Monday, October 27, 2014

Where did 2 months go?

Hi everyone,

First up I want to apologise for the lack of "activity". In some ways I'm not sure where the time went, and in other ways I know exactly where it went! Anyway, I have high hopes for more regular updates now that life is settling somewhat into a bit of Laotian normality.

Is that enough? Probably not. I can't imagine that an apology will satisfy your enquiring minds as to what exactly we have been up to over the past 2 months. So let me fill you in on few things.

In my last post (August 16th FYI) I was feeling good. Back from holidays in Phuket, refreshed from time with my sister showing her around, enjoying work after a needed break.

Enter morning sickness. Yep that's right. For those of you who don't already know via another means, I'm pregnant. Currently 18 weeks and counting. And about one week after my last post the dreaded ALL day sickness kicked in. To be more specific it was 4am sickness that carried on into the day, abated for a few hours and then kicked back in again at around 5pm. Anyway, its over now, lets not dwell. I only want to say that nausea is not helped when you leave your apartment and walk outside to the smells of BBQ chicken and squid at 8am!

Thankfully after a quiet couple of months of work and couch time I am back on my feet and can tolerate most of the smells that only an Asian country can throw at you! (Anyone who has been to Asia knows exactly what I am talking about)

The other weird thing about my position at the moment is antenatal care. I'm not entirely sure what the right word for it is but it seems somewhat hypocritical/ ironic that I spend my days teaching newborn care, and am actively involved in the newborn health action plan for Laos while at the same time I fly to Bangkok for my antenatal care. Yep. At least twice in this pregnancy I will fly to Bangkok to be seen and have my tests/ultrasounds that cannot be provided anywhere in Laos to a reasonable quality for Australian standards. Should I be just getting what everyone else here gets? Why am I any different? We are all people of the same world and as lucky and privileged as I feel, I also feel saddened that I have some kind of "golden ticket" when everyone else I work with misses out.

So I will continue to work hard over the next few months to do as much as I can for this country of incredibly kind and caring people. People who try to take my bag off me on ward rounds, offer me a seat everywhere we are at work, and have started bringing snacks like ice-cream and iced ovaltine to afternoon work meetings that they "couldn't possibly finish by themselves!"

And when I am back in Melbourne with my Western health care and state of the art delivery suite I will be thinking of my experiences here and counting myself lucky. In so many ways. Because U will also feel lucky for my experience here and the people I have met.

Melinda xx

Saturday, August 16, 2014

aunty visit

Time flies in sleepy Vientiane. I'm not quite sure how, but it does.

It seems Sunday has turned into the best day for potential blogging- quiet streets, many places closed, daddy daughter dates for croissants…

Anyway, it was ages ago that my sister Kate was here for a week long visit. We had a great time, Bea in particular enjoyed having "aunty time."

I felt like we fit a lot in; sightseeing, relaxing and playing at home, dining out. All in all a great week.

Here are some photos to prove it:

Enjoying croissants at Cafe Vanille

A trip to the Buddha Park

Cocktails at the Spirit House- a Vientiane institution

Trying out some of the nicer places to eat in Vientiane

The tower to beat all towers!

Monday, July 28, 2014

My thoughts on: Green spaces

I'm not entirely sure why, but for some reason our holiday to Phuket has got me thinking about green spaces, or more specifically, the lack of green spaces in Vientiane. Its strange, because we didn't visit any parks in Phuket, or get a larger dose of "green". The only connection I can find in my head is that we spent time at the beach, and being outdoors in nature. Maybe that is what it is: I miss nature.

Anyway, since I starting thinking about it, I can't stop.

I've been thinking a lot of the bigger picture of Asia and development and urban planning. The Asian Development Bank (ADB) website says that cities in Asia have grown faster than any other urban area in the world. By 2022 there will be more people living in cities than in the countryside in Asia. ADB conducted interviews of people in Vietnam about what they wanted to see in their cities and the response were following:

In harmony with nature
More trees
More small parks
More spaces for children

Exactly what i would want from a city!

Unfortunately, this is far from the reality in a lot of Asia cities, Vientiane included. Everywhere I look there is construction happening. At the end of our street there is a canal. When we got to Vientiane if you looked past the canal you would see open scrub and the river. Since then, in 5 months, this scrub has been demolished and a huge new shopping centre is being constructed. The rate of construction is incredible!

