Nothing much of note while I spend a frustrating week working at site, so perhaps a pastiche of things I noticed over the last few weeks.

They love stamping things here. Everyone has a stamp pad and at least 2 stamps they use. While my passport was off with immigration for my resident status, I was given a letter and a copy of my passport to carry around and use for airport check-ins etc. Every person I showed it to, started to read it and reflexively reached for their stamp pad. As if there must be some requirement for them to stamp it in some way. Eventually they would find there really wasn't anywhere to stamp so they just had their hand hovering expectantly. Like the letter had left their stamping hand hanging. Boarding passes get stamped and then stamped again 5 metres away by another person in a uniform? Why? What checkpoint did I pass in moving from over there to over here? In the office we have a crazy process where an electronic document is printed, stamped, scanned and saved with the stamp on it. WTF!! I was 3 once and can understand the joy of leaving marks on pieces of paper with inked blocks, but they are obsessed with it here.

Regulation of advertising has not happened here. The idea that you need to back up any claim you make in advertising - well caveat emptor. I was watching Lao TV as they had live coverage of the morning boat races and there were 2 scam based informercials on.  One was for a plug in line conditioner that will save your power bills by.... some thing to do with wave functions or something... that wasn't clear. The device is banned from sale anywhere that requires certification for electrical devices so I was disappointed to see it being touted here trying to rip off people who don't know better and probably don't have people who do know better to help look after them. The other was homeopathy and we haven't gotten rid of that at home yet either so I can't complain too much about that scam.

When you are hot you usually reduce the amount of clothing you are wearing. It also makes sense to expose as much surface area as you can to the cooling breezes. Which is why just hitching your shirt up when you are hot makes a lot of sense. In fact it makes more sense to do this if you have a large gut as this means you will have even more surface area to expose to the winds and thus cool down more. All totally logical. DOESN'T MAKE IT RIGHT, THOUGH!!

And finally; In my all too frequent situation as the only falang in the room, if I'm with a group it seems that I am in charge. This may partly be just me being me (it happens at home on the odd occasion) but it seems nearly universal here. A question comes up and all the heads swivel towards me. Luckily I'm really good at pretending to be decisive.

Posted
AuthorBruce Hardie

,because that would be easier than trying to describe walking around the Mekong waterfront during Loi Krathong. You can my pictures on http://www.flickr.com/photos/8721339@N08/sets/72157631915558749/ but my night photography skills suck. I think this a combination of equipment and talent that is holding me back, but none of the shots I took at night turned out as anything other than blobs. Oh well.

On the night of the 30th, the Lao people sent out the Krathongs onto the Mekong. It is about the size and shape of a small cake woven out of banana leaves and decorated with flowers, candles and incense sticks. A small offering of cash is placed in it, the candles etc. are lit and you push it out into the river. There is also those mini hot air balloon things called Khom Loi which light up like a lantern and then take off into the sky from the hot air rising. Being a cashed up falang, I chose the sky lantern.

Not as many people do the lantern as the krathongs so I had a little crowd watching me as I sent my prayer up to Buddha. The story is that the higher it travels, the more likely it is to come true. Mine went pretty high, but not as high as others I saw.  One does not reveal the prayer to others, like a birthday wish, so you will have to guess how well it went.

The next day was boat racing and I think 80% of the population were packed onto the banks of the mighty Mekong. It was hot and so plenty of umbrellas were in use and I am just that bit taller than everyone else, such that I got bonked in the head by unwitting shade carriers every 2 minutes. I went down with my friend Tien and we found a spot with about a furlong to go where we could both see. I'm 180cm and Tien is about 145cm so finding a spot that suited both of us took a bit of finding. The inside lane, which is furthest from the bank, looked a little shorter than even the curve would indicate and so that lane dominated the day. The boats are huge with crews of between 45 and 50 and they look at least 40m long. I loved the dexterity shown by the steering guys on the back as the pushed hard while balancing on a platform about 30cm wide. It was an exciting afternoon and I am really glad I was hear to see it.

The 31st was also Halloween and Clarrisa at KongKhao was hosting a party. I improvised up a bit of makeup and hair to make a decent fist of zombie Bruce. One DJ was fun and the other was terrible. I will not reveal which was which.

