It’s nearly the end of November and though the weather has cooled down slightly, it still hits around 90 F every day and it’s rare to come home without being covered in a sweaty film. This kind of oppressive heat lends itself to laziness, as time languidly stretches from one minute to the next. Responsibility shrinks to the size of a fly and sluggishly buzzes around before being swatted away with a heavy hand moving through molasses.
During college, I was scheduled down to the minute most days, running from class to meeting with homework and a social life squeezed in there as well. Here, I teach for about 12 hours a week. Even considering time I use to prepare for classes, I work the equivalent of a part-time job, leaving plenty of time for other pursuits. Yet somehow, in this sleepy town, these hours expand and the hours crawl instead of racing by.
Lao culture does its best to affirm this inclination to sit back and relax. People joke that the country’s full title – Lao PDR – stands for “please don’t rush.” We’ve seen this clearly at school: the class schedule was released on the first day of classes, no one even goes to class for the first week, and classes will randomly be cancelled at the last minute. No one is in a rush, bor penh nyang, things will get done eventually. Time is knocked off its Western pedestal and more time is spent in the here and now.
The best and worst parts of places are often one and the same. While this laid-back attitude is fantastic for vacations, working is a different question. Given my love of clearly defined schedules, I joked before moving here that this year would either teach me to relax or it would break me. I am not yet broken, but it hasn’t all been easy.
Working at the university has been an exercise in dealing with ambiguity and it’s easy to get frustrated to get to school and realize that class is cancelled because of a random [insert excuse here*]. Ambiguity at work has been easier to adapt to than that in my free time. At work, I tell myself it’s largely just preparation for next year – as a consultant, there’s plenty of uncertainty in the day-to-day. In my free time, however, it’s harder to convince myself to sit back and relax sometimes. My personal anxiety and near-constant pressure for productivity for the last few years have imbued me with a perpetual sense that I should be doing something at all times. Something productive, that is. In my mind, art and reading and knitting and writing hardly constitute as productive, but I’m working on allowing myself to do things I enjoy without feeling guilty about it. After all, there’ll be plenty of time to be productive in a work sense next year, so until then, I’ll happily sit back, watch another episode of Mad Men, and teach my classes tomorrow (that is, if they aren’t cancelled).
* Test, meeting, speaker, festival… take your pick.