The World Health Organisation recommends that cities provide 9 square metres of unpaved open space for every inhabitant. I don't have a figure on Vientiane but Bangkok had 3.3sm. This is in stark contrast to my home town of Melbourne which has a whopping 17.8% of the city as green space.

As I look around Vientiane and how much it is changing I know that it will rapidly be a different city.  I will come back in 5-10 years time and there will be parts of the city that I won't recognise. I just hope that it learns from previous Asian cities to consider open areas with trees and parks. We know that they reduce pollution, improve air quality and reduce temperatures.

Vientiane does have some green. There is quite a large park along the river very close to us. The road between the park and the river is closed to traffic in the evening and it seems that everyone in Vientiane is down there to enjoy the fresh air and a bit of badminton/aerobics/soccer/roller blading. We are lucky to have this area so close. The park is also home to Vientiane's only public playground (that we know of).

Anyway, I don't really have any exciting conclusions or grand ideas from these thoughts. If I was an urban planner maybe I would. But it has been interesting to research and to actually find research that confirms that the residents of green cities are actually happier. I, for one,  have been trying to spend more time outdoors walking along the river and getting out of the city on the weekends and into green spaces. A few weekends ago we headed to an eco resort with a little stream and rock pools. It was lovely to get away from the concrete and back to nature.

The only playground in Vientiane 

 A bit of green at Patuxay 

Aerobics by the river every evening

Monday, July 21, 2014

Trip review: Phuket

I have been to Thailand on holiday a grand total of 5 times so far in life (lucky girl). There is a lot to enjoy- culture, amazing food, amazing beaches, friendly people, excellent diving. These reasons make it one of the more popular Asian holiday destinations for Australian's.

So when we wanted to plan a week holiday with my parents it was the obvious choice. 

The big question was where in Thailand we would go.

Phuket has never really been on my radar as somewhere I wanted to go in Thailand. I thought it was big, and touristy and that the beaches had been spoilt by tourism. In some ways that still holds true. But it also had a lot of EXACTLY what we were after and was a lot easier to get to and enjoy from where we are in Laos.

Still, even once we decided on Phuket there is a plethora of places to stay. In fact if you go to Agoda and type in Phuket it will tell you there are 1465 hotels to choose from. How do you even begin? 

I spent more hours researching Phuket than I care to let on. It was tricky- we wanted somewhere nice, with a pool and very close to the beach (or on the beach). But we also wanted it to be within a village so that we could leave our resort and eat in other restaurants or explore other shops without having to get in  taxi. Oh, and we wanted the resort to be quite and not next door to a party place. 

In the end we decided on Kamala beach, and more specifically the Sunwing Beach resort. Kamala beach is one beach north of Patong and is known for being a bit quieter but also having a variety of accommodation. Unfortunately the combination of being shoulder season and the recent political unrest in Thailand meant that all of Phuket was pretty quiet and many restaurants in Kamala were closed. 

That said we still managed to find some gems both locally and further afield.

We did two day trips during our 8 day stay. We hired a taxi for a day to take us on a tour of the island. Essentially we went to Phuket aquarium, a few different beaches and a few gorgeous look outs. The other day trip was to Phang Nga Bay to go sea canoeing into some caves and lagoons. We had brilliant weather and everyone (especially bea) enjoyed the canoeing and going into the dark caves and popping out the other side in a lagoon. The trip was topped off for Bea by seeing a monkey outside one of the caves- the sight of it causing her to actually squeal in excitement!

The other days were spent doing a mix of the following: in the pool, at the beach, having a massage, shopping, eating and generally hanging out together. Tough times. 

Anyway, it was a great holiday and we came back feeling refreshed from the soft sand, sea breeze, and fresh seafood.

Sunset walks/runs along the beach are the best aren't they? 

View from a view point on our taxi tour day

White sandy beach stop on our day trip to Phang Nga Bay

Canoeing into this cave and then out the other side into a lagoon

One of the 7 pools at our resort, Sunwing Kamala Beach

Seafood on the beach- what the best holidays are made of!

Sunwing Kamala Beach mascot Lolo, Bea was so excited!

 Life is tough when you have to curl up with Nana on a couch and read some books

Friday, July 11, 2014

True of false part 2

I might have been too quick to hit publish on my post the other day about Bea's reality.

I have been thinking about it some more and realised I neglected to mention all the things that Bea would NOT be surprised about.

