Volunteering in Vientiane

Oh, enough with all the chanting already

Now we get to the heart of the matter. The ultimate reason as to why we are here. Our work schedule has been handed out. Teaching teenaged Buddhist novice monks English is our morning job. Afternoon will consist of similar instruction but to younger children who are not of the monkish persuasion.

Laotians are a gentle and proud people. Unlike previous placements, our hosts wanted all the volunteers to be immersed in Laotian culture prior to starting our work. Our first day was spent at CORE. I believe that topic has been sufficiently covered. Other cultural instalments included visits to the local markets.

Genuine 501’s. Add a bit of levity to your life.
Buffalo jerky. The hair burns off when you fry it in garlic infused oil. A specialty of Mike’s Kitchen.

A number of temples, both old and new,

Praying hard

A trip to Buddha Park, home to 50 or so relatively modern sculptures depicting Buddhist and Hindu deities and legends,

Me and my Bud. Ha.

and an exposure to the fine art of Laotian massage. I am pleased to report that Lori and I plunged headfirst [since feet first is inappropriate in Buddhism] into all aspects of the cultural reverie that is Laos. Great food here too. The French colonizers have left a very positive impression on the culinary aspects of this fine nation.

Like many cities, the mode of transport most favoured in Vientiane is of the two wheeled variety. Motorcycles, mopeds, and bicycles rule

The automobile is quite prevalent too. However, unlike most emerging nations we’ve visited, the nod is given to 4×4’s, pick up trucks, sedans, and other large bodied vehicles. Generally our experience has shown small, gas misers to be the rule. Here they are the exception. And gasoline isn’t cheap.

For access to surrounding areas, the volunteers use bicycles. The terrain is flat, we have learned to negotiate streets replete with cars and trucks, and I am surprisingly pleased to report that it’s fun. Having not ridden bikes in any sense for over forty years, once the seats were adjusted and handlebars straightened, we hopped on the saddles and pedalled away. The skill is not forgotten. Like riding a bicycle. There was however an early moment of panic as Lori’s peddle came a cropper ten meters into the trip. A new set of wheels and Vientiane presented itself from a different perspective.

The city is in transition. Much money, most of it dirty, is coming in from Russia, China, Thailand and other areas. Buildings are being erected and although many sit empty, the infrastructure is in place to accommodate the voracious growth that we sense is about to happen.

So we peddled to the nearest monastery. We had been there the previous day. Part of our cultural immersion was making banana leaf mini-pagodas, decorated with marigolds, which are offered up as gifts to the gods. Construction consisted of an elaborate series of folding and pinning banana leaf parts that had been cut into appropriate shapes. Lori, teacher’s pet and A+C expert that she is, completed her two pagodas first in the class. They were perfect.

Lori’s perfect cones.
Head banana leaf nun

I, on the other hand, who can’t fold a shirt properly, fumbled through the whole exercise. Were my structurally challenged pagoda offered up to the gods it would likely result in yet another black mark on a list that is already too long and seriously damning [literally] without this additional exhibit.

As for the work itself – most enlightening. Lori and I teamed up to engage half a dozen novice monks in conversation.

After the obligatory exchange of names and countries, we got down to some fun stuff. The previous night had produced 40 centimetres of snow in Montreal. The Internet was full of pictures that served to amuse and amaze the saffron clad kids who’d never previously interacted with as much as a snowflake. Talk of winter led to a description of winter sports such as cross-country, downhill skiing and hockey. The monks, upon serious meditation were unanimous in agreeing that Gallagher is a more valuable component than Price and that Therrien must go. After a couple of hours of conversation, I intimated to the young men that while officially it is me teaching them, the interchange of ideas and expressions of spirituality had me getting as much as giving.

Lori and I agree that there is a fundamental symbiotic relationship in place whenever we are fortunate enough to participate in the global missions we have undertaken the past number of years.

Now it’s party time. There are around 17 volunteers. Some have been active in the program for several months but the majority of us showed up for work together this past Sunday. The group must be considered eclectic by any standard of measurement. Ages range from 19 to 73. While the majority of volunteers are Australian or Chinese, Iran, Canada, the US, England, and Denmark are also represented. There are marrieds, divorced, dating and singles. There are students, workers, retirees, and unemployed. But we all sit down together and have great fun, share stories, experiences and more than one or two beers.

Yesterday was New Year’s Eve. Lori and I were heading off to Luang Prabang the next day and a few of the volunteers were at swan song stage of their tours, heading home and back to reality over the weekend. I used the opportunity to fold in Lori’s upcoming birthday to the New Year’s mix and invited all the vols to dinner and a celebration. Dinner was held at a newly opened establishment run by a friend of the owner of the guest house. Overlooking the Mekong four stories up provided a great atmosphere and breathtaking view. Not having a liquor license for more than beer didn’t. But this being Laos and me being resourceful, the owner and I had a brief convo; there was vodka on the table ten minutes later. Songs were sung, food shared and Lori received some beautiful and thoughtfully considered locally produced gifts from the others. We ate, sat, laughed, drank, teased and kibbitzed the night away. When it came time to pay, I whipped out my credit card only to find that in addition to no liquor license, there was no credit/debit card machine and I wasn’t carrying 1.8 million Kip on me. Another convo, figures and phone numbers were exchanged and my first stop once my eyes opened on January 1st was a visit to the nearest ATM. I do not think that welching on a debt to what is likely the Laotian mob would have been a great way to start the new year, particularly since my only resolution made was to survive to welcome in 2017. So with that, I wish all my faithful and faithless readers a Happy New Year from me and the birthday girl.

Health, Happiness, and as much Fun as you can find.


  • Cookieman
    Posted at 16:10h, 01 January Reply

    There's a new theme song at Mike's Kitchen:

    Buffalo jerky, better than pasta;
    There is some buffalo jerky in the heart of Baie D'Urfé;
    Recipe stolen from Laos, brought to America;
    Biting some on arrival, pepto-bismal for survival;
    Oy oy oy; oy oy,oy; oy oy oy oh yo yo yo oy.

  • Bruce Burnett
    Posted at 16:15h, 01 January Reply

    One Love, bruthu

  • Julian
    Posted at 16:20h, 01 January Reply

    Nice happy faces to start the new year. The secret to life is enjoying the passage of time!! Faithless yours, J & D

  • Julian
    Posted at 16:21h, 01 January Reply

    Nice happy faces to start the new year. The secret to life is enjoying the passage of time!! Faithless yours, J & D

  • Bruce Burnett
    Posted at 16:25h, 01 January Reply

    Blessed to be surrounded by those such as you. Best to all who mean much to you.

  • tina
    Posted at 14:12h, 02 January Reply

    Happiest of New Year's to the most amazing couple of adventurists that I know! As usual wishing I was there in person sharing your experiences! Hope this year brings much happiness and good health! Keep the posts coming! xoxoxoxo

  • joanne nowa
    Posted at 15:34h, 02 January Reply

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  • joanne nowa
    Posted at 15:34h, 02 January Reply

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  • howard scott
    Posted at 03:50h, 03 January Reply

    Bruce and Lori

    Happy bday not sure what day but much love
    And journey s to come

    Can't wait to compare notes

    Bless u brother
    U call it as u see it

    Shalom and keep trucking


  • Unknown
    Posted at 01:36h, 05 January Reply

    Enjoy the ride and best wishes for the New Year – Ron

  • Unknown
    Posted at 01:37h, 05 January Reply

    Enjoy the ride and best wishes for the New Year – Ron

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