That’s Ms. Social to you

Despite my most recent facebook update that I was very homesick, I had a very social very fun week. Even as I write this, I’m sitting in my favorite weekend breakfast spot, listening to music that’s settling down my soul, sipping a fantastically unhealthy strawberry smoothie and waiting for my order of mango-banana French toast (I treat myself to good breakfast out on weekends). Everyone hates Mondays, but I have Mondays off and I’ll use take this opportunity to let you know what I’ve been up to for the past week.
Last Monday:
Last Monday I had lunch plans with my Japanese friend. We went to the fried rice place I go to probably 4 days a week and caught up. She had been away the week before on holiday. Its great to have a friend here who speaks Lao, speaks English who I don’t work with, who isn’t in my boss’ circle of friends. The way people talk here I always feel like everything I do and say ends up getting back to my boss. Not like I have anything to hide, but I’m sometimes afraid to ask stupid questions because I don’t want my boss’ friends going back and telling her “You know what, Alicia couldn’t do…on her own.” This might be something that they wouldn’t even do anyway but I just feel like I have to be “on” around them. With Akiko, I can be “off” and even “way off” and not wonder what the story will sound like when it gets back to my boss.
Anyway, Akiko came by my house later that day after I finished language class and made a mental list of things I should buy. She also went with me to rent a bike and we rode around town getting some of the stuff that I needed for my new place.
After taking my new purchases back home I took a short nap and then headed out to meet the guy whose apartment I had been staying in for dinner. I went to the wrong side of the peninsula to the Nam Khan side rather than the Mekong side. Dinner was fine. I ate kimbap and we got to know each other a little better. I like that guy. He’s hilarious and I haven’t not had a good time hanging out with him yet.
Tuesday morning I headed to Akiko’s workplace because I had a meeting with her boss. It was encouraging because I had met her boss before when I first got here and couldn’t say anything to her. This day, however, not so! I said a little bit of stuff in Lao and when the two of them were talking to each other I was following the conversation and asked about the words I didn’t understand at the end.
There’s a new gal in town, and as I love welcoming new people, I invited her out to get lunch. I went to the place where I normally get breakfast on the weekend and discovered they had a kids menu! We ordered grilled cheese sandwiches with French fries and enjoyed the getting to know each other better and bonding over a fear of bugs.
I also got a phone call from her boss saying he was throwing a welcome dinner for her that night and I was invited. I think I’ve shared with some of you that I am loosing my mind here, forgetting information all the time. I went home and ate dinner! I didn’t forget about the party, I just forgot about the dinner part. I reasoned to myself that a party starting at 8:30 could not possibly be serving dinner but I was wrong. After Nikujaga at the sushi restaurant, I arrived promptly to the party and had a second meal of Indian food they ordered from the restaurant right down the street. The party was so fun. My Lao boss, the owner of a textile shop/village (British woman), an English and business skills teacher (Australian woman), the guy whose house I stayed in (American), the director of a tour company and community education company (American woman), the new girl (American), the new girl’s boss (Dutch man) and I ate on top of the roof of the art gallery. It was a great night—the food, the company, the view—it was so much fun! So so much laughter. This was probably the most comfortable I’ve felt in front of my bosses’ friends. I got a ride home from one of the women and we made a plan to get dinner together on Friday.
There is yet another new girl in town from Sweden and she had given me a call earlier in the week and we made plans to get dinner on Thursday. We went to a restaurant owned by the same people who own the museum café. I got pizza. We sat and ate for about 2 and half hours. Lots of good stuff to talk about but mostly we talked about tourism and its effects on local communities. The more I learn about this, the more reluctant I am to travel, or at least the more reflective I am about the kinds of vacation experiences I would like to have. Living in Laos is kind of making me rethink the relative benefits of travel.
Anyway, it was a good night.
