Monday, October 31, 2005

Second Chance

I needed to come back and use the internet, so thought I'd take the opportunity to write another, slightly better entry. Firstly though, I'd like people to acknowledge that they are reading this, make a comment, etc... I just like to know that people are interested in what we are doing, and stuff!

Back to the catch-up. Yesterday we were walking along the Mekong, when was spotted Cat. He was the old Aussie hippie we'd met at TT Guest house just before we left to move above the office. We paused a moment, he was hard-work to talk to, mumbling often, drifting away from us and onto another plane in-between. It was only a brief pause, a pause all the same. We moved forward and greeted him. He looked lost, and not just lost in teh 'lost person' kind of way I've discussed before. I mean he really looked out of it, lost in another place. A drifted back to us, and as his astral body reached us he spoke. "I've just found out my mother died." Slap!

I hate those moments, never no matter how many times you are in such a situation, you always clam-up. He cried and we stood there. You don't want to do the obvious, "Oh I'm soooo sorry!" No you're not, you've got nothing to be sorry for. So you just stand there silently, not moving, not breathing, the world on pause. I wanted to hug the old guy, but didn't feel I knew him enough, my Britishness had got the better of me. Within what felt like an age and was only a few seconds, he stretched out his arms. We all three embraced.

We took him for a juice and a chat. He explained she had been ill for some-time. I didn't enquire how old she was, as I didn't need to know. Cat is an old man, a true aging hippie, his mother must have been very old. It had been her time, and he acknowledged that. He worked through his grief with us, who else did he have?! This was by repeating the story of his one-true-love, we'd heard before. But on this occasion that was no problem.

He'd had a dream many many years ago. It started with him being really ill while in India. Weeks of the runs had sent him close to the point of death and he'd gone to visit the temple of the Hindu god of death Khali. While there he started to trip-out, started to have visions. Later on he feel asleep and had a dream of the temple pool, a naked woman swam a dance in the pool. When he woke he could remember every aspect of this woman, as if the experience had been real.

Years later he was at a political gathering in Australia when a woman caught his eye. In the briefest glimpse he knew this was the woman from his dreams. They talked for hours, became soul-mates, traveling the world together. Wandering through India bare-foot, partying in Thailand. It was Thailand where his world caved in on him. They were in Ko Pang-Gang (Not correct spelling, I know!), they'd been partying as people do in the southern islands of Thailand. Partying hard! They both went to bed, but only one of them woke up the next morning. Cat found his one-true-love dead beside him in bed, she'd died of a blood clot on the brain.

This story, told again, helped him put things in context over his mother. "She's still with you", I said. "Yes she is," Cat smiled, looked up and kissed the air. Tears of what looked like joy welled up in his eyes. "She's in many ways nearer to me now than she was before." We all smiled and the world was a much better place for a moment.

Blogging Is Something I Do When I Aren't Busy Doing Something Else

We don't seem to have much time to write the blog at the moment. Either busy with work, or out doing something. Now we are living above the office we are woken up early, and sometimes do not get properly finished until late. Usually the late nights involve sitting around and talking with CDEA staff over a beer, which isn't such a problem. But we would like some time to ourselves.

On Friday we had planned to go into the old town and see some friends. This never happened. We got down into the old town, but ended up at a Lao Catholic Wedding, of all things. DR Khansome invited us to go with him to his friends wedding, we couldn't really refuse as he is such a nice man. Also we could refuse the whole idea of witnessing such a spectical. It was somewhat strange, the bride and groom face the audience, having to sweat it out for a good hour or more as the priest does his thing. All the time there are guys pulling and pushing them around for photo opportunities.

Anyway, I'm cutting this blog short. Got things to do. Just built a computer and now on the blag for some software to put on it. Being here in the internat place is just softening the blow before I sting 'em with wanting to borrow some software.

Well must bite the bullet, catch you all later.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Living Above The Office

Well we've gone and done it now, we've moved in above the office. Last night was our first night. It's OK, but it does mean we have to be on-the-ball about getting up and showered before people start turning up for work. Noi, who cleans the office, came at about 20 past 7 this morning. We only just made that one.

The office is right in the middle of a proper Laos community. No falang to be seen, except these two nutters from Yorkshire. Anyway, who are we to complain, the place is free and at least we can use the computer downstairs to watch films on at night. We have stocked up on VCD's, they only cost 75p to a quid each. So that'll keep us entertained.

