Hanging out with the Lor family
Trip Start Jan 22, 2009
19Trip End Dec 22, 2009
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The following day we made our way to the airport to meet Clint's former co-worker, Pao. He and 7 other members of his family made the long journey from MN to Laos to visit extended family. We piled into a van and drove about 45 minutes north of Vientiene to a Hmong village where his family lives. We felt a little awkward at first, being strangers among a reuniting family, but they made us feel very welcome. Pao's cousin owned a hotel where we stayed comfortably for 2 nights. Surrounding the hotel were several houses where other members of the family lived, 7 families in total. The properties were all connected and were scattered with little storage huts, many different kinds of fruit trees, and animals wandering about. Most of the time was spent gathered in the common area, a back yard of sorts. Shortly after we arrived we sat at tables in the common area, enjoyed lunch, and was introduced to more of the many family members. When lunch was served we learned that the table etiquette was a bit different than what we are used to. People simply dig into the several dishes on the table with their fingers or their own spoon. This style was easy to get used to as it made sharing the meals a more communal experience. Later, we took a walk around town with Pao, his wife Yeng, their son, nephew and cousin. They showed us around the Hmong village and we stopped at his aunt and uncles house to say hello and deliver mail from family in MN. There we were shown a typical Hmong house which is basically a one room bamboo and thatch roofed home with a dirt floor and fire pit for cooking.
We slept well that night and awoke at 6am the following morning to head to the market across the street with the family. They said that early morning is the best time to go to get the freshest breakfast and foods for later. Our first taste of breakfast was "tri-color" soup/drink. This is a very sweet treat of different color and shaped tapioca, sweet coconut milk, black beans, and a sort of syrup. It's actually quite good. For those living in St. Paul, you can get this dessert there too. After walking around the market, making purchases, and taking in all the colors, smells, and sights we went back home. We then had a breakfast of fish and rice...by far some of the best catfish we have ever had! While we were finishing our breakfast Pao tells us "look, they're getting the cow ready". We knew what he meant because the night before he had asked if Clint wanted to kill the cow for the celebration the next day. We looked behind us and watched as several of the young guys dragged the cow from the tree it was tied to and one whacked it on the head with the blunt side of an axe and brought it down within a couple hits. Once this had happened we went closer to observe this cultural event. We witnessed them cut the cow's jugular and drain the blood into a large bucket with salt in it to coagulate for a soup dish. We then watched at they poured boiling water over the carcass to loosen up the hair and then scrape it off using spoons and machetes. The hair that they could be removed this way was burned off. They covered the carcass with straw and lit it on fire. They then butchered it and took the meat and other parts directly to the kitchen to prepare for the huge feast we were about to enjoy. This all happened before 9am! As this was going on there were several men, including Pao, carving crossbows and fishing spear guns out of blocks of wood, the women were cooking and getting ready for the big festivities, and the kids were playing everywhere. We observed that the kids (there were a lot of kids!...at least 15-20) were involved in everything that the adults did. In the U.S. kids are at times pushed away from adult activities and told to "go play over there." Here, the kids are included and engaged in nearly everything. It was also fun to watch the men with the children who showed such involvement and attention toward the children. Before the celebration began we were escorted behind one of the houses where the men were gathered to share a dish of fresh raw beef and spices and rice wine. It was explained to us that the jug of rice wine was made a few months ago and opened for this specific occasion. They made the rice wine by filling a jug with rice husks and yeast and sealing it. After a few months they open it up and stick a couple long bamboo straws all the way to the bottom. They then pour water into it and one person drinks a cups worth of liquor at a time, then they pass the straw to the next person, refill it with water and the fun continues.
Before we ate there was an hour or so of rituals that we observed and participated in. One was to call on the good spirits to enter the home and bad ones to leave. Some of the men examined closely the cow's tail and two cooked chickens. Pao said they were looking at the shape and form of them to see if good luck or bad luck would come to the home and family. We never found out the results but we'll assume the best. Another ritual involved the guests of the party who were each given 7 white strings to tie on the family members wrists for good luck and then give the them a small amount of money. Clint confused the instructions that Pao had given us, turned to a random man next to him and tried to tie the string onto his wrist. The man looked very confused but then smiled and pointed to the family. We have been laughing at this mix up ever since. The feast we had was unbelievable! There was so much food and only a fraction of it was eaten at the time. We ate dishes with Cow's meat, skin, fat, intestines, stomach lining, coagulated blood, and probably a lot more that we didn't even realize. There were heaps of sticky rice, pumpkin, Laap (a traditional Lao dish), soup, and fruit. The party came to a pretty quick end after the feast and we spent the rest of the afternoon digesting and relaxing.
Later we took a hike through the farm land of Pao's relatives. We, along with many children and adults, piled in the back of a truck and went exploring for a few hours. It was a great adventure.
The following morning we awoke early again to the rooster outside our window and went to the market with the family. We enjoyed more Tri-color, rice noodle soup, spring rolls, and then more fish and rice at the home. I think our stomach expanded quite a bit while we were there! We had also purchased games and treats for the children at the market. We bought them a plastic bowling game and when we returned we watched as they played it for the first time. How fun!
We felt very lucky to have been welcomed to the Lor family home in Laos. It made our experience here more meaningful and memorable.
Special thanks to Pao, Yeng, Malina,Yengchee and the rest of the Lor family for a great time with great company!