Sabaidee from Vientiane!
It’s been a busy couple of days since I arrived in this sleepy city that hardly merits that title.
The U.S. embassy has arranged for us rooms in a nice guesthouse near That Luang (though we have yet to see more than the tip of the stupa in the distance). The staff lives up to the Lao hospitality we’ve heard so much about and we are afforded the luxury of air conditioning and relatively reliable Internet. Thus, our lodging is quite comfortable.
We are roughly a 20 minute walk from the main part of the city. 10 minutes away is Patuxai, a war monument that is iconic in Vientiane. It is beautiful despite signs of decay. Another 10 minutes gets us to one of the main roads, where we greeted by a chain of restaurants and shops, the first being Sweet Moo, a cute little cafe that won’t hesitate to make us all fat and broke. Further into town leads to the river Mekong, which flanks the southern side of the city and sets the stage for a string of restaurants, food stalls, and bars along the pier. The one food stall we have tried there was one of our best meals yet, both because of the food and the relaxing ambience.
Though I will eventually live and teach in the southern city of Savannakhet, I will spend my first month and a half in the capital as we go through an orientation program meant to familiarize us with our environment. Mornings are Lao language and culture lessons and after lunch we have various forms of teacher training. We’re all adjusting to getting into a schedule after the indolence of summer, but so far the sessions seem useful.
In just a few days we have learned a number of useful phrases and are able to communicate very basic ideas. We are all intent on gaining a functional knowledge of the language and it is not difficult to find opportunities to practice our skills outside of class because so few locals we encounter speak English. The language is made difficult by the phonetic similarity between many of its characters to our untrained ears, coupled with the 6 common tones. Fortunately, there are no verb conjugations to worry about and the syntax is generally simplistic. Reading is an additional challenge, but we are slowly and steadily grasping the meaning of the beautifully curved glyphs. The most challenging aspect of reading is that vowels take various forms and the same vowel sound may be written differently if it stands alone versus if it is in conjunction with a consonant… It’s pretty confusing but we’re making headway after only 3 days so with some time, I’m sure we’ll demystify the script. Until then, we shall practice away in our children’s writing books that are reminiscent of cursive instruction in elementary school.
There’s much more I’d like to elaborate on, but for now, I’ll just leave you with a glimpse at life here.