A Travellerspoint blog

Pink lung disease and monkey ear mushrooms

I spent my entire day today...eating, basically. And reading an entire book.

I started at Bouang, where I got a colorful Buddha bowl served to me in a tiny pot.

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Then I got a pot of chamomile tea down the road at a coffee shop. Then a Lao Latte at Saffron cafe.

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Then dinner at The Big Tree restaurant. See? I told you you would be bored if I gave you a detailed play by play of EVERYTHING I do in a day.

I rounded out the day by attending a traditional storytelling theater, where I learned several of the regional stories and tales. It was basically a tiny little theater room with kitchen chairs lined up on different level platforms, with an animated young man telling the stories in English while an adorable little old man played the khene. The khene is a local instrument that Wikipedia rudely calls a “bamboo mouth organ.” The lore is that a young woman heard the most beautiful bird in the forest, and spent days and days trying to recreate the sound, and that’s how the instrument was made.

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We also learned about the story of Mount Phousi, which I have chosen not to climb yet because I knew this storytelling night would give me this tale and I wanted to hear it first. The queen at the time was really craving some mushrooms, so she asked the monkey god to go to Sri Lanka to get them from the mountains for her. He flew all the way there and kept coming back with different kinds of mushrooms, but none were the ones she wanted, so she just kept sending him back again and again. He wanted to know the name of them, but they were called monkey ear mushrooms and she didn't want to tell him that and offend him. So eventually he brought the entire top of the mountain to her, certain that the mushrooms she wanted must be somewhere on it. Phou means mountain, and Si was the first part of her name. Of course now when I finally do climb the mountain you know I’ll be looking for mushrooms that look like monkey ears. First I should google what monkey ears look like.

I finished in one day my new book (compared with the agonizing two weeks for the last one). It was called The Ant Colony by Jenny Valentine, and it was intriguing and fun and simple and moving. Here are a few of my favorite lines:

“I thought about how weird it was, to be missing in one place while you’re right there in another.”

“She looked me up and down and laughed once. ‘Pink lung disease’.
‘What?’
‘Pink lung disease. Don’t you young people know anything?’
She told me about this policeman at the dawn of the motor age who got sent from his village to do traffic duty in Piccadilly. He wasn’t any good at directing traffic. Nobody was because it was a new thing. The policeman got hit by a car and died. The doctor who cut him up had never seen healthy, pink, country lungs before. He was used to city lungs, all black and gooey, so he said that was the cause of it. Pink lung disease. Not a car driving over him at all.”

“I looked at her, smiling at me, her legs sticking out of my sweatshirt like the sticks I’ve thrown down by the river all my life, big-kneed and bleached to bone by the sun. She seriously thought we were friends.”

“It’s quite stressful being on an adventure. You make it so far and then you realize you really can’t mess it up cos everything’s depending on it.”

Posted by NinjaLlama 22:47 Archived in Laos Tagged adventure_time Comments (0)

Blog postings with a chance of flurries

I’m catching up again! Yay! I’m still working out the best way to do all of this. Writing about my day isn’t so bad, it’s the part where I have to pull in photos that slows me down. I have photos on my phone, but those won’t upload to this website for some reason, so I have to send them to my ipad to be uploaded. And the photos on my camera have to be synced to my ipad as well before they can be uploaded. And then you have to pick the ones that go with your story, etc. etc. Have you ever tried to upload photos over a shitty wifi connection in the middle of Asia? It’s an exercise in the specific type of patience I don’t have. It’s all very time intensive. I know it’ll be worth it in the end, so I’ll just keep plugging along, but sometimes there will just be gaps.

Yesterday I went to another cafe in town for the morning, because I know it has air conditioning, which is pretty hard to come by in food places here. I learned very quickly, however, that their aircon is on steroids, and 20 minutes in I was shivering because I was so cold. I moved to a spot outside and worked on blogs until I was sweating, and then headed off to the Traditional Arts and Ethnology Centre. This is in an old French colonial house and consists of only three rooms, but you learn so much in that small space! There are basically four ethnolinguisitic groups in Laos, each with several subgroups. They all have different textiles, beliefs, and customs, and I learned a little about each, which was awesome. They had samples hanging up of all these different items, and they were stunningly gorgeous.

