Courtney. August 12, 2010 @ 11:20
Luang Prabang is the town where patrons of the 2-day Mekong Slow Boat trek from Chiang Kong, Thailand, disembark and experience their first taste of Laos. It's a beautiful French colonial town on the river and, although it's becoming more of a tourist destination, it's still a quaint and peaceful city - a perfect place for backpackers to get their bearings and relax before their southern journey through Laos.
One of the 'images' of Luang is the night market.The night market in Luang Prabang is different from the ones in Thailand. Due to the frequency of 'power surges,' known to Californians as rolling blackouts, there are candles inside and out of every building. When the city's power goes out, every candle is lit and it is supposed to be one of the most gorgeous things to see.Unfortunately, the power did not go out while we were out and about and we were not able to witness this.
I'm not sure if Luang is just the first place I became aware of this or if Laos is just different from Thailand in this way, but I noticed that everyone here lives in their place of business. Whether it's a massage parlor, a 7-11 type store, or a craft shop, if you look past where the locals are conducting their business, you see families of five, six, seven... Sometimes up to 10 or 11 sitting around short tables on the ground, eating dinner, usually with a Lao TV program on in the background, playing cards or some other interactive game... And kids are always running around naked.
At first I felt sorry for them. When I eat dinner at my house in California I sit on a GIANT couch watching TV from an economy size screen. But when I realized that these people are always laughing and seem to be enjoying life and their evening as much as I do from my throne in Cali, my pity for them left me and, for a moment, I second guessed my love for material items.But… after I typed that sentenced on my MacBook I'm going to go ahead and call it a wash.
Anyway, like I mentioned earlier, our group of 11 from the 2-day river trek found the one and only place in this sleepy town that stays open past 10:00 PM.It's this stupid little club with a stage and no band for the stage, but we had each other so our first night out was stupidly fun. Details I cannot recall, but that's where we met Phon, our soon-to-be English tutor - child liaison. He solicited Walker and Jacqui at the bar after overhearing their conversation between each other about their degrees in Child Development and their general interest in helping children. Kaberly and I walked up during this and we all quickly agreed to come to his village the next morning. Walker ran home right then and there and the other 3 girls rock-n-rolled all night and part of everyday. Until the next morning, when Danielle was the only one of us who knew why we were getting into a tuk tuk going to teach village children English. I still have no idea how we made it out of our hostel that day, let alone in 5 minutes - AND at 10 IN THE MORNING. But as you've read from the previous blogs and from the current work-in-progress (the non-profit org.) you know that our decision to go with that random guy we had met at a bar the night before was one of the best decisions of our lives and led us to experience something we will never experience again.Unless we're REALLY lucky…
I know from some of my psych classes and Ms. Walker that there was a 13-year language threshold after which you lose your ability, or at least your aptitude, to learn new languages. But when I went from teaching 11, 12, and 13-year-olds one day, to teaching pre-school age children the next, I witnessed this first hand. Every child I was with in that school was incredibly intelligent.However, the younger he or she was, the easier it was for them to mock my 'z' (as in 'zoo'), 'th' (as in 'the'), and 't' (as in 'tight,' or 'twin') sounds, which Lao people usually have trouble with. After a while I decided it might be good for the kids to see that it was as difficult for me to learn their language as it was for them to learn mine.So - thanks to the English tutoring books that Danielle made me buy - the students could see a picture of the word they were learning, the word in Lao (one symbol only, even if it was a full sentence in English), and the word or phrase in English. I would have them look at the photo, say it in English, and then teach me to say it in Lao. Judging from their laughter and pointing fingers I would approximate my success rate for the Lao language at 10%. I think the realization that a westerner (who is supposed to be smart) could not say ANYTHING in their language was actually a positive thing for them to recognize, and it made the day more fun for all of us.
I can't remember if Danielle or I have already written anything about our third and last day tutoring in Phov Mock Village, or what we did after the tutoring the children, so this might be recap. First of all, before we even walked in the door of the hut where we taught, we were greeted with an opened case of Beer Lao, glasses poured and ready to go. This is ironic for a few reasons. But the one that stands out most to me is that I was driven there by a Lao police officer, who was 2 years younger than me, and had told me that he and another officer would like to be 'also' my students that day.I said "Thanks.I'm a HUGE fan of beer.But let me teach these kids some English while it still sounds like ENGLISH."
The officer who handed me the booze upon my arrival (the one who hadn't driven me there - don't worry, padres) was already buzzed, and was my worst student ever. Danielle took the older kids that day, so I had the kids ages three to seven.And this 25-year old police officer was my worst student. He would pronounce the entire word even after I told him for the 50th time that I wanted everyone to do one syllable at a time, and one person at a time.As in 'taking turns.'He kept saying the entire word out of turn. I used him as an example of 'bad' for the kids and when I finally told him he was 'excused' from the 'classroom' (bamboo hut), the kids were hysterical.
After the children's two hour attention span had expired, the English teacher and the police officer asked if Walker and I would go into town with them and tutor them in English. This kind of tutoring is much less formal because it's really just going to eat, having conversation, and correcting them when they ask you to. And of course, Beer Lao is involved. Plenty of Beer Lao.
All in all, Luang Prabang is a quiet river town that would not normally be attractive to me as a destination to reside in for more than a few days.But after those Lao kids, who hadn't experienced a hug before the first day we met them (cultural reasons, not because their families don't love them), wrapped their arms around us while we said our goodbyes, screaming, "I love you!" and ran along side of our tuk tuk as we drove away for the last time, I feel like I might be back there in the near future.