Wednesday, 22 February 2012

The Trip - Part VII

Just so this doesn’t drag on forever, here are my remaining highlights of Laos:

  • A visit to a bear refuge started by an Australian woman from Perth no less. I was surprised by how many bears there were there – at least 30 in what looked to be a large crèche playground with old tyre swings, platforms and sneaky places to hide food to keep them busy.  The bears have been rescued predominantly from bile farming for Chinese medicine or from performing, often bought my the rescuers or handed over in amnesty, but because of their long captivity, they are unable to be released back into the wild. Still, they looked pretty happy to me!
  •    A cooking course for E, S and me that kicked off with a trip to the market where E and I got completely distracted buying about 80 exercise books and 50 toothbrushes for the kids back at the Hmong village. We lost the group a couple of times, but not before we happened across large enamel dishes containing blocks of coagulated blood – yum! – and various bits of chopped up animal on display in the non-too-cool conditions - delicious. Back at the cooking course, the highly international group 'oo'-ed and 'ah'-ed as local ingredients and herbs were past around for us to smell and taste but when the carrot, potato, cauliflower and cabbage came around – well, frankly, that was just plain silly! We then got to chop some stuff up – and then throw it out as someone else – thank goodness – demonstrated and cooked the dishes we actually ate for lunch.
The budding junior meter chef

Blood blocks

Assorted bits of animal...

  • The Ethnik fashion parade at a local bar called Hive that showed off all the ethnic costumes of the surrounding hill tribes. As you saw from the Hmong tribe photos, there were some great looks  – and the bar served a decent wood-fired pizza to go with…
  •  Two separate sets of turquoise water falls in which to swim, and one so beautiful, we sprinkled a little of our Jazzy-angel there. We ate at a local restaurant in the car park of the Kuang Si falls – and clocked up yet another exciting toilet moment as the ‘door’ to the ‘hut’ jammed with S and I in there. Thankfully there was a very large space between the top of the ‘wall’ and ‘roof’ through which I could yell to the rest of the family to come and let us out – much to the amusement of the locals. The trip to the second set of falls (below) was extremely exciting - down a steep and slippery dirt track to an extremely narrow, wooden  power boat with a very wobbly disabled G - and his stroller which we needed at the other end. Really, who needs amusement park rides when you can have these real life thrilling rides?? Seriously, how we didn't all end up in the drink is all thanks to the kids' dad, as I confess I had my eyes closed most of the time....
Scary narrow wobbly boat in deep water.
The water was actually a milky pale blue - this doesn't do it justice

  • Riding elephants on new years day – our ma hoot was so hung over or possibly still drunk he was hilarious! Both E and I had a go of sitting right behind the elephant’s head

  • New Years eve was not a highlight – Luang Prebang does NOT ‘go off’. There was a big stage show in the night market with an attractive young woman in a sparkly dress singing so badly, E again wondered if her musical 'talents' could possibly be appreciated in a foreign land (we're talking a girl who was asked to mime in the school choir...)
Our new year's eve restaurant rage at Delilah's

  • Getting up at 5.30am to see the monks and offer them rice and fruit on their daily walk to collect such things – and then being utterly ripped off as the pressure of so many monks and my inability to ration portions of sticky rice led to my inadvertent purchasing of several more baskets of offerings – only to find at the end I owed 200,000 kip - about $24 (I find out later this is the standard M.O. of the offering seller – canny, eh.)

Terrible photo - but it before dawn...and you get the idea.

  • A shocking full body massage for all the family – and we went back for foot massages for the boys and pedicures for the girls. There’s nothing quite like lying in a sun lounge over looking the Mekong and having your toe nails viciously attacked with a metal file – thank god I was clasping a cold beer!!!
The nail torture oasis

Then all out to the airport to board a flight to Hanoi, Vietnam for the next chapter of the adventure….

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Mother Who Works: Stepping Off

Mother Who Works: Stepping Off: We'll get back to the trip , but in the meanwhile, I have some news; after nearly 12 years at my current agency - a quarter of my life! - I ...

Stepping Off

We'll get back to the trip, but in the meanwhile, I have some news; after nearly 12 years at my current agency - a quarter of my life! - I resigned and finish tomorrow.

Yes, some would think it foolish to pack in my job in the face of an inevitable recession, but I have. And my god it's liberating!! I feel 10kg lighter and I've barely dropped a gram.

I'm on FebFast so no alcohol for the month (I did buy a pass out for my leaving lunch...) but that's been fine as I have been drunk on resignation!!! I just hope I'm still feeling as euphoric come June.

I think my status as Mother Who Works can stay though - even though I have no specific employment ahead of me, I'd best be cracking on and finding something that pays if I want to continue with those holidays. I'm not entirely sure what I will do, but never the less, I'm sure I'll be busy. (My colleague Brett suggested my theigh-high heeled boots have 'income' written all over them...thanks Brett.)

It's the end of an era - 12 years here and 25 in big agency land, but gut instinct tells me the time has come to move on.

