Ode to Colonel Sanders

Like I’ve mentioned before, things move at their own, relaxed pace in Laos. This extends beyond the day-to-day to government bureaucracy as well. In addition to being rather slow-moving, the system is also strictly hierarchical and not very transparent. Thus, despite having submitted paperwork to get us our multiple-entry work visas last July, we have yet to obtain said visas. Last year’s group had the same problem and got their visas 9 months into their 12 month term. This was attributed to the person being in charge of the paperwork supposedly being pregnant and on leave. (Apparently it’s a one-person department. /s) Regardless, this year we’re bent on giving them a run for their money and are currently 6 months in without a visa to show for it. Aside from technically not being permitted to work according to the 28-day visas we get, this most directly affects us in that we have to leave the country every month. 
Most of these border crossings have been to Mukdahan, the Thai town directly across the river from Savannakhet. Every trip is a celebration of consumerism; in Thailand we can get Western and other packaged products that are either not available or absurdly expensive in Laos. It’s nice not having these items constantly available because every trip feels special and exciting at the prospect of stocking up on chocolate, cheese, and toiletries. 
Beyond this carnivale of consumption, our Mukdahan trips perpetually feature a visit to KFC, because what’s more American than capitalism and fried chicken? KFC reeks of familiarity. Every trip there helps ease the bumps and struggles inherent to moving to a foreign country. Ironically, I’ve only been to KFC in the States once when driving back from our senior spring break trip to Gatlinburg, TN, my car insisted on getting lunch there upon hearing I had never tried it. I was reluctant then and didn’t see what was so special. Since then, I’ve had KFC a handful of times, all in Thailand. 
So what’s changed? Much like distant high school acquaintances become best friends when you run into them at random college parties, KFC acquires a new degree of familiarity when on the other side of the world. Maybe it’s the catchy slogans like “BUCKET ATTITUDE” and “mega sun extreme fun” that decorate the restaurant or the faces of disturbingly happy black and white families that plaster the walls of the Mukdahan KFC, surrounding us with their sociopathic grins. Or maybe it’s the all-American attitude of the Colonel, who smiles down at us from the neon, welcoming us home. 
Regardless, something about KFC screams “HOME” in a way that helps staunch any feelings of homesickness. During orientation, we were told the various stages of adjustment in moving to a foreign country. While at the beginning, we were told that everything would be exciting and new, eventually we were going to experience a dip that represented major homesickness. I’d seen the same diagram before my semester in Spain and then, as now, didn’t quite experience homesickness in the way this diagram had made me anticipate. 
In my mind, homesickness can take two forms. The first is a longing for home, the place. Living where you don’t speak the language and are used to different customs can easily mean missing a more familiar environment. This has only ever been slight for me, and generally comes in the form of missing certain foods (I’ll owe the first person that finds a way to get me Chipotle in Laos my firstborn child). The second form is harder to handle and comes from missing home, the people. Thanks to technology, dealing with missing important people has been made more managable – parents and friends are only a Skype call or a Facebook message away – though I’ve yet to find a way to digitally pet my dog. Still, this second form of homesickness is more insidious and difficult to handle, even with the assistance of technology. In these cases of missing home (the people), surprisingly, the relatively trivial act of feeling connected to home with a representation of home (the place) can be helpful in providing a sense of familiarity. Here, as with much of life, fried chicken is the answer.

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