Museum / Dream / English Lesson

Trip Start Nov 14, 2010
Trip End Dec 22, 2010

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Where I stayed
Pakam Guest House

Flag of Lao Peoples Dem Rep  ,
Monday, December 20, 2010

18 December

My main non-eating activity for today was my visit to the “Traditional Arts & Ethnology Center”, a small museum informing visitors about Laos' ethnological makeup.  Apparently, the people of Laos come from a very diverse range of ethnic backgrounds.  This is all explained much better on the museum's website, for which I have provided the link.  In the meantime, just to pique your interest, I attach some photos of the contents of the museum here.

Since there's not much else to report for today, I'd like to address a topic that I've been wanting to mention:  the Luang Prabang Night Market.  Luang Prabang has a very popular night market, selling local handicrafts and food.  For the nightly event, they block off a good section of the main road and allow the vendors to set up their stalls in the road and on the sidewalks.  So far so good.  But what irritates me about this market is that, like in my neighborhood in Bangkok, they overdo the density of the stalls.  They don't leave enough room for people to walk!  It's a very simple concept:  When people will be passing each other in opposite directions, as, say, on a sidewalk, there must be enough room for at least two people to pass side by side.  Then, if there is going to be shopping, it should also be assumed that some people are going to stop and buy things.  Unless the movement of people is to be totally stopped, another lane is needed to allow for this activity.  That's the bare minimum.  More room would be even better.

In the case of the Luang Prabang night market, the market, as I said, takes place on the town's main street.  Further complicating the walk is the fact that they put up tents under which they do their selling, and these tents are low enough that I have to stoop down to walk under them.  Nightly I found myself needing to walk down this street.  And it was always an enormous hassle to do so - bending over and weaving between other pedestrians.

That most people seem to think that the purpose of life and traveling is to buy crap to lug home is another matter - one of personal opinion (on which I think you can already guess MY opinion), so I will not comment on this practice.  I will say, though, that if you were counting on getting some trinket from me from the Luang Prabang Night Market as a Christmas gift, you just might be a bit disappointed.

19 December

I had a very surprising dream last night – about a girl from my 7th grade math class.  I haven't heard from her since then (when I was, if my calculations are correct, 13 years old).  In the dream, she didn't remember me.  I know – it sounds a lot like the situation with the Japanese ex-girlfriend mentioned earlier in this blog - but this was just a dream - so far.  As the girl from this dream had a rather unusual name, it was not so difficult to track her down through Google.  It turns out that she's still exactly the same age as I am!  In the meantime, she went on to get a PhD and is now teaching at a university.  Isn't it interesting to see where friends from the 7th grade end up?  I sent her an email, but I have not yet heard back from her.  I will attribute that to the fact that it's the Christmas holidays.  Either that, or perhaps my message inadvertently went into her junk mail box.  (Where it belonged!)  One memory that I do have of this girl was that she invited me to a party – a so-called “boy girl" party - which would have been my first ever such party.  But my mother refused to let me attend as she thought I was too young for that sort of thing at the time.  I've never quite forgiven my mother for that – as it ensured that I would be kept off of the party circuit for the remainder of my school days.  I sometimes wonder how my life would have turned out had I joined the partying crowd rather than the nerdy one.  On the other hand, I'm satisfied with how my life turned out - so maybe Mom was right after all.  But sometimes I just can't help wondering . . .

For a change, I decided to have my cheeseburger for lunch today rather than for dinner, as I had always done up till now.  The girl who usually took my order was “in the back” at the time I arrived, so I placed my order with a young, dimwitted fellow.  I asked for a cheeseburger – as I had done a half a dozen times previously.  Before I continue this story, I have to explain the very unusual pricing policy of this burger joint (which, as I will remind you, is owned by the family whose wedding I attended a few days ago):

