Barriers – The 1st Week

OMGosh!! TODAY I FOUND SUPER CRUNCHY PEANUT BUTTTTTTTERRRRR!!!

I think I may be getting ahead of myself…

The word that comes to mind when I think of the past 10 days is barriers.  Sometimes invisible, sometimes self-constructed, other times for protection or for demolishing, barriers is the name of the game here.  In good and oftentimes humorous ways.  Life has turned, more or less into one big code to crack. “What should I have for breakfast?”(Answer: Whatever is least likely to give you diarrhea since the work bathrooms aren’t exactly private.) “What words can I use in this email to the staff to maximize comprehension?”(Answer: Probably not ‘maximize’ or ‘comprehension.’) “How can I peacefully co-exist with creepy critters?”(Answer: Its no use.) “What exactly am I hearing out  my window at 3 in the morning?”(Answer: A very sad dog.) “Am I getting ripped off at the market?”(Answer: Of course.) Or one of my favorites of the week “How much space should there be between us on this moped?” (Answer: More than you think. Back. up.)

Sometimes the barrier is fear: I’m afraid to sound stupid, or get sick, or I’m terrified of bugs.  Other times the barriers are just things that I encounter, mostly with the attitude that they’re temporary and surmountable.  Anyway, on to my week.

Work is good.  I get to think of ideas for things and then do them.  So far I’m still in the thinking stage but they are such intellectually delicious things to think about that I get quite caught up in thinking.  I’ve been told that Laos does not have a literary tradition in the same way that we have in the West or in other parts of the world.  People are not readers and even if they were there isn’t such a large repertoire of classics or poetry or literature that has come from here.  That coupled with lower levels of education and poorer quality of education means that if you’re targeting locals to come to your museum, asking them to come read panels on a wall isn’t exactly going to capture their attention.  Also, there is less “intellectual curiosity” here, which I can relate to as someone who has been accused of being non-curious and interestingly, someone who has until very recently found museums quite boring regardless of their content. Also, we’re quite small so as a local, once you’ve gone once you might be set for a few years. Still, I get to think about ways to get you through our doors anyway and get you engaged, learning, and willing to share the experience with the lady who sells vegetables at the morning market at the stall next to yours, or the guy across the street whose kids take baths with yours.  There really is no museum culture here, but how do you build one?

I also love that we are building capacity within the staff.  Gah!  I love the Laos staff.  Such a good group of guys.  So much potential.  I set up ‘office hours’ at work.  One lunch hour a week I will give up to help staff with any questions they have related or not related to work.  They can sign up for 15 minute slots to practice their English, ask questions about a specific computer program, get help on their research projects, or just chat.  I wanted to be available to helping them in a non-threatening environment.  We’ll see how that goes.

As for the actual work environment, its pretty relaxed at the moment because its low season.  Around the office everyone speaks Lao (and not everyone speaks English) so I don’t know what is being said most of the time.  Its a sound I kind of drown out sometimes, along with the chicken, and the children playing outside, and today the public government broadcasts.  My boss lives right down the street from the museum, like, in the same village and she told me that sometimes her dog follows her to work.  So yeah, it just kind of turned into bring your dog to work day.

The other day I also observed, far too late, that there tends to be a general no touching rule on the mopeds.  Like if they are co-ed there’s no touching.  Even unisex, no touching.  All mopeds are high occupancy vehicles.  But here, high high occupancy vehicles is more like it.  I had wondered if I needed to DTR with my coworker who gave me a ride before I learned of this rule, but my boss has assured me that because I’m a falang (foreigner) he understands.  But basically, from age 0 to 5 touching is optional, after that it rarely happens and there’s this curious phenomenon where people put objects (or barriers, if you will) between them and the person in front of them.

Speaking of being a falang, the other day I was walking down the street and there, in the middle of the street, was a blow up kiddie pool with 4 or 5 lil’ nekkid Lao kids taking a bath.  One of them spotted me, and, in what is my first case of being singled out as a foreigner, pointed and yelled “Falang!”  Suddenly self-conscious, I watched as they, without exchanging any words carried out a water assault on me, jumping up walking to the side and splashing water in between fits of giggles.  I played along and booked it to the end of the road and went on my way.  I wanted to take a picture but then, you know, its kind of like child porn when you sit and think about it.  Not that I’d ever be out nekkid in public splashing water around at foreigners, but, if I did I definitely wouldn’t want photographic evidence of it sitting around.

The insect/bug/gecko situation really kinda freaks me out.  Anytime I feel anything, even if it turns out to just be hair or the edge of my sheets being blown around by the fan I scream a little, get really tense, check around for bugs and grow a new gray hair. I’m just gonna be honest, I don’t like this part.  This morning, too, walking through the market I saw a basket of beetles.  I’m not an adventurous eater anyway, but if you hear stories of me eating bugs you can be certain that I’ve been possessed.  There was also a split second this morning that I thought I’d become vegetarian seeing the meat at the market.

Several of you have asked me about the skirt I said I would be wearing to work (which I have yet to wear to work).  I have a small but growing collection of sinh.  Some of them are ethnic material (from minority communities), and some are Lao style.  The ones made of ethnic material I bought from the museum shop and the museum tailor turned them into skirts.  One is Laos style (wrap) and the other is Western style (has slits up the side! Watchout!)  The other two have yet to be made wearable.  The difference (or so I’ve been told) is that the ethnic material has horizontal designs going down the length of the skirt whereas the Lao kind has a solid colored skirt with a horizontal design around the bottom.

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Over the weekend something happened that made me very happy.  Actually, its happened twice now. I ran into someone I knew around town.  I love surprise run-ins, and it makes it feel less like a foreign country.  I hope it doesn’t mean that I’ve turned into one of those expats who doesn’t eat the local food or learn the language but in the past few days I’ve had Korean (for lunch this afternoon), Banana bread (for breakfast), a shrimp panini (for lunch yesterday), Pad See Ew (for dinner last night), baked oatmeal (breakfast on Sunday), buffalo wings and Philly Cheese steak Pizza (for lunch on Sunday).  What I would like most in the world right now (besides that jar of extra crunchy peanut butter I saw this afternoon) is a kitchen. I’m getting tired of eating out. I’m also really hoping to find GOOD food. Like really delicious, I-can’t-stop-eating-this, food.

Speaking of food, I’m off to get dinner.  I tried to get fish on a stick earlier on the way home.  The woman selling it, however, was chatting away on her cell phone RIGHT IN MY FACE and by the time she got off the phone the flies I had seen landing on it and the unidentifiable liquid I discovered it was sitting in convinced me to try something else.

In case you were wondering, I didn’t buy the peanut butter.  It was 10 bucks!! For a normal sized container!

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