So perhaps I could be a monk.

I wondered at the start of this, the longest stint on site I've had, whether I would like it or not. I think I actually do. I have been focused at work with nothing else to worry about and just smashed through a big pile of complicated stuff. There's something to be said for simplifying one's world.
That said, when I get back to Vientiane and play golf and meet people and do other things I'll probably be really happy with that too. I can't see myself ever wanting to define myself solely by work, or any single thing to tell you the truth. I accept that being a dilettante is in my DNA and I'll go with that. Maybe one thing at a time is the answer.

The extended time here has made for some much strong bonds with the team a few more Lao words in the vocab and a deeper understanding of the business of the mine. Combine that with a couple of milestones and it has been a very successful week.

How on earth did people organise travel before the internet? Mum and Dad are coming to Laos and Thailand in November and we were able to talk, plan and book their time here and a side trip to Luang Prabang in about an hour all using the 'net. Rocket cars be damned - this is the future I want.

Side note - While on site I commit the heinous fashion crime of wearing crocs and socks. Don't judge me. Things are just different here, OK.

AuthorBruce Hardie

A really good week actually.

Apart from the fire alarm at 4:30AM on Tuesday morning. This is not a helpful time to have your sleep interrupted when parts of you still think it is time to get up but more rational parts remind you that you still need another 2 hours sleep. The irrational parts one - as they so often do and I was dragging the chain for the rest of the day.

I had dinner with my friend Thomas on Tuesday night. It was back to Mix at the fountain but this time inside in the slightly kitch interior. Maybe this is timeless classic decorating for the locals but it looked like 70s chinese restaurant to me. Service displayed many signs of competence which is always a nice change for things around here. His pork leg was an odd combination of interest and confusion. We could see what they were trying to do and it was tasty enough but I just don't think they have the tools to do it properly, both literal and figurative.

Wednesday was great. I went down to Vientiane English Club armed with the game Dixit. Dixit is a story telling game where everyone has a hand of cards with some truly gorgeous artwork on them. One player will then choose a card, place it face down and tell a story that describes this card. The other players will then choose a card from their hand and add them to the pile. Mix them up then turn them over and the players then vote on which card they think was the story teller's. Points are awarded for having correctly guessing the story card or having others incorrectly choose the card you played.

I thought this would be a great game to develop some English skills and boy was I right. The first couple of rounds saw some quite literal stories being told but as the game progressed things got more and more creative. Everyone seemed to be loving it too. High fives for correct guesses and plenty of laughter. We kept playing without scoring after we had a winner as everyone was having such a good time. Mission accomplished.

And now I'm on site and enjoying the austere life again. There is a certain comfort in the things one does not have to do other than work, sleep and eat. We'll see how I feel about that after spending a whole week like that.

AuthorBruce Hardie

So with things happening on the company's budget front my current position will finish in Laos at the end of 2012 instead of 2013. I guess this is an incentive to get out and about even more so I better get to it.

The trip back did not start auspiciously. I wrangled my journey home so I could attend the Monash One Act Play Festival as well as the Pop Culture Theatre Showcase. I got to see Maddy win the Best Supporting Actress award at Monash and my girl has me bursting with pride again. She was judged not just among the youth performers, but the grownups too and beat them all. I got to MC our showcase and it was just successful enough to ensure we have the funds to go through 2013.

We dropped around to my sister's for dinner after the showcase and she served me up some much missed corned beef. Thanks 'Shell, it was a definite culinary highlight of my trip home.

Straight from there to the airport only to discover when I got the front of the check-in line that the girls in the travel department had not paid for my booking and so I was rejected from checking on the flight. Out to a taxi and home with some smartly worded emails exchanged the next day. I ended up travelling on Tuesday night instead of Sunday and there was no respite from bad travel experiences as I ended up surround by some russian pensioners who wanted to talk all night. The babooshka next to me was a particularly animated conversationalist and so elbowed me 15 times an hour all night and was deaf enough that her friends needed to shout at her. I sat on the aisle with her in the middle and occasionally her companions would lean right across me to yell in her ear. When I asked if they could let me sleep please, I got the "sorry no English" line from them. Fucking bullshit. It was a relief to arrive in BKK and I took the edge off by attending a pay to enter lounge with food, drink, wi-fi and QUIET. The Vientiane leg also had a snag when my airport pickup didn't get to me either. Another snippy email for that failing too.

