Taking it Easy
Trip Start Nov 20, 2013
170Trip End Ongoing
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We ended up staying in Vientiane longer than we intended to, not because we loved it here, but because of great internet and the fact that I wasn't feeling so well. It wasn't our all-time favourite city, but it still had a "Laos" feel to it and we really do enjoy it here. Each day here, we did brave the extreme heat of Vientiane and ventured out into the streets. We saw Patuxai, a war monument, the presidential palace, the night market, a fantastic DVD store (because we really need more movies...we only had about 30 that we had yet to watch...), and my favourite place here, the COPE centre.
COPE stands for the Cooperative Orthotic and Prosthetic Enterprise. It's a centre that makes prosthetics and provides other services for victims of the UXOs (unexploded ordnances - bombs dropped 40 years ago which can still go off today). This centre does its best to deliver informative pamphlets to remote villages in Laos that are affected by UXOs and do not know about the services available to them. The centre shares the stories of many victims and provides information about how they help these people. We learned that over one third of the country's land is affected by UXOs and therefore, development is strongly hindered. We watched a documentary of a young family that is struggling because the husband and father of two was blinded as a result of a bombie exploding under the ground where he was lighting his nightly fire in the backyard to make dinner. It was difficult to hear and see the challenges this young family now faces as a result of the father not being able to work or look after his children as well as he'd like to be able to. It was interesting to learn about and see the many homemade "prosthetics" people used before being properly fitted by COPE. COPE helps many people in Laos, not just victims of UXOs, and they provide occupational therapy and corrective club foot measures, both which have only recently been introduced to the impoverished country.
Vientiane is busier than other places in Laos and this is most evident in the evenings. Along the Mekong River there are many restaurants and a large night market that are set up daily. For the first time maybe this trip, we ran into a situation tonight where we ran into a language barrier. We ate a riverside restaurant and when the menu came Jason had some questions. The menu was in Lao with some very loose english translations. There were 4 or 5 different things on the menu that said "Green curry with soup" and they all had different prices. When the waitress came to take the order, Jason tried to ask the difference between the two by pointing at the menu. She didn't really understand and at some point said "not same", but Jason could tell we weren't making progress, so he just pointed at one on the menu and said, "ok". A few minutes later, she brought green curry. About 10 minutes after that, a waiter came to our table with chicken noodle soup. Jason and I shook our heads no and he looked confused and went back to the waitress who took our order with the soup. When he returned, he brought the soup and the menu and pointed to an item on the menu that was translated to english and read "Green curry with soup"! So, when Jason pointed to different "green curries with soup" on the menu to try to figure out the difference, the waitress interpreted it as ordering both. Jason had two massive meals and needless to say, felt extremely and uncomfortably full afterwards.
Around the area of the Mekong and the riverside restaurants, fitness seems to be the main attraction in the evenings. There are large amounts of people jogging, cycling, and joining in aerobics classes. We also saw a ton of basic outdoor gym equipment being used by many people. Yet even with all the activity around, the city is still calm, relaxed, and slow moving, just like we've come to expect in this country. The amount of Beer Lao everywhere is insane, but the entire country lends itself to sitting and sipping a beer or two as a result of its relaxed and slow pace.