On their sign out front, they advertise “the best hamburgers in town” for 12,000 kip (a buck and a half in English).  A cheeseburger goes for 17,000, which is actually a big mark-up on the price lf the basic burger just for a bit of cheese, but one I'm willing to pay as it really significantly enhances the burger.  French fries, if you want them, cost an extra 10,000 kip.  BUT, and here's the strange thing, if you order off the menu – rather than from the sign out front – the price of a cheeseburger is 30,000 kip – but that includes french fries.  You don't have to be a mathematical genius (like my friend Phil in Bangkok) in order to see that this just doesn't make sense.  I figure that the prices on the sign are just meant to lure unsuspecting customers in – and when they're there, they'll order the cheeseburger, thinking that they're getting it for 17,000 kip – but then they get charged 30,000 kip – and as a consolation they get thrown a few french fries as well.

Being wise to this sort of trickery, I would show the girl what I wanted from the menu – but I would tell her that I wanted to pay the price from the sign out front.  So we had a sort of understanding that I was not to be fleeced.  Well, the little halfwit waiter wasn't aware of this, so when I ordered a cheeseburger, he brought me one with french fries – and fully intended to charge me 30,000 kip for the meal.  While he was delivering the burger with fries to me, the girl from whom I normally order had just come out of the back – saw me – and realized that there was the potential for a misunderstanding.  She said “Oh, so it was YOU who ordered just the cheeseburger?”  I answered in the affirmative but was still given the plate with both the burger and the fries.

I didn't enjoy eating the meal at all as I spent the entire time in torment, wondering what I should do.  In the end, I decided that the fair thing to all parties would be to eat what I had ordered (namely the cheeseburger), leave the (unordered) french fries uneaten, and pay the usual 17,000 kip for the cheeseburger, as I had always done heretofore.

When I finished eating my bitter cheeseburger, I walked towards the cashier – and saw the boy writing up a bill for 30,000 kip.  The girl could see in my face that I was not going to pay that amount, so she told the boy 17,000.  I paid with a 20,000 kip note, and when she gave me my change, she pointedly didn't make eye contact with me.  This indicated to me that she was not pleased with the outcome.  I like this girl very much – and I liked the restaurant very much - having just attended the owner's wedding.  But I also believe in being fair and reasonable – especially to myself.  So I am afraid that I will no longer be able to eat at that restaurant.  Fortunately my trip is nearing its end and I will be able to survive the remaining days without a cheeseburger.

Related to this, subsequently I was having lunch in my regular lunch restaurant and I noticed a German couple had stopped there for a cup of coffee.  The woman ordered coffee without sugar but with cream.  When she got her coffee, it was sweet – to her disappointment.  So she called the owner of the restaurant over and complained.  The owner said that, although she didn't put sugar in the coffee, she did use SWEET cream!  The owner didn't feel, however, that she had done anything wrong or that anything needed fixing.  So the customer paid – and left without drinking the coffee.

As I was a regular customer at that restaurant, I saw this as an opportunity to teach the owner something about customer service.  I told her that the customer had left unsatisfied – and that this customer would never visit her restaurant again.  It seems so obvious to me:  Would a customer go to a restaurant, order a cup of coffee, not drink it, pay, and then leave – if something were not really wrong with the coffee?  What would a customer have to gain from such an action?  If the customer had drunk the coffee but claimed not to have enjoyed it, then it would have been right to have charged for it.  In this case just described, though, the owner should have apologized – and made a new cup of coffee for the customer, without additional charge.  In that case, the customer would have been satisfied, would have perhaps come back later for a meal, and might have even told a few friends about this unusual but fair treatment in a part of the world where "fair and reasonable" are not part of the vocabulary.

I suppose that in a place like Luang Prabang, their business practices are influenced by the fact that most of their customers are tourists; most of them stay for only a short while; and most of them will never come back again.  If you ask me, that is a cynical basis on which to try to build a business.  Furthermore, with the ability of customers to communicate by internet, this way of doing business will not lead to long term success.  I would love to open a business somewhere in Southeast Asia – where cheating is the norm – and treat my customers fairly.  Actually I know what would happen in this case:  I would get beaten up by my local competitors for “stealing” their customers through the evil tactic of good customer service.  That's why I don't follow through with this idea.