So I started my working week behind the 8-ball a bit and had to push hard to get back in the game. Lucky I'm so good ;-)

But by the end of Friday, I was pretty fried and so headed out for dinner and a drink or two. Chicken curry and a paratha and then headed home, but on a total whim stopped at the Wind West Pub, which I have been meaning to look into as I walk past it each day to and from the Parkview. I think they meant to call it the Wild West Pub as the waitresses were all wearing cowboy hats, but it looked like a band was setting up and so I nursed my whisky and curiousity for a while to see what fired up. The band turned out to be pretty good in comparison to others I have heard locally. They had a few power chords up their collective sleeves. Now that I think of it there were two bands. Then a young Lao guy came up and asked me if I wanted to join his group. In light of my living in Lao creed to join in - I said yes.

So I sat down with a pair of young men and pretty Lao girl and we drank, and talked and danced to the band and had a silly fun time. The guys explained to me that their "hearts are for another man", which is as poetic a way of putting it as I have heard. Our girl, Honey, was apparently suffering from a broken heart. Hopefully I was able to distract from this with my usual falang charm.

Too many beers and whiskys later we headed down the road to an even bigger venue. I can't remember what it was called, but it was a massive beer barn of a place with several hundred people. Another band, some more drinks and then suddenly it was like Cinderella at the ball as midnight rolled around, the lights came on and everyone started filing out. It was quite orderly and with no apparent beligerance that usually accompanies the end of a night like this at home. Another plus point for the Lao way of doing things.

Saturday was spent dealing with Friday night's fun. I did manage to face sunlight by about 3PM and headed out to one of my favourite haunts in Lao Kitchen for dinner. It was pretty busy but I snagged a smaller table out the front and ordered a nice simple dish for dinner, shortly afterward another falang guy turned up but was really nowhere for him to sit so he asked me "do you mind" and of course I did not. He joined me for dinner and we compared our falang life here in Laos.

He works in Luang Prabang for a finance company, but he works as a local and so us "millionaire" falangs with our big living allowances make it a bit tough for him as he gets treated like a walking wallet just because he is white. He was great company and offered to point out the cool stuff in Luang Prabang so I happily shouted him dinner. A couple of bucks for conversation is a good exchange in my estimation.

Mr Ray picked me up Sunday morning for golf and it was off to KM6 again. I was excited to be playing with my own clubs and felt good with a proper wedge in my hand around the greens and my favourite putter. It showed in my scoring as I was 2 under after 4 holes, then airmailed the 5th green for a double to give them back. 1 over at the turn was pretty good. Ray was playing OK too, so he wanted to keep playing rather than adjourning to the bar and the poo sao. My driver was working beautifully so 10 and 11 only needed a small pitch onto the green resulting in a lipped out birdie easily cleaned up for a par and another birdie so I headed to the 12th even with the card. Then I drove into the water hazard at the end of the fairway. I just crushed it for one bounce and into the drink. My caddy had never seen anyone do that before so she started calling me Mr Muscleman after that. I made another double by airmailing the 5/14th again from almost exactly
the same spot and ended the day at 8 over. Once I get my distances worked out again I think I will go OK.

We went back to Ray's after lunch so I could help him set up his kindle app on his iPad and have another beer or two. His new place is very nice, less than 3km from the Presidential Palace and has a cow paddock next door to it. Vientiane is still very rural.

As we sat in the shade together on the 7th tee waiting for the group ahead to move up, we said to each other: Life is pretty good around here.

As a side note - Ray has some sort of attractor field or pheromone or something that means that waitresses, caddies etc. just LOVE him. They chatter at him, touch him and giggle like school girls around him. I don't know what it is but it is funny to see.

AuthorBruce Hardie

Back home in Melbourne for a break and to catch up with my girls.

I've done a LOT of maintenance for the house both inside and out. A few of these things should not have been beyond the ken of an adult or teenager, but I guess it is nice to be needed.