We are carrying on with trying to drag the CDEA into the 21st Century. It's slow going, and I think we'll end up doing the majority of our work when the office is closed and everyone has gone home. Not so many distractions, like random English / Lao lessons thrown in at anytime, and we can get onto the computer without hassle.

Anyway, must get on with some work. Still not fully awake, Sam just yawned! Need more coffee, and nicotine. Breakfast would be good, maybe Kay has gone and got us our 'falang baugette' by now. We have a treat tomorrow morning, as Noi is cooking us Sticky Rice for breakfast, we'll look forward to that!

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Day To Day Life.

Life is going to become somewhat ordinary from now on. Or as ordinary as it can get here in Laos. We are moving from the guest house, to above the office. This will save on rent, but does carry other problems. The room upstairs, is one big space, which at times we will have to share with Mr Sombat when he is in Laos.

Some of the guys have built Sam a room within a room, being a girl and all. So when he stays I will share the space with him and Sam will have to sleep in her own room. It's all just the Laos way, and I'm sure we'll be able to cope with it.

An advantage to it is that we have pretty much our own space, and that once the office is closed we can use the downstairs as a living space too. Mr Khansome has brought in his computer, so we can watch movies on that on a night. They do have a TV in the office, put to tune it in you have to turn the ariel around, plus it will only get Thai TV at best.

Anyway, if Lotus throw some money our way we will able to afford a pretty big house to stay in for our time here. Everything is progressing, but timescales are still a little up in the air. We know that we will be here at least for 3 months, supporting the CDEA, beyond that we really don't know.

I took back the book I was reading to the book shop today. I got Thomas Mann's Death In Venice (and seven other stories), what a load of crap! High-brow literature my arse! A load of dodgy Aryan child-porn, if you ask me. Far too much descriptions of young boys with long blond hair, that look like Greek gods. I flicked through the other stories, and at each turn of the page it was the same un-nerving descriptions of youth, all being admired by old men. Hmmm! Wouldn't like to say I think Thomas Mann wrote Germanic gay wank mags, but... That is what they are in my critical opinion.

Anyway I swapped it for I Robot, as you can't go wrong with a bit of Asimov.

Not much else to say really, we are starting to get our heads around the massive task ahead of us in bringing the CDEA up-to-scratch. We have to start at the very basics and work from there, but I'm sure we will manage to make some head-way. Even though I'm also sure that we'll have a number of headaches along the way also.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Picture of a boat. Posted by Picasa

Picture of the Boat Racing. Posted by Picasa

All Work And No Play!

Yesterday was the culmination of the Boat Racing Festival. The point when the actually race boats, rather than getting hammered all the time. Although getting hammered is also a HUGE part of the whole thing.

We headed out early, and sat up high in the Bor Pen Nyang bar and resturant. From there we could see the womens boat racing. We spotted the International Womens Team, all in bright pink. Lorraine who'd got us the work with the CDEA was racing with them, as were many other women NGO workers. They came fourth, which would have been respectable, if only there hadn't only been four women's teams racing.

After that we shuffled down to the Sunset Bar, which was near the start of the racing. This place is a mad ramshackled bar that juts out into the Mekong at the strangest of angles. The whole place leans, and looks like some sort of house that would not look out of place in a Grimms fairy-tale. We stayed there a couple of hours, as we had a great view of the racing.

As we headed back to the main drag, where all the festivities were happening, we realise how packed the place had become. We had too shuffle slowly down the street with the sardine packed throng. It was hot, damn hot. So we decided to grab a afternoon nap back at the guest house. The whole of the area was full of very drunk Lao people, being the end of Buddhist Lent they really go for it.

Later on, after having to do some work for the Thursday meeting with Lotus, we hit the streets again. Not that we got far. We ended up back at a noodle bar we'd been in the night before, dragged in by Ka, another new Lao friend we have made.

So the night was spent drinking Lao Style with Ka and an sorted bunch of Lao men. Lao Style drinking involves lots of beer and one glass. The glass is passed around the table in turn. The idea of this being that it is social and everyone is the same. It also means you end up getting drunk very quickly, having to go at the same pace as everyone else.