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I love a good Pom Pom also.
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Back Strap looms
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They have a class where you can learn to weave a basket, which I would love to do, but there’s absolutely no way that can make it home with me.
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One of the things that really impressed me is the creativity and adaptability in all of these textiles. Small change coins are used as decoration, vines are collected from the forest as strings, there was even a needle case made from pen caps!
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They also had a whole section on Job’s Tears, a plant that produces seeds that are used as beads (the rest of the plant is used in many other ways as well). There were tons of examples of this plant’s seeds being used all around the world, and for some reason this was a huge “Duh” moment for me. Of course seeds were used as beads! Seeds, carved pieces of wood, things like that. I don’t know why I’ve never stopped to think about this before, especially given the amount of beads I’ve worked with in crafts over the years.

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There was also a sign at the end of the exhibit that I really loved. Here’s what it said:

“These exhibits provide some insight into the cultural wealth of Laos’ many ethnic communities to promote an appreciation for their history, knowledge, traditions, and arts. However, this is only a brief introduction to cultures and peoples which are multidimensional and dynamic.

Ethnic communities in developing countries are not frozen in time as historical or ’traditional’ icons. In fact, they are developing and changing as much as cultures in Europe, the Americas, or even Vientiane, and have been transforming for hundreds of years. Ethnic people in Laos live in cities, own businesses, hold government positions, and travel overseas. In rural villages, they listen to the radio, trade with other ethnic groups, frequent town markets, adopt new crops, and build cement houses. People adapt their lifestyles and traditions to changing circumstances, globalization, and opportunities to improve their futures.

Economic development and modernization does not require abandoning one’s traditions or ethnic identity. However, with changing livelihoods and lifestyles, upholding elements of ethnic identity such as language, clothing, religion and rituals is a challenge. Through learning and exchange, we can foster appreciation and preservation of Laos’ multi-ethnic heritage while still looking towards the future.”

Love every word of that.

I went back to my room to nap away the hottest part of the day, and then emerged for dinner up the road at Utopia, a zen garden and river view restaurant. I got a delicious dinner, a cider, and sat and read my new book while the Mekong River flowed by and it was wonderful.

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I have basically 4 days left here in Luang Prabang, and an increasingly shorter list of things to do before I go. It has been a really nice chance to slow down and think and eat and not worry about anything and sleep a bunch before the chaos that is Vietnam. There’s going to be about 5 weeks of total madness soon, and who knows how I’ll ever be able to describe it all! Until then…

Posted by NinjaLlama 22:47 Archived in Laos Tagged adventure_time Comments (0)

Receptiveness is a choice

I’m tired. I’m fine, but I’m tired. Tired of the constant invasion of my comfort zone, and tired of being on the move. I’m tired of throwing my toilet paper in the trash instead of the toilet, and tired of brushing my teeth with drinking water. I’m tired of being coated in layers of bug spray, sunscreen, sweat, and dirt. I’m tired of wearing the same 10 items. I’m tired of not speaking the language or knowing where anything is. I’m tired of stupid techno music. I’m tired of obnoxious drunken travelers. I’m tired of sharing rooms with half a dozen strangers. I’m tired of having someone else transport me from point A to point B. I still love what I’m doing, but I’m definitely hitting my first wall.

I read a couple articles on travel the other day that contained some observations that I really appreciated.

“Pretentious people are inherently less curious.”

I think I noticed this long before I started traveling, actually. Some people walk from here to there and that’s that. They don’t see the plants growing through the fence and wonder what they are, or the people they pass and wonder where they are going, or the street signs and what they might be directing you to. Some of the most obnoxious people I’ve ever known never EVER ask anything about anyone else. They don’t care. They’re not curious who you are or why you’re here or what drives you. And really, the primary conclusion I can draw from this is that their life must be so BORING. To never explore with a curious mind, to never stumble upon random discoveries and adventures. What a dreadful existence.

The other thing I loved was this. It’s from a post titled “Don’t Ask Me How My Trip Was”:

“Travel is not many things people make it out to be. It is not an automatic cure for ignorance; receptiveness is a choice. It is not the quintessential element for a meaningful life; if that was the case much of the population would be condemned to a worthless life. Nevertheless, travel is unique in that one is forced to experience more, learn more, and make more connections in a short time than in any other facet of life. In effect, nine months feels like a lifetime and it is not easy coming home to a place where little more than the colour of the bathroom has changed.”

I think it speaks for itself, but it really echoes a lot of the things I’ve been thinking about lately. People talk about travel like it’s a magic pill, or like it’s some mandatory activity for wholeness, but realistically it’s completely unattainable for so many people the world over. It just feels so important to see it for what it is, to appreciate that you happened to be born into a circumstance that allowed you to pursue it. To accept that it absolutely can help you to grow and learn and improve as a human, but that the simple act of getting on a plane doesn’t guarantee this. And to be honest with yourself about what you can learn as an outsider and what you can’t.