I'm a bit partied out now, so I guess being unexpectedly required to go to site to deal with an issue is something of a blessing. Although sleeping in is just not possible here. I've got a pretty strong idea for a One Act Play, so I might see what I can knock out for that while I'm here.

Posted
AuthorBruce Hardie

I could not have wasted more time travelling last week if I'd tried. With a plane down due to maintenance everyone's site travel plans were in disarray and lots of negotiation was required to get anywhere. Then when I finally did get my second choice flight on Wednesday afternoon I was forced to wait in the departure lounge as our commercial leg was delayed 4.5 hours. they stopped lying to us about 5PM about how we would definitely be leaving in 30 minutes that they trotted out multiple times throughout the wait. With the help of a local fellow traveller I got the message across that a plane is needed to do that and with nothing on the tarmac there was zero chance of getting us turned around, boarded etc. in half an hour. Ended up so late we couldn't even get to the site that day so stayed the night at Savannakhet. Once again, I was the only falang in the group and reliant on locals to guide me around. Work for a day, come back, burn time that I would rather spend on other things.

On Friday night I had dinner with my friend Tien and after we walked down by the river where the boat racing / end of lent festival was firing up. I wish I had a go-pro camera on my head to try and explain it. It is a mix of the Melbourne Show and  a big market and was packed. It has completely closed down the road beside the river and spills up side streets almost to the Rue Souphanvoung. It was noisy and crowded and crazy fun.

There is a new form of entrepreneurial venture in Vientiane this week. All you need is some baling twine to mark off an area of footpath and set yourself up as a parking attendant, charging people to look after their bikes while they go to the festival. People have to walk on the street to get by these haphazardly arranged parking lots. They aren't shy about advertising with light wands and megaphones directing folks in.

Up early for golf and for some inexplicable reason Joma decided not to open until their advertised start time of 7AM. Actually it is quite explicable - just really inconvenient for golfers with a 7:30 tee time at KM17.

Having played Long Vien for a second time it has confirmed 3 points with me. The greens have too much slope in them for the length of the holes they play on. The 3rd is architectural egotism of the worst kind. The par 5 14th is the best hole I've seen in Vientiane. 14 has the classic dogleg over the water asking you to bite off as much as you can chew with a strong drive that finishes near the water giving a good chance to chase the green in 2.

All that activity, plus too much beer etc. after golf meant a quiet Saturday night and a designated rest day for Sunday. I had my washing done by 10AM and then just watched some TV and read some books. I can't all be adventure.

Posted
AuthorBruce Hardie

My sleep patterns are so messed up lately. Timezone and shift changes haven't allowed me to get into a routine of any kind. I ended up grabbing one of those sleep applications you can get for your phone that measures your movement during the night and infers the type of the sleep you are having. Even now with a week's worth of data I'm not sure what to do with it. I clearly have a problem around 3:30AM and the stats back that up, but what can I actually do about it?

It did mean I was up early as per usual for a 7:30 tee time at Long Vien golf club. They have only recently soft-opened this course for play and while the course is mostly done there rest of the buildings, including the biggest clubhouse I have ever seen, are still under construction. I was gobsmacked by the amount of money that a Vietnamese consortium have put into this place. The amount of dirt they have moved around to create this course is almost beyond belief. Dr. Mackenzie's head would explode to look at it. It is a very modern resort style course with all that entails. Lush. Lots of push-up greens. Long from the back tees. Too much water in play. 18 is a death march. I would prefer to see more short grass around greens instead of that brillo pad, club-grabbing couch grass crap. The 3rd is a dreadful piece of ego driven architecture that forces its' target demographic to dunk a ball and then head to the drop zone. The greens are large, undulating and too severe and should probably be redone. The walk from the 9th green to the 10th tee is nearly 1km. And I'm sure this laundry list of things I don't like might make you think I hated it - but I absolutely did not. 1, 2, 4, 6, 9, 14 and 15  are all pretty good holes. The multiple halfway houses around each 9 are better than waiting for a drinks cart to come around. I really wonder what the clubhouse will be like when it is finished, but every golf facility stands on the quality of the course and this one has a lot to like about it. I'm looking forward to playing again next week.