20 December

I spent the weekend mentally planning for my scheduled teaching stint today, and I spent this morning in eager anticipation.  After an early lunch in order to be ready for my 14:00 appointment, I arrived at the restaurant where the girls work - prepared to walk with them over to their university for our session.  After a bit of small talk with the girls, they dropped the bombshell on me:  The teacher of their English class did not grant permission for my visit!  That's the first time that this has ever happened, and I will present here a list of possible reasons:

(1)    The girls miscommunicated my intentions and told the teacher that I wanted to come and take over his job;

(2)    The teacher, because of his poor English, would have lost face had his class been taught once by a person who could actually speak English;

(3)    The teacher just doesn't care about teaching.

I'm sure that there are other possibilities, but my gut picks reason number two from the above list.  It's sad that an English teacher in such a place would not seize the opportunity to have a native speaker address his class.

Additionally, I now think back to that lame parade that I attended last Friday - and remember that it was the intention of the girls that I just show up on Friday without even bothering to request permission - so sure were the girls that permission would be granted.  Oh, well - somehow I'll have to just get over my disappointment at this turn of events.

I'm kind of surprised that I haven't mentioned this before - given that I'm such a moaner.  But for the entire time I have been in Luang Prabang, I have been experiencing excruciating back pain.  This happens to me every once in awhile, but this is the longest its ever lasted.  I had been wondering what set it off this time - then eventually it dawned on me:  It was the two days sitting on the less than comfortable seats on the boats during the early days of this trip.

I've also had a pain in my left shoulder (now that I'm in a moaning mode) that has been limiting my mobility, but I really have no explanation for this.  Perhaps it's just part of getting older.

Related to the boats that brought me to Luang Prabang, I hadn't realized to what extent being on the boat created a pool of potential conversation partners for my time in Luang Prabang.  There was sort of an unspoken understanding that anyone who had come over on "your" boat was someone you could approach for a conversation.  So for the first week of my stay in town, I would cross paths with people from my boat - and just launch into a conversation with them.  By now, all of "my" boat people have moved on - so it's a bit more difficult (though not impossible) to meet people.
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meloveyoulongtime on

your back sore because too much jiggy-jiggy. you no leave luang prabang? you stay for ever?

gb on

We take customer service for granted as basic common sense. But it's more culture than common sense. The Laos have lived in a socialist economy for too long. They are only discovering the delights of capitalism and the consumer culture that goes along with it.

gb on

(4) The teacher is afraid of being criticized by his superiors for taking intiative.

Tony on

The girls lied about the teacher not grant permission, they expected you to suggest giving them a private lesson in your room so go back to the restaurant.

art on

Where's the back view of the temple?

Paul on

Well, I can only say, that cheese burger incident was a real 'Bangkok Randy' moment. And I'm sure your tutorial on customer service was highly appreciated, as in 'crazy farang, why he talk so much bullshit to me!' As for those girls, I would have taken the pessimistic view that they had changed their minds, didn't want me to come and lied that the teacher didn't give permission. That kind of thinking is probably why I don't get all the girls, whereas, Tony's optimistic thinking, that they want to go back to your room, is why he does get all the girls. I don't think I need to tell you whose view to go with.

Paul on

Almost forgot to mention, in all seriousness, your efforts at fighting the good fight, and keeping the locals honest is always appreciated. The more people who act like that, the greater the probability that some of these people begin to think its too much of a hassle to try and cheat people.

steve on

Who was the girl who invited you to the party? Did I know her?
Regarding your cheeseburger story, from the numbers you gave, the french fries would cost 13000, about the same as the hamburger. That's maybe a little pricy, but not extreme. Why didn't you sort out the misunderstanding when he delivered you the plate with fries? You would have avoided worrying the whole time about whether or not you'd be paying an extra 13000. We're all different, but I would have eaten the fries and not ruined my meal.

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