The people we were drinking with were an interesting mix. Ka works for an NGO, as did one of the other men. To of them worked for the Lao Ministery For Foreign Affairs, in fact the main man at the tabel was the Minister for Foreign Affairs. He told us that if we had problems with our visa, to give him a ring. He was also the Director of Human Rights for the UNDP. They knew our boss Mr Khanthone, and were aware of the work of the CDEA. And there we all were, all the same, sat in a noodle bar, drinking Lao Style. Crazy stuff.

Anyway, today we were back at work. We had the meeting with Lotus, and they were very interested in the work we were doing with the CDEA. In fact they want us to write a proposal, and are seriously considering paying for us to stay in Lao for a year to support the CDEA and help them improve their standards. This hit us like a bolt out of the blue. We'd only been here a week, and now they were talking about paying us to stay a year. We did, if I do say so myself, give a really good presentation. I talked their heads off, and they were impressed with our knowledge seeing how we'd only been with the organisation a week.

So we will see. I keep using the phrase, I not holding my breath on this one. Once again I'm not. Things have been going far too well, maybe my lucky Buddha and the good karma is really on our side. We shall see!

Picture of Sam and the lady-boy. Posted by Picasa

Picture of Rich and the lady-boy. Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Mr. Sweetlips, Joy And The Lady-Boy.

The build-up towards the Boat Racing Festival is taking its toll. Day after day, night after night of drinking, the Lao people never seem to stop. It all comes to a head tonight, finally.

Last night we wandered down to the fair again, taking the camera to get some pictures. On the way back we stopped off at a resturant on the corner of our street. Earlier we'd eaten there, happily watching the world go by, when I spotted the worst lady-boy in the world. Many of them are bad, but this 'guy' was the very worst. Ugly, over-made-up, and in the skimpiest of clothing.

Well there we are sat back on the corner, when came past again. He decided to join us. So we had to get a photo, just to show people what a sight this was. All around us people looked on in disbelief, either horrified or bursting into fits of laughter. I think we made a new friend, or at least I think he wanted to be 'my friend'.

Eventually he departed, so we went and showed the fair people stood around the pictures we'd took. It was all too funny for words. Making our way back to the guest house for an early night, we found a bit of a party going on outside. Joy the owner had friends and family over, and we were asked if we wanted to join them.

Among the people we met were various family members, a high-up police official on-duty but happily knocking back the beer, and Mr. Sweetlips. He was an old school friend of Joy's, and a bit of a lad by all accounts. He liked the girls, a lot, and had two girlfriends with him, although they left without him. So not such a stud afterall.

Ciara and Nam soon joined us, it was her last night in Laos. They stayed for a drink, and we said that we would see them in the morning to say goodbye. It was 1.30am by the time we got to bed, another late night, it was taking its toll like I say. Just as we settled down and started to drift off, some random guy tried coming into our room. Shocked and embarassed by his mistake, he got an eye-full of Sam sprawled out on the bed.

Today is the actual day of the Boat Racing Festival, so we can get back to normal, we need to dry-out.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Sam hanging out with a monk mate at the Buddha Park. Posted by Picasa

The Buddha Park, south of Vientiane. Posted by Picasa

Richard escaping from the jaws of Hell. Posted by Picasa

Sunset over the Mekong, from Bo Pen Nyang Resturant, Vientiane. Posted by Picasa

Sam in the cave near to Vang Vieng Resort. Posted by Picasa

View from a cave across to Vang Veing. Posted by Picasa

A really beautiful Wat in Vientiane. Posted by Picasa

Mine a Sam's Buddhas, next to each other, how sweet. Posted by Picasa

The view from our window, TT Guest House Vientiane. Posted by Picasa

Baby Ducks.

After the last few days, we have really become fixtures in Vientiane. The weekend was spent in the company of Nam and Ciara, along with many of Nam's friends. We've had a great time hanging out with them all. Nam introduced me to a some new Lao food. Now we've seen lots of eggs for sale, and assumed they were just eggs. Not so! These are un-hatched duck eggs. They come in 3 stages, tiny baby, slightly bigger baby duck with beak, and then even bigger baby duck with feathers and everything.

We went down to a place that sold these and Nam and I tucked into a couple each. You crack the egg, and drink out this brownish liquid first, then you dive into the egg. They look all brownish, and not that appertising, but I thought they tasted great. The egg part tasted just like egg, and the baby duck, well that was really nice. I was a little surprised at how nice.