Posted by NinjaLlama 22:46 Archived in Laos Tagged deep_thoughts Comments (0)

Naps and netflix

Several days passed in this blog, and many of them were filled with naps and down time and people watching (and netflix, let’s be honest)… so instead of giving you the play-by-play, here’s a simple list of some of the things I’ve been filling my days with.

  • Woke up freakishly early for no reason. Took advantage of this to watch the monks go by collecting their morning alms. Very interesting to observe. After Vassa (Buddhist lent), they will all go into the temples and not come out for 3 months.
  • Walked to a french cafe, sat upstairs all afternoon with a chai in front of a fan, writing and coloring and reading. PS you can win their cafe -- www.ultimatedreamlifeabroad.com

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  • Had my laundry done. One sock did not return, marking the first lost item of the trip.
  • Had Mexican food for dinner with two new guests at the Airbnb - they’re from Idaho! I guess I came to Laos to eat pizza and tacos?
  • Traveled to several ATMs before finding one that actually worked.
  • Had some fresh spring rolls with mango in them
  • Encountered a tiny dog all alone that looked like a lamb walking across the bamboo bridge to get home. He clearly knew exactly where he was going, but stopped to say hello for a minute.
  • Learned that the word for “ha” in Laos looks a lot like the number “5”. So if you want to say “hahaha” in text messages, you just type 555. I will start using this as a test to see who is actually reading my blogs or not.
  • Skype planning sessions for upcoming destinations! I will finally see people!!
  • Switched to a new location because my room was booked. Myself, my hosts, and the dogs were all very sad about this. It’s down a cute little alleyway, though!
  • Bought some snacks in a mini mart where everything is covered in dust. The woman tried to give me back too much change, and when I gave her back what she overpaid, she didn’t even bat an eye and kept talking to her friend without saying anything to me. Well fine, at least my conscience is clean.
  • Finally finished this stupid book that I was reading, freeing myself. I immediately found a book to exchange it for so I wouldn’t have to look at it again. German murder mysteries are apparently terrible. Everyone’s name sounds the same and there are like 42 characters to keep track of. The twist at the end was pretty good but the book could have been 60% shorter. Dear god.
  • Read the short story I bought in Thailand (Venom). It’s by a Thai author (Saneh Sangsuk), and it was delightfully dark. It reminded me very much of The Metamorphosis, one of the first stories that I understood in a core part of my being. Highly suggest it if you can find it to read!

“He had never told the secrets in his imagination to anyone...”

  • Watched A Street Cat Named Bob at the french cafe. It was wonderful! The cat in the movie is the cat from the real world (based on a true story). The cafe shows free movies every night, so we’ll see what else I watch before I leave.
  • Got my visa for Vietnam (yay!). Now all I need to do is find a printer somewhere… preferably not the one at the airport
  • All the puppy snuggles
  • Found a boat load of new songs I love on Spotify, and proceeded to crack out on them on repeat.

Posted by NinjaLlama 22:46 Archived in Laos Tagged adventure_time Comments (0)

Moon bears and nibbly fish

Luang Prabang is adorable. It’s super chill and sleepy. Roosters crow all day long, and monks walk the streets each morning to collect alms. There is a bamboo bridge that’s only for foot traffic which is rebuilt each year (after the rains end) that you can use to get into town. The streets have lovely flowers growing out of every crevice and crack, and random tiny brick-paved roads appear out of nowhere and lead off to mysterious places.

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Originally I planned to spend a couple of days doing nothing, just catching up on everything, reading a book and coloring a picture. However, the next morning the couple from England invited myself and Mr. Toolbag to join them on a journey to Kuang Si waterfalls. I learned very early on in this process to not say no to offers like this, especially when it means you are sharing the costs of transport, so off we went. We crossed the little bamboo bridge into town, and immediately got harassed by tuktuk drivers wanting to take us out for the day. They didn’t want to haggle the price much, so we said we were going to go get a drink and decide what we wanted to do, maybe ask around a little. Well, this tuktuk driver followed us all the way to the shop to make sure he could have our business. We finally agreed on a price, and headed to the waterfall.

