Why Would Anyone Leave Paradise for the City?

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December 10th 2006
Published: December 10th 2006
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Brick MakingBrick MakingBrick Making

Here we are, busy beavers, creating clay bricks to be used in the construction of a storage "cold building" for seeds and goat milk.
So here we are in Vientiene, the capital of Laos and the biggest city in their country. It's not a very big city by any means, but it's just as unappealing as all the other larger cities I've visited in SE Asia. Why would anyone leave the paradise of the Laos country to move here? Why? Why? Why did we leave Vang Vieng? Why? Why?

OK, I'm a little upset with out decision to leave Vang Vieng a bit earlier than we really needed to because it truly was SUCH an amazing place--definitely my favourite stop in SE Asia--to come to Vientiane which so far as more than failed to win my heart, but I'll try to go back to my happy place to tell you about our incredible time over the past 5 days, because it really was incredible. Oh, but before I get to that, what's with the lack of comments?? Logging in to my blog after days away from internet, only to find a boring "0 new comments" message waiting for me? Rough, guys. Hopefully this entry will inspire some response.

Basically, every day we spent in Vang Vieng was amazing. The day of my
Punch that mud!Punch that mud!Punch that mud!

I'm filling the casts with mud to form the bricks. You've got to really beat it in there so that no air remains trapped, which would weaken the bricks. That little brown thing is my beaver helper friend... yes, Helene, he's popping up here and again!
last entry we decided to have a casual morning, then head out to the organic farm to do a bit of work there. I believe the morning actually consisted of me posting my last entry.... At any rate, we rented basic 1-speed bikes that day because they were cheaper than the mountain bikes and the road was paved basically the whole way. Man, am I glad that our engineering prowess has advanced to allow us the luxury of gears. Hopefully it will be a long time before I'm on a single speeder again. Oh well, it got us there and back, which was what was needed. We were a bit late getting out to the farm because the heat was causing us to have some trouble getting our butts in gear (annnnnd we were just plain lazy), so we were a bit concerned when we go there and it didn't look like anyone was working on anything. We thought we might be too late. However we saw a German girl, Francie, who we recognized from the previous night's English class, and asked her if we could help with some of the mud brick creation (we'd heard about it the night
No tools requiredNo tools requiredNo tools required

The best implements for mud collection was just good ol'fashioned hands, groping deep into the soft mud and ripping it out, then piling it on to the rice bags so it can be carried over to the brick forming area.
before). She said that it's really easy and our help would be much appreciated, so she got her other friend (also named Francie) to come and give us a tutorial. Basically, you dig out this soft mud/clay from a big pit where they mixed it up with straw the week previously. After making a huge pile of extracted mud on a rice bag, you carry it over to a brick assembly area where you pack it into large brick molds. This part is fun because you get to punch the mud and beat it into the crevices of the mold to get all the air out. Derek, Mark, Nicole (a Californian we met) and I did the molding while a couple other workers extracted mud for us. Once the molds are full, you lift them up, leaving the bricks behind to dry in the sun. After about 10 days, the bricks can be used for building! These bricks were destined to be used to make a cool room--kind of a fridge--which can be used to store seeds and goats' milk. It was pretty fun work, but I can't say I'd like to have the construction of my house dependent on
My StudentsMy StudentsMy Students

I had such a great time with this table. They were SO eager to learn! They were close to fighting over who got to write "umbrella" on my little whiteboard, but they were too polite to actually let it come to that.
my efficiency at brick building. I definitely worked at a leisurely pace. Afterwards, we were COVERED in mud (note the mud print on Derek's back in the picture) so we swam in the river to wash off. Realllly nice. Then, it was time for lesson planning for that night's English class!

We met at 4:45pm to plan for class which started at 5:30. There was a fairly sizable group in attendance, mostly repeats of people we'd met at class the night before. We planned the younger class first, and when it came time to suggest songs/games Noem asked if we had any Canadian songs to contribute. "Canadian songs, eh...." I mused. Immediately, my favourite beaver chant came to mind. You know, the one that goes "Beaver 1, Beavers all, let's all do: THE BEAVER CALL! Chh chh chh. Chh chh chh..... etc" OK, well maybe you don't know. But Derek did! And before you knew it we were scheduled to teach a bunch of Laos children the beaver song in a half hours time. No biggie! But wait, it get's better. Somehow, during the course of lesson planning for the advance class (the one with the highschool kids), it
Listen to Teacher (aka, me!)Listen to Teacher (aka, me!)Listen to Teacher (aka, me!)

