Hanging out with the Lor family

Trip Start Jan 22, 2009
Trip End Dec 22, 2009

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Flag of Lao Peoples Dem Rep  ,
Monday, March 16, 2009

We started our journey North on a pretty fantastic sleeping bus.  We actually had our own full bed sized compartment, that we both fit into nicely, and were given free water, candy, and a meal of pork and rice.   The 10 hour trip went fast and as soon as we knew it we arrived in the bus station in Vientiene, the capitol of Laos.  We hopped in a Tuk-Tuk to catch a ride to the city center and on the way  met a couple nice Brits. Upon arriving in the center, we all wandered around in search of an affordable place to stay.  After chatting a while about our traveling adventures we decided to meet up again. We grabbed  a quick breakfast and hopped on another Tuk-Tuk that took us around the city to see the sites.  Our first stop was a "Buddha Garden" which was beautiful.  We wandered around a garden full of sculptures of Buddhist and Hindu Deities. One of the main attractions here is the enormous laying Buddha. After that we visited various wats, temples, and landmarks around the city. We then went t to the"Cope Visitors Center".  This center was highly recommended by another traveler and we were very glad we took the time to visit.   Cope stands for "Cooperative Orthotic and Prosthetic Enterprise" and their center provides prosthetics and mobility devices for those who need them, free of charge.  The majority of the people receiving the prosthetics are victims of UXO (Unexploded Ordnance); unexploded bombs, but the center also provide them for those disabled from birth defects or other accidents.  It is estimated that 260 million explosives (land mines, cluster bombs, sub-munitions) were dropped in Laos from 1964-1973 and an estimated 78 million remain unexploded in Laos today.  We learned that Laos is the most heavily bombed country, per capita, in the world! The Visitors Center was very informative and very emotional for us!  We viewed photos, read testimonies, and watched documentaries. Like in Cambodia, people here, especially children, continue to be sadly be affected by UXO's.  

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. Later, Pao told us we were heading to his cousins house for dinner. When we arrived we were surprised to see that his cousin was hosting a Grooms Dinner for a Loatian wedding and we were seated among the many guests.  The food was very good and plentiful!  Although communication was difficult, Pao's cousins enjoyed toasting and challenging Clint and I (Clint especially) to drinking Beer Lao with them. We communicated through gestures, facial expressions, laughter and Pao's translations.

 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.   Shortly after this, the dinner festivities began. We were ushered into the home where there were tables lined with food and where all the men sat.  Kate was the only female and felt a little out of place but Pao assured her that  it was OK.  The festivities were to celebrate one of the families moving into a new home.   
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. At one point we stopped at a tree and caught bugs with the children.  Clint with his long arms shook the tree branches as the kids went wild to catch these small, green beetles. We were told these insects were to eat for later. Hmmmmm. Sure enough, when we returned, the children washed them and they were fried up to eat. We both tried a pinch of them...they were crunchy and tasteless, just how we wanted them to be.  We then ate more food again!  This time we ate the Cow's face meat.  Sounds gross, but the meat was actually pretty good.  After watching the adults play Bocce Ball, a very popular game here, we got into our best clothes and headed to a traditional Lao wedding reception. The reception was beautiful, everyone was in their best dresses and outfits (which left us feeling a little under-dressed) and the food and beer were again plentiful!  We were so full already but ate once again.  After dinner we all went to the dance floor.  We followed everyone's lead and danced a traditional Lao dance.  This dance involved slowly walking in a circle, facing your partner, and moving your hands around (almost resembling a hula dance).  Clint added  his own twist and shake moves to it...he was a natural!!
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!   Next we took some photos with the family, expressed our sincere gratitude, and headed off to Vang Vieng in a Taxi (a pick-up truck with benches in the back).
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!
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meshach on

Party in the jungle!
Sounds like an unbelievable experience. Wow! I wish you had a video of it all so I could see everything. Thanks for the great description of the experience. You are such a great story-teller. I almost felt like I was there!

alitz55 on

Lor/Christensen-Schoeller Family Reunion
This sounds exactly like the best way travel and experience things, getting down to a personal level and actually experiencing all the customs, traditions, and daily life of the people. It was so awesome that you were able to meet up with Pao and they were willing and kind enough to include you on everything, and I am sure they they were very happy to share it all with you as well.

Also, just want to let you guys know that although not everyone may have the time to comment or even know what to say, A LOT of people (our family members, lots of people at HealtEast, etc.) are really enjoying reading all your posts and looking at the pictures. Keep up the great work!

jimschoeller on

Amazing stories and pictures!
Hi, I just read this blog entry to Christian. He says: I really miss you. I hope you have a good time in all your trips. I hope you call Dad or Mom to fill me in even though I know you won't be here on my birthday soon---just to say hi. You don't have too but if you want to bring a little souvenir back or maybe you could ship it ---either a spear or bow and arrow. I wonder if that blood tasted just like vampire blood---just joking. Or did it have a really bad taste. What did they do with the burnt carcass? Did they use it for another purpose or not use it at all. I understand you're having a really good time---that's great but I hope to see you soon. The end. Christian.

der on

thanks for sharing
thank you for sharing your experience in travels. i am living in cambodia for the moment and will be goin to laos next week for 'pii mai' or the new year. your description about the sleeping bus was very helpful as we're trying to decide which mode of transport to use to head up north from vientiane. i also wanted to add that i appreciate your candid descriptions of the ceremonies you observed with the Lor family. as a hmong who was born in laos, but brough up in minnesota, it was interesting to read your account. keep on blogging and i look forward to reading more from you. :)

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