I'll give anything a go once, I think that you should when in a different country. I've done the insect thing, so the duck egg thing didn't sound that bad, although Sam and Ciara when not too impressed with either of us. After the taste sensation of baby duck eggs, we carried on with our night, ending up outside Sticky's. The bar closes down until Friday, due to the Boat Racing, so the staff traditionally have a beer together after work.

After that it was to bed, as we are back at work today. It's hard to pin down Mr Khanthone, as he seems to shoot off at tangents, too busy to concentrate on one thing. We realise that we have to take the bull by the horns and just get on with it. He said today that he wants us to write a project proposal around the poorest people in Vientiane, which we know little about. We meet with Lotus the Relief Charity on Thursday, so we have our work cut out for us. As I'm sat here quickly up-dating the blog, Sam is scribbling away at possible contacts, people we need to see and places we need to go. So I too should get on and help sort all this out.

Beginning of the training day, a local leader gives a speech. Posted by Picasa

Village ladies at the training, with a Sam in the front. Posted by Picasa

Mr Khanthone the CDEA President. Posted by Picasa

Mr Khantone giving a talk to village women. Posted by Picasa

CDEA training session. Posted by Picasa

Sunday, October 16, 2005

The Directions Life Takes.

I've not had a chance to up-date the blog for a number of days now, ever since we started work! We had the meeting on Wednesday, and it all took off from there. The CDEA (Community Development and Environment Association), are a Laos based and run not-for-profit organisation. They were very welcoming, so we hit the ground running at got stuck into working for them right away. They run two arms, one is supporting and training women to create Village Banks or Savings Groups. They then also train them to collectivies into small enterprises, manufacturing and selling traditional handicrafts. The second arm is a the environmental side, they run composting schemes and environmental education.

On our first full day with them on the Thursday, Mr Khanthone the CDEA President tooks us to a village about 30 Km or so outside Vientiane. He was running a training session for a group of local women, around marketing and running a small business. We had a great day, and were treated to more food than we could ever possibly eat. At lunch time the table was laden down with Laap, Papaya Salad, big bowls of Sticky Rice and a Fish Soup. After the session finished we all sat around and had a few Beer Lao, while the ladies probed us with questions. One of the ladies who'd come with us, was a village leader who ran a Savings Group (Credit Union), and a successful business. She insisted that we came back to her house for more food. So off we all went, and were treated to a large bowl of Noodle Soup and more Beer Lao.

After that we finally got back to the office, it had been a long day. We'd started at around 7.30am and by the time we got back to the office it was around 5.30pm. Mr Sombat, the Thai advisor to the CDEA was still there, he was waiting for some factory girls to turn-up. He explained that they were under paid were they worked, and the CDEA was going and try to help collectivise them, and give them vocational training so they could get out of the work they currently did. They turned up with more food! We had to politely decline the offer of more food, as we'd have burst if we forced down any more. Mr Khantone's son and his girlfriend appeared, so there was more Beer Lao to be drunk. What time we actually made it home, I can't remember, but it had been a long day for a first day.

The organisation is sorting out our visa for us, as they connections with the Prime Minister in Laos. We were taken off to a government office to the other CDEA office, and to meet the Vice President. Through his connections we hope that we can get a 3 month visa and so stay in Laos a lot longer. Mr Sombat was going back to Thailand the next day, so he tasked us with meeting Lotus a UK based Relief organisation that are coming to Laos next week. We've been given free reign to write a project proposal, and if we want write in paid jobs for ourselves. Mr Khanthone said that if we can access enough funding then we could easily become salaried Project Managers for the organisation.

It's all too mad! From travelling, and hoping to get a bit of voluntary work, to potentially being long-term paid International Development Workers project managing our own micro-projects in Laos. Our heads are spinning, it's all too much to take in. We hit it right by just coming out here and putting ourselves out there. Working for the CDEA was a good move. They are not some huge international NGO, with dozens of western workers. These are Lao people running a Lao project, for Lao people.

Anywway, like I say we've hit-the-ground running on this one. There is a lot to be done in a very short time, put I'm sure that together Sam and I are more than up for the challenge. This is a once in a life-time opportunity that had been put in front of us, so we are going to do our level best to make it happen.

