Sunday, 30 January 2011

Swapping email addresses with Buddhist monks … just another normal day in Laos

Sunday 30th January 2011

MP3 track of the day: Sadness - Enigma

Weather: Currently I'm having to change what I'm wearing three times a day. In the morning it's trousers and t-shirt, as the weather is just right. During the middle of the day I change into shorts and a t-shirt, due to the sun being so fierce. At night I change again to a t-shirt, trousers and a fleece because when the sunsets there is little heat. It's also pretty windy here throughout the day resulting in it not being humid at all. Overall the weather is not bad here in Pakxe, not bad at all.

After the previous two mornings I was happy to have a lie-in. However that only lasted until 8:30am. It wasn't the two British girls who woke me up (they were up early, again, to head out and off to Champasak), it was other noises within the hostel that were out of my control. Firstly people within South East Asia shout at each other when talking. Tourists, who haven't experienced much local communication within South East Asia, might be forgiven to think that everyone here is arguing with each other, however shouting is the norm and the walls within the hostel must be very thin. However, much worse than the shouting, was the noise coming from upstairs; it sounded like furniture was being moved and the method of moving was scraping said piece of furniture along the floor. Having had enough I said goodbye to the two British girls and I headed for the shower.

Once dressed I got out my 'Rough Guides to China' to take a peek at Shanghai. I needed some accommodation for the GP and I wanted to be as central, and as close to the train station, as possible. Looking at the map being central wasn't really an issue, however also being close to the train station was going to be difficult. Shanghai is a lot bigger than I previously thought, however it does seem to have a metro system, therefore being away from said train station shouldn't be the end of the world. I made some notes and decided that, when I visit the internet cafe tonight, I would bring my Chinese guidebook with me for reference. I also decided that I would need a week within Shanghai; I would arrive on the Wednesday, sort out how to get to the race track on Thursday, go to practice on Friday, Qualifying on Saturday, the race on Sunday and then use Monday and Tuesday to look around the city and sort out my onward travel. Flicking through my diary it would appear that, if I spent exactly three weeks within Vietnam, straight after my voluntary work within Cambodia, I would cross the Chinese border on the 2nd April. This gave me exactly two weeks to do the south of China before making my way to Shanghai for the race. With only Hong Kong as a must within the southern area I hope this time would be enough.

I headed out into town at around 10am. Not feeling very hungry I skipped breakfast and went straight into sightseeing mode. The weather wasn't too warm yet and so I was walking around in trousers and a t-shirt. I visited a couple of 'wats' before taking the river-side road to have a look at the view. I was standing at the point where two rivers met. You could see the heavy brown coloured water of the 'River Sedon' mix (and loose colour) with the much larger 'Mekong River'. The end result was a lovely light blue river flowing towards Cambodia. I thought that if this was the colour of the water at the 'four thousand islands', further south, then they should be pretty beautiful. I also remembered the Mekong river at Vang Vieng and it was strange to see its appearance change so much within such a short distance.

I continued my walk, saying hello to as many locals as possible, before reaching the 'Daoheuang Market'. This place was teaming with life as stall sellers tried to sell their goods to each and every passer by. Heading into the food area I saw the usual and the not so usual. The usual being the fresh fruit and veg on sale. The 'not so usual' being 'ant eggs' and small frogs, which were still alive. People were going about their everyday lives purchasing the necessary; I got quite a few laughs as I think the locals new that, after I had seen flies landing on almost every piece of food within the complex, that I wouldn't purchase anything.

I left the market and headed back into town. On the way I went into Pakxe's local shopping center, which in reality was a glorified market with three floors. I then back to my hostel to change into my shorts before visiting the local restaurant for lunch; I had rice noodles with chicken and vegetables (which wasn't that good) and another coconut shake (which was lovely). I reached into my back pocket to retrieve my map of Pakxe to see if I had missed anything. I had missed a few things; annoyingly I had a Chinese temple at the extreme west off the city and another 'wat' at the extreme east. As I was in the middle of town I decided to head to the Chinese temple first, which involved walking over a road bridge to cross the 'Sedon river'.

