Saturday, April 24, 2010

A whole lotta buddha

We recently took a hike to Changhua to see the "Great Buddha Statue", well known in Taiwan.  There's not a whole lot to the town, but it was a nice day and we enjoyed walking around.

Our destination - standing at 92m and hollow so visitors can walk inside

In the town of Changhua - some delicious snacks and a big plane?

Trees in bloom

Colors in the temple

Buddha's backside; I love the streamers

Not pictured is the path leading up to the buddha statue lined with squid vendors.  Squid prepared in any and every way you could eat it.  We didn't partake in any of it.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

A horse of a different color

Did you know peanuts came in different colors?  I sure didn't, so imagine my suprise when we found this inside our peanut shell:

Saturday, April 17, 2010

We're still kids at heart

In Nong Khiaw we stopped by a children's afterschool community center.  Jeremiah, Leslie and I each held our own with the kids in our respective areas of expertise.

When it came time for unfamiliar games, these guys took us by the hand and showed us the ropes.

OK, I'm done with the Laos pictures, next post we're back to Taiwan!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Take only photographs, leave only footprints (and maybe a few pencils)

I can't imagine Phayong sees very many visitors, this is one of the reasons we liked it so much.  It is a step back in time and feels untouched by western influences.  It's challenging to travel to these types of locations though, not only logistically, but also there is a certain pressure to travel very conscientiously.  It is a balance of wanting to observe, learn, or even partake in another person's culture but not intrude or influence it too much with your own.  It was important for me to remember this as we walked around the village and my mind was racing with all the things we could give and do for these people to make life "better" (because really, who am I to come in and say what will make things better for them?).

Making us dinner in their house

Looking at the children, young girls and the mothers I kept thinking, trying to convince myself, "I could live like this if I had too".  But here's the thing, I don't have to because I have grown up with the privilege of choice (among many other things), something I was reminded of over and over during our stay.  So what could help give these children have some choice as they grow up?  Definitely an education, a benefit so many of us take for granted.  With a new school built and the Laos government working to educate it's children we felt helping in this area would be not overstepping our welcome or imparting our values too much.  So, working through Pencils of Promise, we brought with us school supplies collected by the students at our school.  It was awesome to see their little faces light up with something as simple as a pencil or a sticker.

 Handing out stickers

 School room for the older students

 Preschool room - more stickers, the forehead was a favorite location

 This is the girl that gave us the bananas... super cute!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Meet the kids of Phayong Village

When we first got to Phayong Village we walked down the small dirt street (the only street in the village), and the kids would come to the edge of the road and watch us.  These kids were very shy; content to smile and wave from a safe distance.  In many towns and countries children learn or are forced to beg.  They follow you, expecting handouts.  Not in Phayong.  These children stood there showing us we would have to prove to them we were worth playing with.

We continued walking and saw kids playing with plastic bottles, throwing chickens, rolling down a hill with a homemade scooter board, and competing in a form of hopscotch.  Groups of kids playing with very little, but laughing and having a good time despite it all.  Their clothing was torn and tattered, many younger kids wore no pants, most wore no shoes as they ran through dirt and rocks.  Some had smaller children by the hand or strapped onto their backs, clearly the designated caretaker of their younger family members (even if they themselves were only 5 and still needing to be cared for).


As we walked back to where we would be sleeping, a girl cautiously walked to the road with three bananas in her hand.  With lots of encouragement from her mom, she reached out as far as she could to hand us each one of the bananas, careful to not get too close.  As soon as we each had our fruit, she quickly she ran away smiling (the next day, deciding after the banana incident that we aren't actually too scary, she came right up to us smiling).  Later, as dinner was being cooked, we played peekaboo, ran a toy truck around and played the "take a picture of me quick so I can see myself in the display" game.  All without talking of course, because between the three of us with our odd assortment of foreign words, none overlapped with their Hmong language.  Luckily laughing is the same worldwide.

We loved these kids.  It would be hard not to, I mean, look at these faces:

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Living Lao

Our spring break was a perfect collection of travel, rest, food, company, sights, learning and sharing.  We spent time with old friends and made new ones.  We ate at tourist-catered cafes and sat around a table picking at a bowl of chicken insides with sticky rice.  We slept on mattresses and on wood planks covered with blankets.  We used western style flush toilets and squatters flushed with a bucket of water.

Most of our trip was spent in Luang Prabang, but we also stayed in Nong Khiaw and Phayong Village.  Our experiences were very different in each city, but we loved them each for what they had to offer.

Luang Prabang is definitely a tourist destination.  Seeing the tourist area filled with americans, canadians, europeans, etc, was a shock to us.  Taiwan does not have many tourists and it is easy to go out and not see another caucasian person.  In the Luang Prabang tourist district guesthouses, shops, restaurants and guided excursions were aplenty, each with a quaint charm.  Here you can get french fries, a latte and arrange a trip to see the elephants and waterfalls all in a one block walk while you watch at the monks in their orange robes coming and going from the temple across the road.  It is all lovely.  I happily ordered my latte, in english, while watching the monks.  A little easy tourism is nice sometimes.  Not always what we're looking for though; luckily when you get off the main drag by just a few blocks tourists were a rare sight.  Our guesthouse was off the beaten track, literally; a turn down a dirt road, then another, smaller, dirt road and there it was.  Here there was unfamiliar foods, very little english, games of petanque with local people and a "boh pen nyung" (don't worry about it, it's nothing) attitude.  This, too, was wonderful.