hand taking endless selfies to post to Instagram. They do.

And it’s certainly not to say that materialism, consumption, and status don’t dictate social norms. They do — in many ways more so than back in the U.S.

Sure, Laos has a slew of problems that need to be addressed, otherwise, we wouldn’t be here.

You just don’t feel the weight of the outside world with all its craziness, rapid changes, tribalism, violence, and sense of hopelessness, and that’s the difference.

So why leave if it’s so great?

Well, there’s a great big world out there and Lori and I aren’t ones to content ourselves with staying in one place for too long. Three years in one place is a long time for us and we’re excited for new adventures.

We knew when we moved here that Vientiane was a temporary stop, and that feeling hasn’t changed. But Vientiane’s been good to us and will always have a special place in our hearts.

Nonetheless, when it’s time to move on, it’s time to move on. This month is all about ending one chapter (a significant chapter) and welcoming a new one.

I didn’t know it at the time, but this would be our final Daddy Day in Vientiane. I hadn’t planned any of it, but it turns out Noe had his own ideas of what he wanted to do.

When we came to Once Upon a Time a couple of months ago, he completely lost it — he thought we were going to the coffee shop with the kid’s kitchen. After that, I didn’t think he’d ever want to return here.

When I asked Noe what he wanted to do this morning, to my surprise he said he wanted to go to the “Ding Dong” cafe (his name for Once Upon a Time because you ring a bell on the table to get the waiter’s attention). I was shocked.

We ordered a sweet roti to share and I ordered something I hadn’t ordered in years here — an iced mocha (probably the best in Vientiane). Lori even stopped by briefly between meetings to surprise Noe.

 

While Noe worked on his rocket ship it occurred to me: This was the first coffee shop in Vientiane that Noe and I visited together. That was almost exactly three years ago to the day. Noe was three months and six days old.

 

Out of the half dozen coffee shops he and I have frequented over the years, we’ve only visited this one a small handful of times together. It was highly unusual (yet fitting) that he choose this one today.

The way things worked out with leave, work timelines, rental agreements, vacation timing, and a workshop, Lori left her work at HI after the first week of September and started her new job in the second week.

Her new project spans Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam, so she was able to get a jumpstart on things here in Laos before we move to Cambodia in late October.

I brought the boys by to say goodbye to everyone at HI on her last day in office. They’re very proud of their mama.

 

On the last evening with a car, we returned to our old neighborhood to have dinner at The Koki Korean BBQ, a place we used to eat at on a weekly basis in the early days of our time here.

We hadn’t eaten here in a year or two, but some of the staff actually remembered Noe (they would often take him from us and snuggle him when he was a tiny baby so we could have a nice meal).

On Lori’s final day with the car, it wasn’t going to work to take Riley in the car seat to nursery school since we’d have to walk the car seat back home with no car.

So…Lori and I switched kids. Lori took Noe and I took Riley.

It was the Chunk’s first time riding in the kiddie bike seat and he seemed to really enjoy it. There’s no way I could have done this safely with Noe when he was 11 months old, but Riley’s a big little dude and fit the size and weight requirements for the seat.

From here on out, it’s tuk-tuks, taxis, and lots of hoofin’ it. Thankfully, the boys love their tuk-tuk rides.

The rains were delayed. Vientiane experienced the worst drought in years until one day in late July the rains arrived (about six weeks behind schedule).

We’ve had some rainy Septembers here, so I fully expected this year to be one of the wetter ones due to the weather being pushed back.

It rained for about six weeks straight. Then one day in early September the rains stopped, the clouds dispersed and we’ve had near-perfect weather ever since.

Not knowing if or when we’ll have a yard quite like this again, we encouraged Noe to make the most of it.

 

 

 

 

One of his favorite activities is to collect the fallen tamarind in the yard and put them in piles or line them up.

One day, I told him that you can eat tamarind. His eyes lit up and he wanted to find one to eat. I told him to break them open and if they’re black then we need to throw them out. If they’re yellow, we can try them.

