Friday, August 26, 2005

A Lao Glossary

A Lao Glossary

The following information is provided, free of charge, to help you gain insight into everyday life in Lao and to assist you with any travel plans you may be making in the near future. Enjoy!
Remember, the Lao have the utmost respect for visitors. Hence the term falang dung moe, na deng, which means long nosed, red faced foreigners. Mind you, after hours at a time in the scorching sun, and considering my own rather prominent snoz, it actually appears to be a rather appropriate term…
A necessary part of any travel adventure, Lao boasts an abundance of transportation options:
heua bin (flying boat or airplane) – Undoubtedly the quickest way to get from A to B in any country is to take a plane, and Lao is no exception. However, you may wish to observe a recent UN policy, which is to boycott Lao Airlines (the only airline in the country), as the last maintenance carried out on any of their aircraft was in early 1998.
loht may (bus) – If there is one thing that’s consistent throughout Asia (and India, Indonesia and just about anywhere else in the “3rd world”), it’s busses. Expect to have you and 200 others with all their earthly possessions (which usually consists of a huge bag of rice and several chickens) packed into a bus that has a seating capacity of 30. And just when they’ve packed five more people on and you can’t imagine where they’ll fit anyone else, the bus will stop another 100 meters down the road to let on a few more.
thang sip-sang (super “high-speed” freeway) – A recent addition to Lao are new “high-speed” paved roads between major centers. At this time I believe there are two. Unfortunately, a lack of high-speed vehicles in the country means that these roads are full of tractors, mopeds, bicycles, livestock and large groups of playing school children, which sort of defeats the “high-speed” bit. A further complication occurs at night, as none of the above is equipped with lights.
heua jak (long-tail boat) – Until “modern” times, the most efficient means of travel throughout the country was on the rivers by long-tail boat. My experience is that they are still the most efficient means of travel throughout the country. They may be tippier than a canoe and you may be sharing your journey with a cow or a tractor, but at least you get some air (and rain and splash). Besides, drowning seems a much more pleasant way to die than driving over a cliff or dropping from the sky.
tuk tuk (motorized rickshaw) – A combination motorcycle / open air cattle cart that is by far the most efficient means of getting where you want (for short hauls).
City Life
Unlike most SE Asian countries, whose cities are big, busy, sprawling concentrations of pollution and humanity, Lao’s major cities are small and unassuming (except for a remarkable overpopulation of scooters). In fact, in a country with a population of around six million, less than one million Lao people live in cities. So, not much to comment on here other than:
tet (Chinese New Year) – When the Chinese and Vietnamese celebrate their new calendar year by taking one week off from work. What does this have to do with life in Lao’s cities? Well, for that week, every store, restaurant, bakery, repair shop etc. in the entire country is closed. Foreigners living in Lao cities know to stock up ahead of time. I still haven’t figured out what Lao people in Lao cities do, any time… Obviously none of them run stores, restaurants, bakeries or repair shops.
Village Life
Ah yes, a serene life in the country…er, not exactly.
bahn noy (small village) – A random cluster of bamboo houses surrounded by mud. Average number of children per family is 10. The best indicators of village wealth are the number of water buffaloes and the fatness of the pigs that roam about in the mud with the children. Electricity and running water, are you kidding?
bahn nawg (country village) – Same as above, but usually more rural and inundated with pasasohn.
pasasohn (inbred cretins) – see above.
chahk (pronounced “chuck”, literally means “huh”) – Most effectively uttered with a completely blank face, a slack jaw and a distant stare. Most commonly used by pasasohns.
paw bahn (village chief) – Chief village decision maker and often the father of most of the children. Always has the choicest huen (see below).
huen (village house) – Bamboo and scrap wood structures on stilts with thatched roofs. The paw bahn’s house usually has a big porch, suitable for tourist “sleep-overs”.
seua non (village mattress) – Not your average Sealy Posturepedic. A very thin, frustratingly short, rather soiled mat. Imagine that futon you discarded after college, but with another ten or twelve semesters of use. Commonly offered to tourists who want to sleep over.
gahn nyoong (mosquito net) – An absolute necessity in the villages. Be sure to bring your own. Village supplies seem to be mosquito nests, not nets.
abnam (village bath) – A gathering place along the river edge where people and water buffalo bathe. The Lao like to refer to the thick mud brown texture of the river as silk, hence the phrase “bathing in silk”. The same location is also the source of the village drinking water.
Lao Cuisine
Kind of a contradiction in terms…
pa dek (rancid fish sauce) – The staple Lao seasoning. Prepared by stuffing a bunch of dead fish into a ceramic jar and leaving it in the sun for six months to one year. Once good and fermented, drain out whatever liquid has formed and serve it as a tasty compliment to all your food.
khao neo (sticky rice) – The staple Lao food, guaranteed to block your passages like super glue. Served at each meal in a single small basket so that everyone shares whatever is under everyone else’s fingernails.
tom guy (chicken knuckle soup) – Prepared by breaking the neck of some scrawny chicken, de-feathering it, removing some of the guts and finally chopping the remainder into bite sized pieces. Boiled in water for a while, then seasoned by adding a plethora of pa dek. Other than the head and the feet, everything in the soup resembles knuckles. The only thing missing is meat. Served with a bowl full of chicken blood on the side. Great for dipping sticky rice!
geng nom my (bamboo shoot soup) – similar to the above, with loads of pa dek, but no blood.
kye mot deng (red ant eggs) – served in a big bowl with a light pa dek glaze. Eaten by the hand full.
kye peung (bee’s eggs) – Served still in the bee’s nest, complete with rather panicky worker bees flitting about wondering what the heck is going on.
meng bao (mutant dung beetles) – That’s the best description I can come up with. These things come in what look like tennis ball sized coconuts (buffalo dung balls). Shake them and they rattle like a spray paint can. Chop them open and out falls the gooiest, yellowiest, most X-files looking translucent creature I have ever seen. One stares in awe, expecting it to leap at your face and suck out your brain at any moment. Instead, the Lao villagers snatch ‘em up and eat ‘em raw. None of this swallowing them like oysters, they bite the things and chew them in pieces. I insulted the entire village and decided not to try this particular delicacy.
kohn kye bing guy (“Lao butchers”) – purveyors of mystery meat.
sep (Lao for “delicious”) – used subjectively…

And there you have it. All you need to know for your next visit to Lao. I may post pictures of some of the spectacular sights (and there truly is some incredible scenery) soon - just as soon as I’ve rid myself of parasites, that is...

October, 1999