Friday morning I got up early and my language teacher picked me up at my house to take me shopping at the morning market. When we got there I started barraging her with “An-nii mean-nyang?” or “what is this?” We bought an onion, garlic, tomatoes, and I don’t remember what else—not a whole lot. I also bought an old lady sinh!! This was the purchase I was most excited about. The old ladies in the market wear skirts with different designs on them then people with office jobs. I really like them and had been asking around to find out where I could get one. My language teacher told me if I bought it I couldn’t wear it out of the house. Its really like pjs but the old ladies get away with it because they’re old. Since I bought it I wear it around the house and even wore it to sleep last night.
Later that afternoon I went to the post office to pick up my first package from my mom and younger sister. I was so excited and then I saw as the woman at the post office put the package on the countertop a scene straight out of my daymares (and nightmares, too). The package was FILLED with ants. FILLED. It was sooo gross. There were insulated freezer bags that had ziplock bags inside them and the ants had gotten through both layers. They were crawling all over the clothes in the package and there were even some wrappers that had been eaten through. In trying to shake the ants of the clothes some must have gotten on me because I ended up with lots of little ant bites around my ankles. To get rid of the ants we set the bags out in the sun and hours later toward the end of the day, the ants were finally gone. All but a few breakfast bars were salvaged!
After work I was supposed to get dinner with that woman from a few days earlier, but she told me there was a going away barbeque party at the wine bar across from the posh French restaurant I’ll never be able to afford to eat at here. I’d been to this wine bar once before. It seems like an hidden expat hang-out. I’ve never seen tourists there. Same crowd from the dinner party a few days earlier plus a lot more people. It was fun and I spent most of my time talking to the guy whose house I stayed in and the woman I was supposed to have gotten dinner with that night. (I know that not using names makes these stories a little confusing, so from here on G is the guy whose house I stayed at and N is the tour company/community education woman, I’m sure their names will be coming up A LOT). It was such a fun night. I really like G. He’s so funny and we’re always laughing.
Lunch with Kristi. Trip across the river. Visit textile shops. Red wine, rain and banana trees.
Sunday was surprisingly fun! I had made plans to go to the waterfall with my new friend but because of the weather we just got lunch instead. On the way back to her office after lunch we passed another expat, one of the women from the welcome dinner a few days before. We waved and kept on, got to her office and set our computers out just when the woman we had just seen came by and asked if we wanted to go to a textile store opening on the other side of the river. So we set out, the three of us, to the other side of the river. I hadn’t known the shop we were going to was just opened that morning but we were served some kind of punch with rum in it. I declined but happily made my way around the shop identifying (correctly) which ethnic group had made each of the different handicrafts. I spent a lot of time in the museum shop last week asking about and getting quizzed on which group did which items, how they were made, and the price. After the owner gave us a tour of the whole grounds (its eventually going to be a weaving village where you can watch people make textiles right before your eyes), the three of us wandered down the road to another textile shop. The products there were all made by one woman and were really nice, but kind of expensive. After a look around her shop she ushered us to her porch that overlooked banana trees (and by overlook I mean it felt like I was sitting in the middle of a banana tree jungle). She brought out wine glasses and we sat on pillows on the ground sipping red wine, talking about life in Laos, and an extra treat, watching it rain. It was such a delightful afternoon. I don’t really drink but I felt bad refusing her glass of red wine so I had my first drink in Laos. She poured me another when I finished the first and I told her, “that was my first glass of wine in probably over a year. Thank you so much.” At that she felt privileged and didn’t offer me any more. I’ve also become such a fan of watching the rain here its hard to believe I ever complained about it in Seattle. The only unpleasant part of the day was when I whammed my head really hard into the door frame of the woman’s car who had taken us across the river as I was trying to avoid being in the rain.
* * * * * * * * * *
Its been almost a week since I started writing this post and even more stuff has happened but to summarize I’m enjoying the social scene here more and more. I often run into people while I’m out. I’ll update more soon, but this is all for now!

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