On a lighter and more social note, we were wandering round the fair they have at the end of our street on Friday night, when I heard my name shouted. It throws you to hear someone shout your name in another country, where few people know you. It was Nam who works at Sticky's, he was with his Irish girlfriend Ciara. She'd come over to Laos to visit him, and he'd managed to get some holiday time off from Sticky's. The four of us spent the night chatting, and had a great time. Nam asked if we all wanted to meet up the next night. Yes of course, we said. So Saturday night they both came round to our guest house, we were already sat outside having a beer.

Earlier just before they turned up, someone came and sat outside the guest house. I'd not really taken that much notice of them, until the guest house owner asked if we thought this person we a girl or a boy?! Now taking notice we clicked that it wa a girl with short boyish hair. No more really had to be said, but the owner carried on anyway. He said, "She is like a lady-boy, but different! How you say... A lesbian." That just cracked us up, and was the quote of the week.

The night turned into a very drunken affair. Various people joined us over the night. Nam met an old school friend, and we started knocking back Gin along with the constant flowing Beer Lao. The night carried on like this until gone 4.00am. The 11.00pm curfew came and went. As did Art from Sticky's who stopped for an hour. Nam had crashed and burned by this point. at around 1.30am a load of guys turned up, they had just come in from Vietnam. So they joined too, as did some random Lao guy who I'm not sure where he came from, and some street kid who kept trying to give massages for money. A great night was had by all, and I don't think any of us crawled out of bed before lunch-time.

There's probably loads of stuff I've skimmed over, and not mentioned as part of this entry. So much has happened in the last few days it's difficult to express it all in words. Our life has taken a dramatic twist, and now we just don't know where it will go next. We hope that the work thing goes from strength to strength, and if nothing else we have something already that will look dead impressive on a CV. I will try and keep up with the blog as much as I can, but work is now a priority. As I say this is a once-in-a-life-time opportunity.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

The Vientiane Catch Up.

After we landed back in Vientiane we went to find a guest house. TT's which we aimed for was full, so we went to one down the road for the night. We explained to TT's about the possibility of staying a month or so if the volunteering thing happened, so they booked us in for the next day.

That night we went to the fair that they now have set up along the Mekong. Lot's of side-shows and stalls, running basic games like spin-the-bottle, throw a dart at the balloon, and throw the washing-up bowl over the bottle of cooking oil! Banging sound systems battled for air space. The biggest being at the bumper cars, which would have not looked out of place on the stage of a Monsters Of Rock festival. A huge stack of bass bins, which caused doors and windows to rattle from miles around. Even the tiny little kiddies train ride had a six foot high speaker stack system, that would have left any potential rider with hearing problems for days afterwards.

One thing we had to go and see was the Wall Of Death. Something that has been long banned on Health & Safety reasons in the UK, watching some guys ride a motorcycle around a vertical wall had to be seen. We felt a little uncomfortable at the warm-up act, which was a bloke making some primates ride little push-bikes around the arena. After that through, watching these guys speed around and around the vertical wall of the arena was both fun and scary. The whole structure swayed as the shot around and around.

We then saw a similar structure, with a huge banner of some acrobats. This was one of those revolving rooms, theyt have a name that I can't remember. I remember going on one at Hull Fair once, essentially a huge up-turned barrel that spins at high-speed, so that you stick to the sides. These guys did an acrobatic act, where they stood on the spinng vertical wall doing various moves, to huge rounds of applause all round.

Apparently we have not missed the Boat Racing Festival as we had thought, this fair is all part of a nine day event, so a good time to be in Vientiane.

Next day, one day off the CDEA meeting we went for a wander around. One destination was Friends International, a charity working with street children. Tamo the French worker was pleased to see us, although he was preparing for a high level meeting he took timne to talk to us. He explained that they required a minimum 3 month commitment from volunteers. We explained about the meeting with the CDEA, and said we didn't know the level of commitment they required from us, but would get back to him when we knew.

We then headed for a new market we'd discovered, just behind the Bus Station, which is just behind the Talat Sao market we'd been to previously. Another huge sprawling thing, we wandered through for a good while. Sam wanted a top with sleeves for the meeting the next day, simply as sign of respect. Nothing doing there, so we ended back at the Talat Sao where we'd been before. After a lot of digging around she managed to get one that didn't have a logo splashed across the front.

