I seem to have fallen into somewhat of a rut here, although I must say it is a very pleasant rut to be in and yesterday proved to be absolutely wonderful as I shall explain shortly.

My daily routine normally runs thus. I wake early due to either the rooster previously mentioned, an early Lao Airlines flight or the depredations of my aging bladder! For a basically nocturnal creature like myself it is somewhat of a shock to the system getting up at eight and being in bed usually shortly after midnight. A quick wash and brush up, then off to Big Brother Mouse, where I am becoming something of a fixture with the friendly staff now greeting me by name. Although the "lessons" often feature a lot of the same content, the attraction of doing it does not seem to wane, the obvious delight of the Lao people is heartwarming. In the way of these things I learn as well. Yesterday I was going through an Australian childrens book about animals with a Lao man with very limited English and came upon an animal called a quoll, which looks like some sort of large rodent I think. I had never heard of such a thing, so something learned.

I leave BBM and head to the Saibaidee restaurant for my morning Lao coffee and a lunchtime beer whilst coaching Noo and Thent on their English homework for College. That usually takes until about three when I either go to the Internet cafe, take in another temple or two or make another abortive trip to the Immigration Office which never seems to be open.

Down to the river to take in the sunset and then decide which of the numerous excellent restraurants to have dinner in. I like to try as many as possible and the food is uniformly good with very few disappointments. A couple more beers and then off to an early bed. Perfect lifestyle.

Yesterday was slightly different. It appears that most of the waiting staff in town are monlighting from either the University or the Teacher Training Colege and one such, Phone, had told me that there was an Open Day affair at the College and I would be most welcome as his guest. He explained that there were visitors coming from Thailand for the event, which seemed to be a big deal for them. I believe the Lao Government are improving relations with their neighbours lately and I read in the Vientiane Times a couple of days ago that a new agreement had been signed with Cambodia, despite there still being a disputed border between them. Phone very helpfuly drew me a map and put his name and class on a bit of paper and told me he would see me there.

After my two "classes" off I wandered and duly appeared at the gate of the College. The security guy looked at me slightly oddly, until I produced my "invitation" whereupon I was allowed to proceed. Once inside, I was greeted by a most wonderful spectacle. The entire place was set up for a typical Open Day with the different departments having displays but, as always, it was the people that caught my attention. The vast majority of the students had donned ther respective tribal dress with Lao Lim, various (H)mong tribes, Akha and the apparently predominant Kmhu as well as some others I am not sure about. Each tribal group processed around the campus and then, for a panel of judges, performed a tribal dance or demonstrated a skill (spinning seemed popular) particular to their group. The visual effect was simply stunning.

I could pay a travel agent in Luang Prabang quite a bit of money to go and visit an "authentic" village along with a hundred other tourists. Forget it, they are just human zoos. I was there for over three hours and briefly saw one other white man. This was not designed to attract the tourist dollar, this was the students letting their hair down and enjoying themselves for their own benefit. And enjoying themselves they certainly were. In the way of Southeast Asian people there was much laughter, singing and general hilarity and good humour. I hope the photos reflect this in some way.

Wandering away from the main events, I came upon a hotly contested spinning top game amongst some of the (H)mong lads whereby they launch a couple of these things onto a piece of ground and then others try to knock them out of the rink with their own tops. They do this with a degree of enthusiasm and I nearly collected a wayward top on the ankle a couple of times, the sight of a frantically hopping farang seeming to cause great amusement.

After the tops, the real lunacy began. They have got a thing they described to me in English as a boat race which is difficult to describe adequately, hopefully the photos will assist. Basically, two long planks per team have bits of rubber nailed to them in the style of sandals. Two teams of about ten put their feet in these, line astern, and then shuffle madly like demented cross country skiiers in a straight race down the length of an outdoor football pitch. I am sure you can imagine the carnage that ensues if one of the team loses their footing or the rythmn of the team, it is chaos and usually results in a large pile of laughing, shouting bodies. It really is something to behold.

Eventually and regretfully I dragged myself away, back to the hotel for a small doze, then up and out to face the night. In my quest to try as many new restaurants as possible I took myself to Smile Lao, a pleasant outdoor place on the main night strip. Unfortunately, the menu here is solely the Lao barbecue, which is gorgeous but was rather more than my appetite demanded. Whilst there I started a conversation with the waiter (it was pretty quiet) in the middle of which he asked me in French if I spoke French (he had limited Englidh). I have not spoken French for 30 odd years and told him so in French. Not deterred he pressed on and I told him how I had spent the afternoon. It transpired he was another moonlighting student from the College and had been there as well. We were then joined by his friend, who spoke English but not French. I got out the camera and was showing them my photos from the day. I discovered that my French came back pretty easily, which surprised me greatly. What ensued was a proper Tower of Babel with the conversation going on in Lao, English and French, it was odd to say the least. I was put in mind of a song called Tower of Babel Time by an old schoolfriend of mine called Andy White (check him on the internet), a very good singer / songwriter.

Down to the Sports Bar for a decent 2-2 draw between Arsenal and Everton and then home to bed early. Big Brother Mouse is closed on Sunday so I have busied myself on the computer all day writing this and constructing a few tips for my Virtual Tourist site for uploading later. Have a look at the photos and try to imagine what a wonderful day it was.

Speak soon,


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