I’m moving tomorrow. I’ve lived in this mid-rise apartment off Kouviang Road in Ban Si Muang in Vientiane, Laos longer than I’ve lived anywhere else in the past 6 months. It’s a quirky place, but I’ve learned to call it home. It’s only a 15 minute bike ride to work, and that’s during the worst traffic. I can make it in 8 minutes if the lights are in my favor and the tuk tuks and pedestrian’s aren’t clogging Kouviang near the morning market.
My neighbors unfailingly wave and say hello. I buy bottled water and detergent and onions from them. I practice my poorly pronounced Lao with them. I look out for their motorbikes when I turn into the garage, as Lao drivers are wont to pass on the left. The apartment building used to be smaller houses, they were bought up and developed. The same developer bought the property across the street. The neighborhood is changing. Like in Chicago, I’m once again a gentrifier. How does this keep happening?
I’ll miss the irregular hours of the front office staff and the free powdered coffee packets in the lobby. I’ll really miss the army of Mae Baans that make my bed, wash my linens and do my dishes. I’ve been spoiled with daily maid service. I’ve learned to use a bidet. Will I be able to go back to a life without the luxury of a butt spritzer? Only time will tell.
I’ll even miss the lackadaisical 24 hour security guards, whom I’ve had to rouse on occasion. Want to go on an early morning bike ride? Climb the collapsable metal fence and knock on the guard booth to open the gate. Coming home from a late night? Bang on the window to wake up the guard sleeping on a piece of cardboard on the guard booth floor. My security guard taught me how to cheat the automatic sliding glass doors into the building if I’ve forgotten my key card and holding a package, has asked me if I’m Joanna, another white lady who lives in the building.
I won’t have fast wifi included in my rent in the new place. I won’t have cable television either, though I’ve only watched it once. I likely won’t have a television at all unless I buy one in Thailand and haul it across the boarder. I think I’ll go without.
What I will have is my own room, my own bathroom even. And a yard. And if all goes to plan, a chicken or two to keep in said yard. I’ve fantasied about having urban chickens, collecting fresh eggs and feeding them table scraps. I assume I’ll see the same indoor/outdoor lizards creeping about eating the bugs, suctioned to the windows and scurrying under the floorboards.
I’m moving into the unknown. My new rental house is 7km from my new job, it’s owned by a Lao couple who speak French and live in another house on the property. It’s red, has more bedrooms and bathrooms than my roommate and I need, a mango tree in the yard and a broken wash machine. Beyond those few things, I know nothing.
I knew nothing once before in this country: back in mid-July when I got off the plane bleary-eyed and sweaty in the Indo-Chinese heat and thought, “what am I doing here?” I knew nothing when I lived in a hotel whose bathroom smelled like moldy cheese for 2 days until finding this apartment with the rooftop balcony, sauna, gym, covered parking and in unit washer. I’ve been living “hi-so” or the bourgeois life in the capital. It was fun. It was as glamorous as life can be in a capital city of 200,000. But now I’m “trained” or one might say, “oriented,” and now I must go forth to start my 9th year of teaching in a town I’ve never been in to students I’ve never met in a slow-paced country I’m gradually learning to love.