I give you this photograph to cheer you up (the one below that is). I know that those of you that are in Europe are in the grip of a fairly nasty cold snap now, and I have been gloating somewhat about the glorious weather here. I haven't seen a drop of rain for about four weeks. Cut to this morning when I was awoken by the hammering of a tropical rainstorm on the corrugated iron rooves that make up the complex I am staying in. For some strange reason I quite like that sound in the same way I love the sound of rain drumming on the canvas of a well-pitched tent. OK, so I am weird.
It looks like I have got myself somewhat mired in Luang Prabang. My latest thinking (subject to daily change) is that I will extend my Lao visa for teo weeks and then revert to Plan A, namely Plain of Jars, then South through Vientiane, Pakse and all points to the Cambodian border. A two week extension will give me another monthe or so to achieve this. I can score my Cambo visa in Vientiane to avoid any nonsense at the frontier. However, as I say, everything is subject to change and I have to get out of here first, whichis proving difficult.
A couple of days ago I went to Big Brother Mouse, the place where you talk to Lao English students, but the travellers outnumbered the students about three to one and they were obviously being overloaded. This gratified and irritated me in about equal measure. I was gratified that so many travellers were taking the time and irritated that I had got out of bed at an ungodly hour to do it with nil result. I decided to repair to my faovurite restaurant, the one I spent Xmas night in, for a cup of Lao coffee. If anyone reading is able to get some I thouroughly recommend it, it really is very good. I think it has now overtaken Jamaican Blue Mountain as my favourite coffee.
The two young ladies who work there, by name Thent and Noophin (Noo to her friends) are both training to be primary school teachers. Basically, the story is that they work all morning to make the means to survive away from home and then go to college between half three and eight in the evening. The source is designed thus as none of the students can afford not to work. A major part of the course is learning English and if things are quiet in the day, as they verey often are, they do their studying there. They were both working away hard and I asked them what the lesson was. Well, you can guess what happened next. In no time flat, I had donned my English teachers hat and was running my own Big Brother Mouse in the restaurant. Again, most gratifying. I have no aptitude for teaching whatsoever, I just do not have the patience but it is very difficult to become irritable with these lovely people and their immense thirst for education, it really is a hunbling experience.
This has now been going on for a couple of days now, and I think they are beginning to expect me to turn up. Today we went through a session of reading for the pronounciation and I really do enjoy it. However, I really have to make a move soon, although it is hard ot leave a place where I have fitted in so quickly. It is now to the point where local people are hailing me in the street. I went for my daily roasting and pummelling (also known as Lao steam bath and traditional massage) this evening and the boss himself insisted on doing the massage. I see now why he is the boss, by God did he give me some pounding.
From there for a nice feed in yet another restaurant I had not tried, Lasi restaurant, the Heavenly Beef in the mixed entree (rendered mixed entry on the menu) was very aptly named and the ribs were very tasty. I suppose I could stay here until I had sampled every restaurant which should take until about June! I do think, however, that by June several of the establishments will have closed. I definitely get the impression that LP has over-extended itself. Nowhere is anything like full any time of the day or evening. Certainly there are considerably more travellers here than when I passed through before but the amount of facilites geared towards them far outstrips even this increased demand. For example, a little cafe near my digs which was open until at least New Years Eve just disappeared overnight, literally.I went to bed one night and it was a restaurant and open for business. Next morning, completely stripped out. Chairs, tables, everything and the place locked and barred. I fear this is going to be an increasingly common scene here. No doubt everything will find it's own level. I just worry as to the future of the very many young people who have come here from the outlying areas to try and better themselves. What will happen to them? Back to the farm to work an ox driven plough, having had a taste of education? I sincerely hope not.
I had an interesting conversation last might with two London based Bangladeshi girls. Obviously the Bangla heartland in UK is the area I live in, and we knew many of the same places althouugh they lived in Sutton which is not, as far as I know, renowned for a Bangla community. One of the young ladies (I didn't get their names) worked in the City in an insurance place and I was giving forth about the immorality of the financial sector, the credit crunch at al and in the midst of it she said I sounded like a Communist. I nearly literally fell off the bench laughing. Me? A commie? I am somewhere slightly to the right of Genghis Khan. It really was an amusing interlude.
Having spent the evening talking to them, I had completely missed eating an evening meal, so it was back to my faithful late night locals haunt. I have no idea what time it closes, I have never been out that late! It was busy enough and then in rolls a tuk tuk load of absolutely blind drunk Thais who had been to some disco outside town. The reason I know this is because their guide sat at the next table to me and we were talking. It appears the Thai are very fond of travelling ot Lao as they find it extrmely cheap and they do not need visas. I find Thailand pretty cheap, so if they think Lao is cheap it gives you an idea how totally inexpensive this place is.
I am writing this piece in the Lao Lao Garden, where there is supposed to be wifi but the weather has knocked that for six so it will have to be the internet cafe tomorrow after English class! I can't believ ehow much I enjoy it. Thent is much better at Enhglish than Noo and I spent a lot of time today with the L and R thing. It is hard for us to understand what difficulty they have with the R sound as it just does not exist in Lao, but I think I am making progress. Would you listen to me, I am beginning to sound like Helen Keller! If I can upload the photo, Noo is on the extreme left and Thent on the extreme right. In the middle is the owner's wife and her absolutely delightful kids. I have nicknamed the little girl Trouble and the little lad derives endless amusement from shadow boxing with me, most exhausting!
It is now tomorrow, if you know what I mean, and my routine continues. I am so relaxed and content here, Heaven knows when I will move on. They may just have to pry me out of ehre with a crowbar!