It took around thirty minutes to reach the Chinese temple. I had to walk down a road with houses on either side. I don't think the local population see many tourists in their 'hood' and so I got quite a few 'hellos', which was lovely. I also stopped to take a photo of some cows eating the grass outside someones house and a disused building, that looked very artistic. The temple itself wasn't that interesting; it had a few nice statues but nothing I hadn't seen before. The view from the temple was the best bit, overlooking the Mekong River.

I didn't spend long and I was soon heading back into town. The trip out had been worth it however, as I had been walking all day, I was starting to worry about my skin getting burnt. I 'shadow hunted' all my way to the east side of the city, passing a church, to find this 'Wat'. 'Wat Phonsavanh' was it's name and it was just like any other 'wat' I had seen before. I finished taking a couple of photos, and was about to head out, when a Buddhist monk came up to me and asked if we could have a chat for a while. He was studying English and so he wanted to practice. I had nothing else to do today and so I sat down with him and we chatted away covering all sorts of topics which included what I was doing, what he was doing, what the UK was like, where else should I go within Laos etc etc. I was becoming quite a hit and another monk joined in the conversation. This second monks English was better than the first (though the first guy was still pretty good) and he kind of muscled in the conversation. I didn't mind and I made sure that I gave both the same amount of opportunity to talk. We got onto the subject of money; I was asked how much it would cost to spend a day within the UK, how much hotels were and then how much was education. They began to tell me how much their education costs were, which came to a total of $200.00 US per year for university fees. They said that it was a lot of money to them and that they struggled to get that amount every year. Now I'm sure that they weren't asking me to make a contribution, they were just making conversation; however I didn't like the way the English lesson was turning. I had spent over an hour, chatting away, with them and so I made my excuses to leave, however not before taking a photo, an exchange of email addresses (It looks like I'll have a Buddhist monk emailing me … how cool is that!) and the monks offering me a free trip to some waterfalls tomorrow (which I don't think I take them up on). As I walked away I thought about the price of education here; yesterday I had spent nearly $200.00 on an F1 ticket without really thinking about it. Here was a monk struggling to pay his $200.00 university fees (he's studying business … what a coincidence) … kind of put things into perspective.

I made it back to my hostel and chilled for a little while. The sun was setting and it was turning cold; I changed back into my trousers and took my fleece with me to the local internet cafe. After completing the usual daily internet stuff, I had twenty minutes remaining out of my sixty minute allocation. I decided to have a look at hostels, within Shanghai, for the F1; to my amazement there were loads, which made it quite baffling with so many options. I also went onto 'Google' to find where the F1 circuit was in Shanghai and happily it's just to the north-west of the city center. Before I could pre-book any accommodation my time had run out. I decided that I would come back, to the internet cafe, tomorrow and, before booking somewhere, I would send a few Shanghai hostel owners an email asking how I could get to the circuit (I don't want to end up at a hostel with either a receptionist that doesn't speak English or someone that hasn't got a clue what I'm talking about).

Earlier, whilst chilling at my hostel, I met two other travelers and we all went for dinner together at a place I hadn't tried before. The food was good, but it was a little more expensive than the usual place I ate (and sadly the coconut shake wasn't as good). I paid my bill and left the other two to chat about their plans for tomorrow. My plan for tomorrow was to head to 'Wat Phou'; a 'Angkor Wat' style site with a ruined temple. The only problem is that you need to take five different types of transport to get there (tuk-tuk from the city center to Pakxe bus station … a bus to Champasak … a tuk-tuk to the waterfront … a boat across the Mekong river … and finally a tuk-tuk to the actual site) which could end up costing a lot. Also, whilst checking my 'Facebook' account, I had an email from Joe and Rachael to say that they are coming to Pakxe tomorrow, therefore it might be cheaper if I wait for them.

So tomorrow could be quite a dull day blog wise. I think it'll be an 'information gathering day' within me heading to the internet cafe, again, to send a few emails to hostels within Shanghai. Then I'll head to the local bus station to get information on traveling to 'Wat Phou' before finally reading my book. I don't mind wasting a day here; I like Pakxe, I have the time and apparently the '4,000 islands' are quite expensive compared to here. Lets see what tomorrow brings!

Toodle Pip!

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