*Ever since I came across the term “bLAOgger” from Little Laos on the Prairie, I probably overused it enough times to warrant a creative commons issue. Thanks to Chanida, who has been kind enough to bless my overuse of it, I have done just that: I write to share our culture in America, stories from the motherland, and our families’ histories. To add to that, I started a Guest Blaog series with all the experiences in modern-day Lao culture, parenting, and lifestyle. Happy blaogging!*
If you would like to be a guest bLAOgger, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
“Standing out, fitting in”
I’m Melissa, from southern California, and I blog at the Land in Between on life, health, and raising a family abroad. A couple years ago, my husband and I moved to Southeast Asia to work. We wanted to give our kids a different kind of experience in life outside of the typical American life. Our most recent move brought us to Northern Laos.
When we moved to Southeast Asia with our light hair and skin and little blonde girls, we knew we’d stand out. But, we didn’t want to settle for forever being the outsiders. We hoped to live and work in Asia for more than just a few months, so we did everything we could to fit in and become part of the local culture. Obviously, we’ll always stand out, but it’s been a fun and sometimes comical journey learning to fit in to Asian life.
What we’ve found to be the most important in fitting in, is to just get out there, be vulnerable and show ourselves friendly. When we first moved to Laos, and our house was a mess we didn’t have a real kitchen or a very functional bathroom, we made it a point to get out and meet our neighbors. We were surprised with how welcoming and friendly they were to us, even though we must have seemed strange to them. We’ve gotten to meet other great friends through our job at a eco-tourism company. We’ve worked daily with a group of Lao women, and it didn’t take long to build close friendships with them.However, even after being here eight months and having had experiences in other Asian countries, we still end up in some situations that remind us that we have a ways to go in fitting in. Case in point…One of the ladies I’ve gotten to know quite well through work just loves our girls and has been so sweet to our family. She invited us to come over to her house one day, so we made plans to head over in the afternoon. First of all, I couldn’t get a hold of her to find her house, so had to call another friend to meet us and lead us there. We weren’t sure what to expect as far as how long we’d stay, if we’d eat or not, etc.., but thought it would be fun to get to know her family and see where she lived.When we showed up at around 4pm, our friend, “M”, was in the outhouse taking a dip shower. For a minute, I wondered if she had forgotten about our planned visit. Maybe she just didn’t expect us to be on time. She was excited to see us, though, and invited us up onto her balcony.We sat and chatted for a while, met her daughter and some other relatives. She got busy preparing some food, but like I said, we didn’t really know what to expect so we just sat back and let things happen. Eventually, she came out with some sliced apples, cucumbers and bowls of steamed rice (not sticky rice, which is the daily staple in Northern Laos). She seemed nervous about what to do and what to feed us. We weren’t sure why, because after living there for over seven months, she’s seen us eat plenty of Lao food (and enjoy it!) and we can also communicate pretty easily using our mix of Thai and Lao languages.No one else was eating, but she kept encouraging us to eat. At five o’clock, it was a bit early for a typical dinner, so we assumed it was maybe a special snack for us. We thanked her, and began to eat the plain rice, not sure what else to do. Her daughter took off on the motorbike and returned shortly with a can of sweetened condensed milk to pour over the girls’ bowls of rice! Normally, I don’t feed my kids stuff like that, but I certainly didn’t want to add to M’s anxiety about what to feed us, so just sat back and watched as the girls downed the sweet, gooey concoction. I felt bad that she seemed so worried about what to feed us, so started talking to her about it and joking around that we don’t need special treatment, and that we love Lao food. Her sister-in-law eventually showed up and suggested that we like to eat omelets, so off she went to prepare another dish for us.Eventually, “snack time” ended, and the girls went off with M’s daughters to go play with the kitties and ducklings, one of the highlights of their day. Our girls have loved the interaction they get with nature here in Northern Laos, and eventually, I hope to get some of our own animals and grow some gardens.After finishing her dip shower out in the open yard, Granny (who we learned is over 100 years old!) sat nearby enjoying watching the girls play.I sat and chatted with the other ladies until their husbands arrived back from a day at the river, bringing a bucket full of small assorted fish.Eventually M disappeared into her kitchen again and I wasn’t sure what was going on. Just as it was getting dark, she came out with a complete Lao dinner for us and all the relatives. She had made sticky rice, bamboo shoot soup, fish stew, fried river weed, and some spicy roasted birds they picked up at the market.Everyone seemed relaxed and happy that we could all enjoy this meal together. The finale was a rough (to us) Lao delicacy… honey bee larvae in the comb. It had a warm, mushy texture and was a bit tough to choke down, but in the end, proved that we could really be part of the group.
We had a great time with M and her family and were glad we made it past the somewhat awkward “falang” (foreigner) snack time to enjoying a home cooked Lao meal with the family. Although we’ve tried our best to learn the language, set aside some of our foreign ways, and jump into local life, we still have a lot to learn!
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