While wandering I spotted that you could buy your Buddha. Both the Thai's and the Lao men often wear images of the Buddha in little see-thru cases, on a chain around their neck. I've seen these things around a lot, and have quiet fancied one, and having now seen that they did my Buddha (carrying alms), I wanted one even more. Sam hadn't got me anything for my birthday so far, so said I should get one if that is what I wanted. We negotiatied, knocking them down from around 60-70 quid, to about 30-35 quid. I'm not a jewellery wearer, never have been. But these Buddhas have caught my eye, and edging my bets, hoped that it would bring us luck and good karma.

Now there are rules involved in wearing these things. Swimming in them is OK, but no bathing. Never wear it during sex, and don't wear it while on the toilet. All these things are dissresectful, and going to knock any good karma you have built up, out of the window. These rules I learnt from Howard Marks, who learnt them from a tuk-tuk driver friend of his in Thailand.

That night we bumped into an American girl we'd shared a tuk-tuk with from the Bus Station when we landed back in Vientiane. We spent the rest of the night in the Full Moon Restaurant, chatting right up until 11.00pm. The time had shot by, we needed to hit-the-hay and get good nights sleep, as we had the meeting with the CDEA that next day.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Tha Khek (Part #2)

We woke up early the next day, I dragged my sorry arse through the rain to go to the bank. It was closed! I grabbed a tuk-tuk driver to take me to the other bank further down the road, he was trying to tell me something but I simply couldn't understand. It too was closed. That is when it dawned on me, it was Saturday!

Oh no, little or no money, no way to pay for our guest house and definitely no way of getting out of town. I made my way back to Sam at the guest house and explained our cock-up to her. After sitting a little depressed by this turn of events, we went to see the guest house people and explained our situation. They were really good about it, saying that we could stay until Monday and settle up when we managed to get to the bank. Until then we could eat and drink on account. Life-savers.

So the weekend was spent milling around the guest house. We watched terrible TV, on the cable we had in our room. The only English speaking channel being NOW TV, which repeated all its programmes at least 3 times a day. Most of the programmes were either about crap sports or computer games, but we watched them none-the-less. The rest of our times was spent on the patio reading or playing cards. I finished reading Howard Marks, Mr. Nice and Sam started on the Brautigan novels.

Our last night was spent sat in front of a small bonfire they'd built in the grounds of the guest house. Overall the experience of being trapped in a place hadn't been too bad, it could have been much much worse. Finally Monday came, again I was up early and did the necessary at the bank. We paid our bill, I swapped a book to read on the bus back to Vientiane. It was too late to head further south now, we had to be back in Vientiane to get ready for our meeting.

On the bus back I read the whole of my new book, by Mitch Albon, called The 5 People You Meet In Heaven. It was an easy and pleasant read, killing the 6 hour bus journey nicely. Sam finished off the Brautigan, so we really needed to sort out new books when we landed in Vientiane.

Around 4 to 4.30pm, we made it back to what is quickly becoming familiar territory, almost home to us now we've been here so often. In fact it is so bad that people recognise us. We are familiar faces to everyone, from the beggar lady sat outside Jo Ma's to many of the staff in restaurants and shops in the town centre near to the Mekong. Oh well, we may become even more familiar soon. If the voluntary thing does come off, then we'll be residents for a month of so. We'll know on Wednesday, we can't wait.

Monday, October 10, 2005

A Few Days IN Tha Khek (Part #1)

After being told we couldn't meet the people from the CDEA until next Wednesday, we decided to get away fom Vientaine. After much deliberation we decided on Tha Khek. About 6 hours south by bus, it wasn't to far to come back, and it looked like a pleasent place to spend a few days.

We arrived Thursday evening, getting a tuk-tuk to Tha Khek Travel Lodge. The Laos specific Lonely Planet had recommended this as a good place to stay. On this rare occasion it wasn't wrong. We took the more spacious and airy $10 room in the annex.

We spent the night sat on the covered patio area ajoining the main guest house. The owners also have a furniture factory across from the guest house, so the place is well furnished with an array of dark wood furniture. This gave our room a sense of luxury, especially with the high ceiling and rustic terracotta tiled floor. The similarly tiled patio, with it's multitude of pot plants had a South American /Mexican feel. Particularly when the ubiquitous Hotel California was played at full volume.