Scooted home for a quick shower then over the bridge to Thailand and Udon Thani. Xay was my driver again and he is just a marvel at negotiating the ins and outs of the immigration checkpoints. I doubt a car with diplomat plates could have done it faster on a busy Saturday afternoon. Well played, Xay.

I hit up the night market with the intention of finding a fake watch but there must have been a crackdown or something recently as there weren't many around. Certainly much less than last time I visited, so I didn't find anything I wanted. Ate some street food and didn't die. Found a bar and sat out watching the world go by. Not the worst thing to do.

Breakfast at the hotel for the usual buffet caper. My hotel management friend Andi would probably be able to tell them a better way to lay things out as it is a bit of a hodge-podge, but the food was fine. I was struck by one thing that morning as I looked around the room. I was the only falang in the room that wasn't sitting at a table with a family that consisted of himself, a thai wife/girlfriend and a few kids. I felt a bit left out sitting alone.

I did some mundane shopping at Central Plaza. I miscounted my underwear when packing so had to resolve that. The amount of water in play suggested I needed a few more golf balls. A 3.5mm cable to connect to the stereo in Xay's car so I could play my music on the return trip instead of incomprehensible, minor key Thai/Lao music. I finally found the Katy Perry perfume that Maddy had been asking for. Who is a good Dad? This guy.

I stopped at Princess Coffee to recharge a bit. I couldn't find a king or queen coffee so that seemed like the best option. The crockery for an espresso is a work of art and I ended up lingering much longer than my coffee as I spoke with the owner for a while. Making friends with someone you met 2 minutes ago is one of those cool things you do while travelling. Back at home I probably put any new person through some sort of audition process before deciding I like them or not and then deciding on where I will compartment them into my life. I don't do that any more here and it's almost like being 5 years old again where the fact that the other person was also a kid was a good enough reason to jump in and be friends for a while. Kinda liberating to drop my expectations back a notch and be a bit more here and now. Dr Bob would be proud of me. It helps that she was utterly charming and a genuine pleasure to talk to.

The return trip was even more efficient. The only tiny delay was waiting a few minutes for the guy at the visa desk to stop watching TV and turn around and open his window.  It was only once we were through immigration and heading for home when things started to show up for the boat racing festival. Oiy had warned me that her village was having a big do. The village is more like a suburb and is the one between the bridge and the centre of Vientiane. There were people everywhere. That night I wandered near the river and it looks like Ekka has descended on the banks of the Mekong. The night market stretches from one end of the city to the other and spills up adjacent streets. I am told that this is only going to get bigger.

I think I know what I will be doing on the public holiday we have coming up next week to celebrate this stuff. It looks like this will be fun.

(Foolish lack of rest over the weekend, though.)

Posted
AuthorBruce Hardie

It only took about 2 hours. I got off the plane, had a shower and a beer (at the same time) and wandered in to town for Vientiane English Club. I wasn't the life of the party, but it was still fun to hang out and help some people with both IT and English issues.

Took 2 club members to dinner at a Japanese place recommended by the young man with the group. It was pretty good food but had traditional low style seating on the ground. My hips aren't really made for cross-legged sitting any more. My much younger companions laughed with me as I levered myself back up. I am certainly no longer as mobile as I used to be. Middle aged decline is not something I am mentally ready to deal with. My right shoulder clunks and creaks, a legacy of bowling a lot of overs. But you already know that I'm sure if you've been keeping up with all my previous writing.

I end a long working week. Monday to Friday sounds ok when you say it fast, but Monday to the following Friday is a heck of a work week. Work-wise it was worth it, but now I'm fried and have earned a weekend off. Coincidentally my long term business visa application is ready and so I am due to leave the country for a bit to come back in. That sounds like a great excuse for a ROAD TRIP!! Udon Thani here I come again. Golf at a new course in the morning. Long Vien having just opened and needing the Bruce review treatment then over the bridge in the afternoon.

I am gagging for a few drinks and some hard core R&R.

Posted
AuthorBruce Hardie