Things like the following:

- some children don't have any toys

- some people don't have any shoes

- there are some foods you just cannot get, and some people only get to eat rice

- there is another country called Thailand on the other side of that river (a totally foreign concept for most children from Australia or New Zealand)

- some children are looked after by their parents but also by their maeban (nanny).

- shoes should never be worn inside

- when you go to the park everyone will stop and say hello a bit like you are a movie star

When i look at the list from today and the list from the other day it generates a mix of emotions. I am proud of my little girl and how much she has learnt and adjusted to over the past 5 months. I feel pleased that i have been able to expose her to different ways of living and different walks of life. I smile when i think of some of the things that have come out of her mouth in response to new experiences. But i also feel a little bit sad for her. Sad that there isn't five parks in a 2 block radius anymore. Sad that she can't dip her toes in the ocean. Sad that we can't go to the park and feed the ducks. 

The reality is that life in Vientiane has many bonuses but also quite a few negatives. There is a lot of stimulation for us here, but sometimes i wonder about how much there is for small children? Everyone sends their preschoolers to school because they need to to entertain them. There is a once a week playgroup but other than that you are on your own with your toddler. No library music class, soccer, gym, story time. On one had I know that kids don't need all of those scheduled activities to be happy. They are just as likely to be happy with a cardboard box. But on the other hand, i know that if we weren't here we would be doing those things and with Bea, and she would be enjoying them. 

Anyway, i don't know why i decided to be so thoughtful on a Friday night when my brain feels slightly fried from the week at work. Perhaps its time for bed.

Melinda x

Monday, July 7, 2014

True or false?

I am home alone with Bea this evening.

While i was washing the dishes she was getting a bit frustrated and i thought i would test theory 101 about having a 2 1/2 year old.

So i said "whatever you do, don't put your teddy in that bucket or he will get wet."

What did she do? She put it in the bucket! Theory proven. I love it.

But it got me thinking about all the new things I have had to teach her here in Laos. All the "don't do this" and "do this". And then i thought, if i told her any one of the following statements she wouldn't believe me. She would tell me that i am being a "trickster." Her answer to any of the following would be false. False, false, false .

- In some parts of the world everyone has to wear seat belts
(FYI Bea has a car seat but she is a minority)

- In some parts of the world kids are not allowed to ride on motorbikes
 (don't worry Bea is also not allowed to ride on a motorbike)

- In New Zealand you can drink water straight out of the tap

- There are people in Melbourne wearing coats and jumpers and hats right now!

- In some places you can do all your food shopping in one location (ie. a supermarket)

- Some countries have bus stops where people wait for their bus and if they aren't at the bus stop the bus won't let them on!

- In some countries you don't get taught in 3 languages at preschool

- In some cities there is more than one playground to visit

That, my friends, is a toddler adapting! Stage one is here, stage two is returning and trying to reverse some Lao realities. I can totally see her telling her friends in Auckland that they can't drink the water out of the tap as it isn't drinking water!


Saturday, July 5, 2014

We're back!

Hi everyone!

Hope you are all well. Sorry for the hiatus. As I mentioned in my last blog post, we headed off on a family holiday to Phuket with my parents who were on the final leg of a 3 month trip. It was so nice to have a holiday! As much as i love my job here, it is challenging and complex and the medicine, the culture and the responsibility can sometimes feel all encompassing.

Anyway, after 4 months without seeing the ocean, it certainly lived up to expectations. The wind, the salt, the sound of the waves- it was magic! Good for the soul.

I will write more about what we got up to on our trip to Phuket another time but here is a bit of a snippet:

Eating: fresh seafood (so much of it!), fresh fruit

Drinking: nice wine, soda with mint and lime

Smelling: the subtle salt of the ocean, coconut oil as people walk back from the beach after massages

Feeling: Thai massage. Had forgotten how invigorating it can be. The head and shoulders combo was the best! Semi painful, but still the best!

Listening to: Bea squeal when she saw her first wild monkey

Reading: Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese

It was a great holiday. We got back a week ago but have had mum and dad's company for the week so it has felt like the holiday was extended a wee bit. They left yesterday so we have a bit of post holiday adjusting to do. Don't you find the week after holidays a bit draining? Any tips for post holiday blues?

Its 06:30am and its just me and the computer as the sun rises in Vientiane. Oh. Me,  my computer, and a coffee. Little Bea has had 2 weeks of a 4:1 Adult to child ratio and I have a feeling that this week is going to be pretty demanding.

Check back soon,

Melinda xx