As most of these were left over from the rains, they were pretty much all black. He never found a fresh one, but had fun searching.

 

 

This month, Noe’s been all about picking out his own clothes and dressing himself. Honestly, I don’t do much in the morning anymore but lift him onto the toilet. He does the rest himself. Noe’s becoming quite self-sufficient.

He’s also had a renewed interest in puzzles, but not the baby puzzles of days passed. One of his favorite daily activities is taking this box off the shelf, taking all the pieces out and assembling this huge puzzle to completion.

He’s assembled this puzzle a dozen times now and hasn’t seemed to tire of it. Regardless, in Cambodia, I’m excited to look for a new floor puzzle for him to try his hand at.

September was a busy month, but not so busy that we didn’t have time for a quick trip to Russia.

Or at least a visit to Privet, the Russian restaurant down the street.

Now that we’re sans car, we’ve been focusing a lot more on eating out in our neighborhood — when we do eat out. I’m also trying to get as much cooking at home in as I can before our impending 6+ weeks of living out of suitcases.

My kitchen, my kitchen. I’ll miss you.

But we love Privet. Their food is delicious, they often have live music and dancing, and good Russian vodka.

On this particular evening, we got the crazy idea to stop off at Le Patitoh on the way back — A craft brewery with a huge pool. How cool is that?

Noe was surprisingly content to watch other kids swim while mom and dad enjoyed sipping IPA (rare in Laos). And Riley was content to watch Noe watch the kids. Sometimes our kids drive us nuts, but they’re also troopers a lot of the time too.

The only hard part is predicting when and where. In reality, all you can really do with little ones is enjoy and be grateful for the happy surprises.

This guy’s pulling up to standing and cruising like crazy. It’s only a matter of time now…

Sunday brunch at Annabelle.

Without a car, we found ourselves most weekends doing at least one morning outing and one evening outing downtown to get out of the neighborhood bubble and for a change of scenery.

Such mornings usually consisted of brunch at one of our favorite spots, followed by a long stroll around town before catching a tuk-tuk back home for nap time.

Whatever the future holds, we hope we’re never so busy as to not have time to stroll and wander aimlessly with the kids.

For the decade that Lori and I have been together, it ranks up there as one of our favorite activities, no matter where we’ve found ourselves.

 

 

 

 

There are a lot of wats (temples) in the city center, but Wat Haysoke is one of my favorites. It’s old, it’s shaded, it’s huge, it’s evocative. And by and large, it’s hidden from view driving along the main roads.

 

Morning nap time. It’s tough being a baby.

We didn’t know it when we left the house this morning, but today’s journey led us on a small tour of temples. After a while, we found ourselves at Bang Long Vietnamese temple, a very unique complex amongst Vientiane’s predominately Buddhist wats.

We got halfway into the grounds when one of the staff came out and told us we needed to be careful of the dog. Then, she led Noe back to the nunnery and emerged with a small bag of goodies for him, including milk, juice, and cookies.

Before long, we were back on our way — Noe, with a huge smile on his face, of course.

Only in Laos.

 

Another one of Noe’s favorite pastimes this month has been to strap himself into Riley’s car seat and rock back and forth. He thinks it’s hilarious…until he remembers he hasn’t figured out how to unbuckle himself (which Lori and I think is hilarious).

One evening, we took a tuk-tuk down to the Clock Tower neighborhood to do our Mekong Walk one final time.

Without a car we have to be choosy about our outings, so something like this that we used to do frequently, becomes more of a production. And of course, this time it’s bittersweet.

We stop by to pay our respects to the Big Buddha, before heading on to the Big Bar on the Bank of the River.

Another beautiful evening in Vientiane. We’ve been quite fortunate to have a lot of them lately.

 

 

 

 

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Shirley MacD
Shirley MacD

Sorta sad to see your time there end, but also really excited to see your photos and postings from Cambodia!