I've been living in Laos since November 1996. When I first arrived, we didn't have running water or 24 hour electricity. The potholes in the roads swallowed cars and water buffaloes. The winters were freezing with dust instead of snow in the air, and I couldn't call or e-mail anyone about it because there were only two telephones I could use.
Things have improved. There's 24 hour electricity and I don't have to carry water from the well. I have an indoor toilet and my house is rat-proofed. Things have definitely improved.
So what kept me here in the meantime? I love where I work:
Thirteen things I like about Northern Laos
1. In Xieng Khouang, there's the Plain of Jars, mysterious archaeological sites, usually on hills. The sites are filled with massive stone jars which, over the years, have collected water, moss and soil, making each an eco-system. I often like to go to the site outside of Phonsavanh and watching the sun set.
2. Most of my closest friends live in Xieng Khouang province. I've known most of them for eleven years already, having met them when I first started to work here.
3. There are mountains surrounding Phonsavanh, the capital city. I often like to walk around the town and climb up on the hills for a view.
4. It gets cold here, which I find strangely comfortable, even when the temperature gets down to near zero C.
5. During the cold season, the night sky is so clear. However, with the introduction of 24 hour electricity, light pollution does interfere with star-gazing in Phonsavanh. However, the skies are still the clearest in Asia. I did find comet Holmes with binoculars.
6. Watching the change of seasons in the rice fields. In May or June, the rains start and people plant seed beds. In June- July, they transplant the seedlings to the fields; the gaps between the plants reflect the sky until in August, there are lush broad fields of green. In October-November, people harvest the rice. And December through April, with the dry season, everything is brown but glows gold in the sunrise.
7. Pine trees grow on the hills throughout Xieng Khouang. I took the picture on the right just this past week at a hill top hotel in Phonsavanh. The grasslands and pine trees remind me of Montana.
8. There is a strong sense of Buddhist culture. Most Buddhist Wats (temples) in Xieng Khouang were destroyed during the Vietnam War. After the war, people returned to their homes and built wooden buildings to form the gathering places for their communities.
9. Luang Prabang, a city with a long history and UNESCO heritage site, is in Northern Laos. It's a beautiful place, the oldest part of the city being spread out between the Mekong River and a smaller river. I go there several times each year, mostly for work but also to relax.
10. Of course, my work. It's interesting and meaningful. It deserves another whole long blog for itself.
11. There are many New Years - starting in December with the Hmong New Year, the ceremonies themselves last about a month to give people a chance to visit family members in different villages. Then there's the International New Year. This past week has been the Vietnamese, Chinese, Thai Dam and Hmien New Year, starting with the new moon of the first lunar month. The main new year during the year is the Lao New Year, which takes place in the middle of April, during the hottest time of the year.
12. People's attitudes are very down-to-earth and wise. Many people even younger than me remember the war, fleeing their homes because of warfare, losing family members, hiding from danger. I'm also amazed by their wisdom.
13. Silk production and some of the most beautiful weaving in the world.
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