I've two really great experiences in the last week. I had three days of golfing heaven catching up with some mates and playing a few of our nations finest courses. Sunday was superb at Royal Melbourne West. Monday at Port Fairy followed by a great lamb roast and a few red wines. Up early on Tuesday to play Warrnambool in bright sunshine. Not a breath of wind over 3 days and I can't think of better playing companions for those days. Utter bliss. I was pleasantly surprised with my form too.

I returned to Melbourne and did some acting for a short film called The Last Summer. I played the dad in a story of a young girl noticing boys for the first time. Or something like that. It was a fun couple of days although my wardrobe choice made the frosty start on Thursday morning a bit of a challenge.  I will definitely be keeping an eye out for similar projects in the future.

This weekend see the final event in the One Act Play festival circuit. I finally get to see performances from my Pop Culture Theatre brethren (and sistern). I'm excited and a little sad as this is the biggest thing I had to leave behind to go to Laos.

Working on Monday. Bugger. Where did that time go?

AuthorBruce Hardie

8 weeks is long enough to be away from home so it is time to scuttle back to Australia and get reacquainted with my family.

I decided to try some of that Thailand dental tourism I'd heard so much about so I booked an appointment in Bangkok and planned to spend a day there on the return trip. I wound down my first stint in Laos with a great dinner with my little expat family. Jenny cooked a fabulous dinner and we drank some Koonunga Hill wine I found in a bottle shop. There is plenty of wine available but it is mostly French and so I have no idea of what is quality/value. A good reliable Penfolds was therefore a welcome find. 

Hit the golf course on Saturday while my washing dried and then met up with a new local for dinner before spending the evening packing. KongKhao for a leisurely breakfast and Bloody Mary on Sunday morning then off to the airport for the BKK flight. I was very surprised to see 2 guys from work there on their way south for some MS Exchange training. TC and Mong are both great guys and have been really hospitable to be, especially out on site, so I thought I would make it up to them by taking them to dinner. We ended up getting separated going through immigration as the line at BKK was at least 1km long. It was mental. They had a hotel booked right near mine so it was easy to converge our dinner plans.  Of course, they chose Shabu Shabu. Lao people can't seem to get enough of that. We found a nice enough place and gorged ourselves stupid. I baulked at the pork heart though but happily munched down on some scary looking fungi. A few beers, a flirty waitress and full bellies makes for an excellent night. 

The dentist experience was a bit of a bust. Despite extensive emails about what I wanted done on the day I got nothing but a 1 hour basic consult and clean as they only do an 'initial consultation for first appointments'. FFS - why didn't you tell me that in the first place.

Oh well, it meant for some more time for shopping and stuff so I headed to Thaniya Plaza for some new golf gear. I need some shoes to take to Laos so that was the priority. The skytrain is an excellent piece of public transport. Easy to work out what ticket to buy. Lots of announcements of what is going on and a service so often they don't bother with a timetable. What the hell is your excuse Metlink? A day of buzzing around a city I had never been to before made me hate my home town's options all the more. Thaniya is 5 levels of golf stuff so it took a lot of looking around. I ended up buy some shoes from the Nike store which is right near the door on the ground level, but I had to spin a lap of the entire place first before making the purchase because it was entirely plausible I would find better elsewhere. But I didn't.

Found a tapas bar to eat lunch and relax for a bit then just bummed around town until I grabbed a quick massage and a shower before heading to the airport. The masseur was pretty good, but the relentless up-sell to try and talk me into the 'special' massage pissed me off after a while and I ended up snapping at her. The happy ending to the day actually came when I check in and was given the front row of economy on the bulkhead and all the joys that extra leg room entails. Despite leaving at 00:15, they still felt the need to do a full dinner service and so the lights didn't go off until about 2:00AM. Combine that with the 3 hour time shift back and no wonder I got not much sleep.

A shower, a nap and a cheese and vegemite toasted sandwich and I was feeling better by the evening. I am feeling the the cold badly. It was 23C when I left Vientiane. The coldest daytime temperature I had experience in my entire time in Laos. It has yet to get through that mark here in Melbourne.

Now if you will excuse me, I have some relaxing with my family to do.

AuthorBruce Hardie