First things first, the above means hello in the local Lao language. Accompanied with a smile (a somewhat baffled one for now) it has taken me through my first 24h in Vientiane, the capital of Lao PDR and my duty station for the next 18 months as I begin my secondment. I tend to forget first impressions quickly, so here are some of my early encounters.
Traffic. When our plane from Bangkok landed in the middle of rice fields (in fact there was a moment just before landing when I was worried if there even is a decent landing strip), I remembered the stories about calm and quiet in Laos and for a moment thought they were true. It quickly dawned on to me that traffic to the airport is hardly representative of the buzz of central Vientiane where motorbikes, tuktuks, pick-up trucks, cars, buses and bicycles fill the streets. My first experience of sitting in the back of a motorbike after hours of arriving in Vientiane proved safe but in the long term it’s bound to be risky business. Today’s day trip to the local market on foot felt somewhat safer but was certainly slower and sweatier. Come rainy season, alternatives to walking will be required. By then I will hopefully get to grips with the local transport system, in particular with the hierarchy of tuktuks which at the moment is confusing to say the very least.
Food. In short, very different. Other valid decsriptors include unpredictable and occasionally very spicy. In time I will surely develop more sophisticated ways of describing my new staples but for first impressions these are very fitting. Meal #1 consisted of a meatball dish with cucumber, coriander and peanut sauce, chargrilled eggs made of old eggs and thus revealing a half-grown chick inside (a bit too much for a first I thought, but apparently it’s meant to be that way), papaya salad, rolls filled with eggs and vegetables, all eaten with sticky rice and some dips and sauces.
Meal #2 was less adventurous with local noodle soup foe (this one with chicken) followed by a fresh pineapple smoothie. More food related stories are guaranteed as my taste buds adjust and I make my way to the local food markets…
Weather. Currently the best there is in this part of the world (or so I’m told), meaning temperatures around 25 degrees celcius and quite bearable humidity (around 50-60%). That hasn’t stopped me from sweating as I walk in the sun and it certainly hasn’t saved me from swelling and blisters in my feet. But hopefully my body will adjust quickly so I get to enjoy this weather while it lasts.
That’s all for first impressions this time. Overall it’s strage being in an environment where you don’t understand what people are saying beyond hello and thank you, have trouble juggling three currencies and can’t quite understand what the charm with local pop music is. But all that was to be expected.