So as a tribute to this amazing place, here's a few things I'm going to really miss:

  • The real cafe coffee machine that makes a latte as good as any you can buy
  • The man who comes to wash your car while it's parked in the car park (yes, we pay, but by god it's convenient)
  • All the very nice looking boys (in an appreciative way, not a creepy way!!!)
  • The vibrant and dynamic environment
  • Soula - who always bends over backwards to help me - professionally and personally
  • My crew - ladies, you know who you are
  • Lunch out - from pubs to fancy restaurants - I find my colleagues excellent company
  • George in despatch who brightens my mornings with his 'hello!'
  • Lena the cleaner who I see far too often as she starts cleaning - supposedly after we've left
  • James who'll make me a coffee when I've been rushing in back to back meetings and I really should be making my own!
  • The intellectual debate
  • The creative environment
  • The pride of telling people where I work - the brand of this place is awesome
  • Perhaps surprisingly, the CFO
  • And not surprisingly, my boss the CEO 
So, there you have it!

Stay tuned for the adventures ahead - and back to the trip shortly.


Sunday, 12 February 2012

The Trip - Part VI

In Luang Prabang we visited a centre on ethic minorities in the Laos region, which dedicated much of its information to courtships rituals, and boy, there were a couple of absolute rippers.

One in involves the interested girl to weave a basket then pop in a cooked chicken (I'm suspecting not from the supermarket!) and have it delivered to the house of her crush. If the family think her weaving skills are sufficiently, well, skillful they send the basket back with things like bangles, needles and coins as their indication that it’s all on. You can imagine that would be anxious couple of days, with some besotted teenager, checking for the return of the basket every few minutes. And what happens if it never comes back? I was unclear what the waiting period is before all hope of a hook up is dashed.

For another tribe, it’s up to the potential mother-in-law to assess the needle skills of a potential spouse for her son, again to see if she’s sufficiently skillful, but in this case specifically for the task of making the mother-in-law's funereal attire - how joyous!

Check out this gorgeous little guy!
Our guide, Khom Sing is from the Hmong hill tribe, who had for centuries lived a fairly subsistant existence in the jungle with the help of their key cash crop – opium. That was until the government outlawed its cultivation. It's a decision I don't necessarily condone; after all, Tasmania produces opium for the legitimate (as opposed to recreational) pharmaceutical  market. But the result of this has been devastating for the Hmong people. They have moved their villages to the edges of main roads where they pedal their rather crappy and dirty souveniers – of which we of course purchased plenty! They are desperately poor and there are beautiful kids everywhere. 
A little kid in charge of a littler kid...

We were lucky enough to be there for their 10 day new year festival - courting time! Girls as young as 13 and 14 dress in traditional elaborate costume and head into the forest at the edge of the road. They stand in a line opposite a row of young boys and toss balls back and forth while flirting enshews. The balls used to be made of cotton - these days they use tennis balls.

These little ones weren't playing, just dressed up
 to practice I guess
Glam eels - even in the dirt.

If they do fancy each other, they nip back to the village, let their parents know and then get married and start having babies. (I kept our 13 year old away from the line and the ball throwing....)

You can see how elaborate their costumes are
on this beautiful young girl

It was great to catch this, but I was still very moved by their destitution. We bought many small picture books from an organisation that prints them for just such kids and their schools and ended up buying even more books to send back to the village with Khom Sing. So it's amazing that out of this dusty, dirty environment stroll these beautiful young girls, like phoenixes. It's such a different world....

Sunday, 5 February 2012

The Trip - Part V

Luang Prebang - is it just me or does that seriously sound like a name of a place made up by a 5 year old? Never the less, this is where we spend the next leg our journey.

On arrival in Laos, Geoff and George get waved through (probably because of George's wheelchair) and the girls and I are left to fill in 5 long forms before queueing behind the multitude of tourists, all holding their forms plus passport photos. Hmmm. We have no such photos. I think I missed that detail which I later find in the small print of our itinerary. As it transpires, should you ever happen to be in that part of the world, it's not essential to have a passport photo, you can (thank god!) pay an addition US buck per person and they copy the one in your passport. Phew! So after a long wait fuelling some unnecessary anxiety, we're finally issued with visas and admitted into Laos.

The first evening is magic as we meet up with close friends from Sydney for dinner. Just not enough time, but loved every minute at a fancy-pants restaurant (well, fancy-pants by Laos standards anyway).

The next day, yes, more wats...ahhhh! And that's where the picture of that toilet comes in. E had the worst runny bottom (and we've had lots over our years of travel). She's complaining of feeling sick and of course as you know, my sympathy runs deep so I say for god's sake pull yourself together and get in that van. So she does.

We arrive at the first wat - and she needs to go. Like, right now. We're directed to that toilet. Armed as I traditionally am with a roll of toilet paper and a packet of wet wipes wrapped in a hotel shower cap (yes, that too can be handy in moments like these - happy to explain if necessary -drop me a line) we survive. We get back to the wat...and George needs to go. OMG. Eighteen years old, taller than me by a long shot, unable to even stand on his own - and a filthy squat toilet our only option.

Geoff and I make our way through the building rubble back to that toilet, strip poor G from the waist down, support him from either side, position him over the drop and in that split second, he lets a huge one go. Geoff and I are practically high-fiving each other we're so proud. I don't think I could have felt more satisfied if I'd dropped that myself!!!

Back to the tour....E's feeling like crap (pardon the pun) and George has had enough so Geoff and I and Sass walk to the top of the giggle-inducing Mt Phou Si (pronounced Pussy). I buy Sass three small finches in a bamboo cage to release for good luck. Those birds ain't silly and I suspect they've been caged and released more times that I've had hot dinners!!

Next time.... the strange courting rituals of the Laos hill tribes....

The Moroccan Bath

The girls and I have come up to Dubai for a few days to escape the Melbourne winter. It's in the 40s so we've thawed out - quickly. ...