“So how was Lay-hoz?”, my friend remarked to me. It took me a couple of seconds to realise that they what they were referring to was a horrible mispronunciation of Laos. “Yeah, it was really good”, I replied. For the next three hours we hung out Laos (or Lay-hoz) was never mentioned again. I didn’t even bother to correct their mispronunciation because I felt embarrassed that they could be so ignorant about the name of the country I dedicated a year of my life to.

This conversation starter has often been repeated as I’ve reconnected with friends and family since my return. Unexpectedly and rather disappointedly I get very few questions about my time in Laos. People seem to just not care, or for another way of putting it,  people care far less than I think they should.

When I think of Laos there’s a million stories and experiences I want to tell people. I often feel compelled to grab people, shake them vigourously and scream “Ask me some more questions about Laos!”, but I never do. Why don’t they ask me about the food, the people, or the time I accidently rode my bicycle into a bird flu infected village that was being cleared by people dressed in Biohazard suits and masks?

I’ve started to realise just how much I’ve learned about developing countries and cultures through my experience in Laos. Most people at home don’t know anything and don’t care. I was like that too once. Australian culture and media is so far removed from any connection to Laos. I am starting to feel that this unfamiliarity should, but doesn’t, breed curiosity. This is sad. I am resolved to be more curious about the world and ask people questions.

It’s hard to communicate about my time in Laos with anyone that hasn’t been there. What’s given priority is rising rents, interest rates and petrol prices, but these complaints now seem comical to me. How can a 5 cents per litre petrol tax compare to the problems faced by a person living in poverty and without freedom? I realise that the problems you face in your immediate vicinity seem so much more immense than the problems of someone who lives overseas, but they’re not; I’ve got to make sure I don’t fall into my old false mindset of thinking they are.

So what would I say if people really wanted to know about my time in Laos? I guess it would go something like this:

I really enjoyed my time in Laos. It was a life changing experience that will stay with me forever. I would recommend everyone should do something like it. It gave me an incredible perspective on the world and a realisation that there 6 billion different people on this planet whose lives I should become as interested in as my own.

There’s a different culture in Laos, and in some ways it’s better than Australia but in some ways it is worse. If you’re a foreigner in Laos there are times when you are treated like a celebrity. When I went riding on my bike to some nearby rice fields, kids would wave and me and say hi, as if I was someone to get excited about seeing. That kind of enthusiasm is infectious and you can’t help but smile. When I went to eat at a nearby restaurant the waiter, Mr Air was his name, would ask for my mobile phone number and suggest we meet up one evening to drink beer.

The food was fantastic. I loved eating Lao food like sticky rice, papaya salad, and laap. I really got a taste for eating hot food. There were a lot of international restaurants and I got to eat a lot of cheap but tasty Korean, Japanese, Chinese and French cuisine.

My work was okay but at times rather unproductive, but I think I can blame my lack of motivation for that. I must work harder next time. I always say next time, but never now.

I lived in a big, high roofed house that came with a black cat. We didn’t feed it for a few weeks but when it didn’t go away we felt we were obliged to take care of it. My house had a beautiful garden that we hired a gardener to take care of. He always had a smile on his face and was very reliable. He had 3-4 children, I feel bad that I can’t quite remember the exact numbe, and a wife. He once had a motorbike accident and came to work the next day with some bad grazes to his face. Luckily they looked worse than they were and he healed pretty quickly. I was happy he wasn’t badly injured as the medical treatment in Laos is incredibly bad. The life expectancy here is only about 55. By this measure my gardener probably only has 10 years to live. That thought scares me a little. He was very poor but incredibly kind and gave me a sash as a gift before I left. I didn’t do much to help him out except for a little extra money now again. I hope that was enough but I feel guilty that it almost certainly wasn’t. I must try harder next time.

I have a lot to say about Laos, but no audience, but I guess that’s not right because I have this blog and if you’re reading it then I’ve shared my Lao experience with you, and that means someone is listening, and that should be enough for me.

So reader, thank you for listening as I’ve tried to debrief myself about my return from Laos.

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