Next day we decided to take a walk around the town. Heading north we soon found the market. A typical South East Asian hotch potch of food, clothing and domestic goods stalls. A rabbit warren running in all directions, we wandered through, randomly turning left and right until we cam out the other side.

Hitting the main road into the town centre we realised that Tha Khek is very spread out. The long road stretched ahead of us, never daunted we set off, ignoring the calls of "tuk-tuk". (Sam says she is getting a bit tired of random men calling her tuk-tuk.) We walked the 2-3 Km to the so-called "quaint French colonial town square."

Some what delapidated by time and lack of repair, the place was looking less and less attractive. We carried on, doing a full circuit, walking miles. Every few yards smiling, and frantically waving children greeted us. "Sabadee", and a manic cheery wave, or testing their little bit of English with a, "Hello!" Each was returned with a smile and a sabadee. We were to some extent curiosities here. It was all a bit mad, and definately fun.

Remembering we needed to get some money we went to the bank, it had just closed. Oh well, no problem we thought, we'll go in the morning. We'd decided to head a couple of hours further south to another town the next day. We'd seen Tha Khek, so no point in sticking around any longer. Also the guest house kept playing Patience by Guns n Roses on a continuous loop. Ours (patience that is) was wearing thin, so it was already time to move on. Oh and to top it off, this place had no internet access anywhere in town. We needed to see whether the CDEA had emailed us the information we had asked for.

Anyway tonight was Friday night, we'd deal with all that stuff in the morning. We decided that it was time to hit an infamous Lao night-club. When we arrived at the night-club it was dead. We'd arrived an hour early, it didn't open until 9.00pm. OK no worries, we'd find a place to get a beer and wait for it to open. Easier said than done. No bars, anywhere! Loads of people sat drinking, knocking back Beer Lao, but not a bar to be seen.

We stopped at a shop that sold beer, so asked if it was alright to drink it sat outside the shop. Mr. Phong the man we got talking to, had spent 2 years in New Zealand as a plasterer. As we chatted he explained that there was no call for his trade in Laos, and it was his wife that ran the shop. He didn't do anything, or as little as possible, in typical Lao style.

He eventually went and brought out his brother-in-law, who he said had better English than he did. His was good enough, we'd been chatting for ages, but what the hell, the more the merrier. Mr. Cham Phong as he introduced himself, was a little worse for wear. Eyes on stalks but blatantly pissed out of his skull, we soon discovered why. Mr. Phong produced some elicit Lao Whiskey, the large bottle was filled with pieces of (as we were told) Vientamese bark. It wasn't for flavour. A shot and a short while later, this stuff made us feel strangely awake!

Mr. Cham Phong, ever the genial host, insisted on taking us to his house, situated through the back of the shop. Stepping into a large tiled floor living space he introduced us to his wife and her friends. All school teachers, these ladies sat around playing cards. It had been a "Teachers Day" in Laos. That explained the banging music coming from a school we'd passed earlier that day, and the school children carrying crates of Beer Lao across the playground.

After politely declining an offer to stay at his house as long as we wished, we said our goodbyes and made our way back to the night-club. Now in full swing, dozens of mopeds parked outside, we walked into the packed club and found a table. The only "falang" in the place, again we found that we were a curiosity.

The music was a mix of dance beats, Thai pop, RnB and Western rock. After about an hour we felt brave enough to hit the dance floor. Maybe a little due to the beer and Mr. Phong's whiskey. We walked onto the dance-floor, greeted by cheers and a ripple of applause. After strutting our stuff to some shite RnB, Sam expressed her dissappointment at not witnessing the famous Lao Line-dancing. She'd hardly finished saying this when the dance-floor filled suddenly. She got her wish. It was an amusing sight to witness. Happy we went back to the guest house, we had a early start in the morning.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Back In Vientiane.

Our last full day in Vang Vieng was spent exploring a cave complex a mile or so out of town. We'd spent a full week in Vang Vieng by the time we came to leave. It had been good, but we were glad to leave and move on elsewhere.

The night before we were due to leave I went and checked my emails. We'd had a reply from the CDEA, a newly established Lao not-for-profit organisation. They were very keen for us to volunteer with them, and asked that we got back in touch. Brilliant, the breakthrough that we had been looking for. We emailed them back to say that we would be in Vientiane by Tuesday afternoon.

