Friday, February 13, 2009

Daily Minutiae

It occurs to me that I have been less than forthcoming about daily life in Vientiane. So here are the minutiae of our existence that may be of interest if you have never been here before.

For the past few months it has been "cold." For a few weeks there it was cold enough to wear long pants and a jacket and if you took a tuk tuk at night, you might shiver. Mornings were chilly enough to notice that the water heaters they use in showers here don't really do the trick.

Instead of one big water heater which heats up and stores the water for the whole house, most houses here have only hot water in the shower, if at all. The water heater gets plenty hot, but only if the water pressure is quite low. So a trickle will scald you, and full force will give you goose-bumps. But, the real concern is the electricity being so close to the water. The heater has an emergency breaker if it detects a short circuit caused by you getting electrocuted, but it is not sensitive enough to save your life. Power is rarely grounded here, so we are constantly getting a little buzz from our computers and other devices, though we have not died in the shower, yet.

During the cold season, perhaps because it was windy or perhaps because it was too cold to cook outside, our neighbors hadn't been burning plastic. They are back at it again, and sometimes we wake to the fumes. Our landlady has asked them to stop, but it is a big problem throughout the country. Apparently, people use plastic bags, pieces of shoes, purses, etc to start their fires to cook their rice, because the plastic burns for a long time. The Public Service Announcements warning of brain damage are ignored, like many of the other directives from on-high.

For example, a recent article in the Vientiane times, the local newspaper, detailed the government's stance on the "Correct understanding of Valentine's day... The notice was issued to prevent fine Lao culture being affected by the influence of inappropriate forms of celebration, as setbacks have occurred in previous years.... Valentine's Day is incorrectly considered by many as a day for play, entertainment and lavish spending.... "

But I am afraid the fine Lao culture is no match for the recent setbacks. Case in point, last week, Sean Kingston performed here, sponsored by Tigo, one of the mobile phone companies. He has a popular song in Asia, perhaps in the US as well- something about "you got me suicidal..." Tigo advertised and promoted the concert heavily with billboards, posters, spam sms text messages, etc. Our neighbor who works for Tigo gave us free tickets.

Unfortunately I was too tired from a day of enjoying fine Lao Culture- drinking Beer Lao and eating fried crickets while floating down the river on restaurant boat- to attend the concert. I have decided that fried crickets aren't bad- much better than the water beetles.

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