The drive out to the waterfalls took a while, and we chatted about things along the way. The couple from England had lots of fun stories, and we really connected. I suppose I should defend myself for calling Florida a toolbag. He’s been living in Korea teaching English for the last two years, and only has negative things to say about his time there. He thinks he’s going to get a high paying job researching how we got to this current political stage as a professor at a university (despite not having an advanced degree). He thinks he’s the youngest traveler out there (he’s 24), and his first question to anyone he meets is to ask their age for the express purpose of comparing it to his own. Every time he says something he smirks and rolls his eyes at the end of his sentence (the visual equivalent to ending each sentence by saying “so…”, as in “Well I grew up in Florida, sooo…”). He never offers any kind words to anyone and doesn’t care to hear your story. He’s been traveling for only a couple of weeks and talks about how he knows everything about all these different places despite spending two nights in each one, and appears to have only eaten sandwiches the entire time. He wears floral shirts and boat shoes and is apathetic about dogs. We low-key loathe each other. It’s okay though, I’ve been without an arch nemesis for awhile.

To get to the waterfalls you first walk through a bear sanctuary that rehabs sun bears and moon bears. You get to watch them napping, basically… on platforms, in hammocks, up against the glass. They’re adorable, and now I also know the difference between the two. The waterfalls themselves are absolutely stunning! It’s basically level after level of clear blue-green cascades, some of which form pools you can swim in. We chose to start off by going all the way up to the very top, which involves a bit of a steep hike up a muddy trail. At one point there are some stairs to help with part of it, and the waterfall was flowing over them. Guess who had on her waterproof hiking shoes? This girl. My three companions had flip flops, and had a much more difficult time with the process. I went ahead and mentally high-fived myself again. When we finally made it to the top we had the pools up there mostly to ourselves, with great views of the valley and the cascades below. There was even a cute little swing! Unfortunately we learned very quickly that the pools are all filled with those same little fish that love to nibble on your feet and legs. I. Can’t. I cannot handle the feeling. You would be relaxing in the water and out of nowhere someone would start nibbling on your leg. It didn’t hurt or anything, but it really catches you off guard, and I can’t get the visual of little fish mouths out of my head. This limited the time I was willing to spend in the water, unfortunately, so I spent most of my time swishing my legs around to keep the fish away until it was time to move on to the next. Doesn’t matter, still had a fun time!

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We all went out to dinner together that night at a well-recommended spot. I got the Mok Pa, which is fish steamed in banana leaves (I think very similar to Amok in Cambodia. It was absolutely amazing and easily the best meal I’ve had on this entire trip. After dinner we walked across the street to a cute little cocktail bar and sat and talked for a couple hours while trying different specialty cocktails. Given that Pirates of the Caribbean has made an appearance in my trip at least twice now it seemed fitting to get a drink called the Jack Sparrow, which was Kahlua, Baileys, and Jack. Not bad.

That night the power went out for the first of many times in the last week. We all sweated our brains out while attempting to sleep. The power came back on some time in the morning, and we all retreated to our rooms to blast the air conditioning and get a few minutes of reprieve from the heat.

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We met up with some other travelers the couple from England knew and all walked together up the road to the paper making village. We got to see how they make paper from mulberry...bushes? Trees? I’m unclear on that. Mulberry plants. They had several cute little shops as well so we perused the notebooks, cards, and paper lanterns they had. I really wanted to get a cute delicate paper lantern, but there’s no conceivable way for me to get that home in one piece, so I left it for someone with a hard sided suitcase and only one destination.

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Our gaggle of humans then went to a cute restaurant along the river for lunch. A couple of people got “fondue” pots, which was incredibly interesting. They took the center tile out of the table, put a burning fire bucket thing in the hole, and then placed a pot-like thing on top of it. You cook your meat on the middle bumpy part, and then pour water around the edges and cook your noodles and veggies in the water as it boils. The food was delicious, but the new people at the table were exhausting. They spent the entire time talking about what tiny corner of England they were from, and the two new girls that were there just kept talking about their hair? I was bored out of my mind, and didn’t have the energy to pretend otherwise. I’m sorry, but I’m not going to pretend I give a sh*t about the highlights you used to have or how different your accent is from someone who lives in somethingshire.

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That night was pizza and movie night at our Airbnb -- the wonderful hosts took us to Secret Pizza where we each got a full size pizza on a tree slice slab of a plate. Yum! Then we went back to our house and they put on a movie outside with a projector, so we watched Life of Pi while fireflies blinked in the trees and frogs did their mating screams in the background. Ahh, Laos.

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PS I forgot to show you the awesome printer at the Vientiane airport.
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Posted by NinjaLlama 20:00 Archived in Laos Tagged adventure_time Comments (0)

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