Tuesday morning we got up, packed our bags, filled our stomachs and headed for the U.S. Air Force air-strip that is now the Vang Vieng bus station. We hoped that the bus would only take a couple of hours, as it had coming. Not to be, it took about twice as long. So by the time we hit Vientiane and got a guesthouse it was gone 5.00pm, too late to ring the CDEA.

A quick email was sent off explaining that we'd arrived later than expected and that we would try again in the morning. So this morning we got it together, had breakfast and decided to check our emails before we made the call. There it was an email from an advisor for the CDEA, requesting that we meet. The down-side being, they want to meet us in a week's time. That's the Lao way, 'people don't rush' remember.

We have beaten ourselves up a bit about what to do. We don't want to spend the week hanging around Vientiane, but we don't have enough time to head down south and get back for the meeting. A bit of a dilemma really.

What we did decide was that we agree to meet with them. We hadn't come this far to give up and walk away from this opportunity. So I've just emailed a thank you, and confirmed that we would meet on Wednesday the 12th. I also asked some questions about wanting background information about the work they are doing, how we would fit into the great scheme of things and how long for. Just so when we do meet, we can be prepared.

We are taking a little bit of a risk, this whole thing is a bit of a shot-in-the-dark. But hey, what the hell. If you don't take some risks in life you'd never get anywhere, or do anything. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. To use another well worn cliche.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Just A Quicky.

The last blog entry was a bit naff. I was feeling a little worse for wear after the days kayaking and then going for a birthday drink on the night.

Anyway, we just checked our emails, and it's looking pretty good on the volunteering thing. The government guy we'd emailed before has got back to us. He's interested! But we have yet to make direct contact. We are heading for Vientaine tomorrow, so hopefully when we get there we can get this sorted. It came out of the blue a bit, as we'd almost given up and were all set to head down south.

So maybe things are still looking up. We have a couple of phone numbers to ring, and a really positive email to go on. Good Karma maybe on our side.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Happy Birthday To Me.

It was my 36th birthday yesterday. I spent it mostly wet. Sam and I went kyaking down the river here. What a laugh. We met up with 8 others at the Wildside office, just off Khao San Road. All who'd paid the $15, for what turned out to be a day of fun and adventure.

I started sat at the back of the kayak, but my lack of coordination let me down, and streered us all over the place. Two collisions with rocks later, and Sam decided it best if she steer at the back, while I concentrated on paddling at the front.

The morning drifted by, meandering down the river, occasionally negotiating a small rapid or two. The guides delighted in splashing us, soon everyone had joined in, everyone soaked. That's pretty much how we spent the rest of the day, soaked.

Lunch was a improvised BBQ on the river bank. Then back onto the river, down to the Organic Farm. A quick mulberry shake and a whistle-stop tour of the mulberry green tea and silk production-lines (see a couple of woman sat around), we set-off again. This time we were accompanied on the river by a load of Tubers.

The other activity that people do on the river, apart from kayaking, is Tubing. This involves floating down the river in a big inner-tube, while getting more and more smashed on Beer Lao and smoking pot. They float along until they come to one of the landing points, where some local has set up a make-shift bar on the river banks. The Tubers get to stock-up and carry on down the river until they need another beer, or their joint has gone out.

Most of these people were totally smashed, how there aren't more people killed is amazing. Pissed-up, in an inner-tube, let loose on a fast flowing river. A recipe for disaster when you think about it. Well we negotiated our way now through the Tubers. Stopping to look at a cave. Sam decided that it wasn't for her, I gave it a go, swimming into the entrance of the cave. It was too dark to carry on for me so I swam back out to join Sam.

The people we went with were all good people. A load of Brits, some Germans, and French Canadian. After we got back to Vang Vieng, all quite knackered by now and still soaking wet. They all sang me happy birthday, which I squirmed, that was until the attention was taken away from me by some guy crashing his motorbike. I missed him flying through the air, over his handle-bars. By the time I turned round he was already picking himself up from out of the deep puddle he'd landed in. Totally unhurt, apart from his pride maybe, he went to climb right back on the bike.

Knackered and with somewhat pinker legs than we started with, we headed back to the guesthouse. Showered and crashed on the bed.