Unfortunately Mark kind of let me down on the photography duty when I was teaching, and this was the best photo I've got, but I think it proves that I really was "head teacher" up there in front of all those youth!
was decided that *I* would be the head teacher for that night's lesson? Gah! What? Me? Teach English to a bunch of highschool students with precisely 0 prep time? What had I gotten myself in to? Well, I don't know how effective I was, but I had a good time teaching them. They are all such great kids and so appreciative of us all volunteering our time to teach them that it was hardly intimidating to be up in front of them. It was a really great experience and I'm glad I did it. That whole night of teaching was great, actually. Oh, and the beaver song went over REALLY well. I have a clay beaver sculpture that I've been carrying around with me to take pictures with to show my Beaver Colony when I get home, so Derek passed that around to show the kids what a beaver was while I tried to explain as best I could (I had them do a tail slap on the ground. Hehehe). It was super fun.

The next day we got up early (well, for us) and immediately set out to find good mountain bikes to rent. The best ones get
Lounging with good food and 2 kinds of FriendsLounging with good food and 2 kinds of FriendsLounging with good food and 2 kinds of Friends

Here Derek, Mark, and Joost lounge after a great meal while watching Friends episodes. Seriously, does it get any better?
snatched up early and I wanted an actual adult's bike this time, so we had to get first dibs! Then we had a delicious breakfast and caught a few Friends episodes (as usual) before setting off on the trail back to the Blue Lagoon from a few days ago.

Speaking of the Blue Lagoon, I can't believe I did this, but I omitted a MUST TELL story before of yet another mishap of our poor, poor Derek. We've decided that wheels and Derek just simply do not mix. We were biking to the lagoon when we came across a river crossing. Motor bikes just go through the river, but there was a really rickety footbridge, about 6 feet high, for pedistrians. Mark, being the all-pro mountain biker he is, just rode across and avoided all the holes in planks on the way. I immediately dismounted and prepared to walk, but Derek seemed to believe that he could make it on 2 wheels. Well... he couldn't. He'd just gotten to the start of the bridge deck when I heard a terrifying "crrraCK!" noise and I watched him plummet to his possible doom below. This was the second time I'd watched
Spring Break in December?Spring Break in December?Spring Break in December?

Chilling with beer, in a hut in the sun, with music blaring and about a hundred white bodies in bikinis surrounding us. College spring break? What's going on? OK, this is really at a stop off at one of the many bars along the infamous tubing river
Derek hurt himself in what seemed to be slow motion. I dropped my bike, as did Mark, and ran over to see if he was OK, which he was. I don't know how, though. He was SO close to seriously hurting himself. He pushed his bike away at just the right second so it didn't crush him (did I mention you can't rent helmets in Vang Vieng?) and there was this big branch between his backpack and his back that he narrowly missed impailing himself on. His bike was so stuck in a tree Icouldn't even get it out by myself. He was totally fine, though, and basically escaped without so much as a scratch. Mark has pictures (hey, he made sure Derek was OK first!) that you can see when we get back. It was pretty funny, once we knew he was alright.

On this visit to the lagoon, we opted to explore the cave that's there before going swimming. It's a 100m, slightly sketchy vertical climb to get to the mouth of the cave, but it's well worth it. Exploring that cave was AMAZING and we barely even scratched the surface! The main cave is a massive
The Farm CrewThe Farm CrewThe Farm Crew

Here are some of our friends from the organic farm. We met up with them the night before at a big space party in town they'd organized, and we made arrangments to meet the next day on the river. The guy with the red dreads is Noem, and he was one of the main english class organizers together with Mateo (not shown)
cavern, but I had fun wriggling my way through many tiny passages (the boys never followed, for some reason). I got super dirty, but it was most definitely worth it. I would have gone farther but my headlamp was really weak, and both Derek and Mark's flashlight batteries died on the trip (great time for weak flashlights, I know!) so it kind of quashed our exploration. What we saw was still great, though. Oh, and I saw and amazing low-light adapted insect with HUGE antenna. Really awesome. There were SO many amazing insects in Vang Vieng, and at the lagoon specifically. I really wish that I'd taken Dr. Ring's entomology course before this trip.

After cave exploration and picking our way down the cliff again, we spent a couple glorious hours swimming and playing in the blue water of the lagoon. I also took the opportunity to clean up some garbage around the area, but I fear that I just scratched the surface. Today on the bus locals were just chucking garbage out the window, and it really shocked and saddened me. Can't they see how ugly the countryside becomes with the addition of plastic bags and bottles all
MEC in Laos???MEC in Laos???MEC in Laos???

When we got to our guesthouse in Vang Vieng we were SHOCKED to see Mountain Equipment Co-Op dry bags available for rent. Turns out they're EVERYWHERE here, and you can even buy them. I know MEC has a great catalogue service, but I never expected them to be a hot ticket item here!
along the side of the road? Why would you do that? Those things aren't going anywhere anytime soon. It's just nuts. But anyways, we had a great time at the lagoon and rode back in time for showers before english class. Oh! And we met one of our American friends from the slow boat at the lagoon, Jess. It was fun to catch up with him, and we told him about what we'd been doing at the farm. He told us he'd see if one of the girls he was travelling with (Natalie? I can't remember her name) would like to come help out at tonight's class, and in the end she did show up.

English class that night was really fun because it was games and songs night! Yeaahhh!! Somehow I ended up teaching, again. This time it was just a game, though. I tought them 4 Corners, and they loved it! (Thanks, Jeff Ricketson!) We played for what seemed like soooo long since I was leading the game and had to yell the whole time, but apparantly it didn't seem that long for anyone else. With the advanced class we taught them to sing "Hey Jude" and we played another classic: Heads Up, 7 Up. Goooood times. They don't have class on the weekends, so that was the last time we'd get to work with the kids. We saw a number of them around town over the next couple of days, though, which was nice.

That night we went to a Space Party in town which was organized by some of the farm crew. It was fun because we dressed up in tin foil, but as we weren't super drunk or inebriated from anything else it got a bit old so we left early and went to bed. We'd had a big day and were tired!

The next day we did what everyone comes to Vang Vieng to do: tubing. This isn't your run of the mill river tubing like we do in BC. No no. This was tubing Laos style. Beer Laos style, to be exact. You rent tubes and get tuk-tuked to the start of the route, which is actually right at the organic farm. From there, you hop on your tube and begin the drift down the river. Immediately, you hear music blasting from a number of establishments at the side of the river: makeshift bamboo platforms selling Beer Lao and offering other niceities, such as huge zip wires or trapeeze swings into the river! They looked quite rickety, but it didn't stop us from endulging in many of the high wire activities! I hadn't been on a zip line in ages, so I really enjoyed it. It quite reminded me of the summer of CJ'01 in PEI when I spent 10 days launching kids off a massive, red cliff into the Atlantic Ocean far below. Good, good times. After a giant Beer Lao I had the courage to go off a MASSIVE trapeeze swing at the establishment where one of our English students worked. I can't venture a guess as to how high it was because I'm terrible at estimating, but trust me, it was big. See the video above? It was only a tiny bit smaller than that. As you drift down the river, you pick your bars of choice and guys with big bamboo poles help pull you in. It's really excellent service. At the biggest, most commercial outfit (the one with the massive swing that Mark is on in the video) we met up with some of our friends from the farm. I seriously felt like I was at some California Spring Break party while we were there. It was a bit much for me. The other places weren't so much like that. It was an experience to be had, for sure, but I wasn't anxious to do it for days on end like some people do. Give me the blue lagoon any day.

That night we had dinner with our Dutch friend, Joost, who we'd been hanging out with for the past few days. It was our last chance to see him for quite a while--perhaps ever. Maybe Derek and I will be able to meet up with him when we're in Holland. Finger's crossed!

Today, we boarded a public bus bound for Vientiene. That was an adventure in itself, but not an arduous one like I thought it might be. It was actually quite funny. The bus was certainly in a different age bracket from the one we'd taken to get to Vang Vieng, but it got us through our journey just the same. And that's saying something, because we didn't turn away a potential passenger on the entire trip! By the end of it, Derek and I had 4 people on our barely-big-enough-for-2-people seat, there were small children crammed in to every crevice, Mark was about to be popped out the front door, and I was half hanging out of the window. But it was so great to see how nice everyone was to everyone else. People would help find space for other people's bags, and adults would take complete stranger's children on to their lap and keep them comfortable while their parents stood. It was great. I'm glad we didn't travel that way all the way from Luang Prabang, but it was a great experience for this shorter, 4 1/2 hour trip. The scenery for the first half was amazing, again, and I really enjoyed passing all the small villages and viewing the different farming techniques. After the halfway mark we got into some more developed villages, and things generally deteriated until we reached Vientiene, which, as I'm sure you've gathered, I'm not too impressed with. The guest house options are utterly awful here, too. We looked for ages and in the end we had to pay way more than we have ever paid in Laos for about the worst room we've stayed in. I think we'll cross the border a day early and stay in the Thailand border town for a night before catching our train to Bangkok because there isn't much keeping us here. I wish we'd stayed in Vang Vieng longer. Ahhhh Vang Vieng. How I love thee.

I've uploaded a ton of pictures and a cool video for your viewing pleasure. I took some nice pics of the Laos countryside today, too, but I'll probably put those up tomorrow. It seems I never actually got any pictures of the breathtaking scenery surrounding Vang Vieng itself, which is too bad. I guess I took it for granted while I was there. Let's get some comments and e-mails, people! And Dad, *nothing* from you? Is everything OK at home? I hope so!


10th December 2006

Don't worry, we're reading
I don't want to clutter things up with my comments all the time, but I know lots of people are reading. Ran into Laurel at UVIC (Hi, Mark). Guess where MEC dry bags were made? (Well, not Laos, but Thailand and Vietnam).
11th December 2006

I get the chair
Ha. Put a leash on my brother. Though tell him that if he dies, i get the office chair in his room, which i have in fact been co-opting since he's been gone.
11th December 2006

I joined up
I think this will allow me to post comments without having to wait for your review. Let's see if this works.

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