Asia, Cars, Culture, Food, Funny, Garden, Summer, Travel

Cabbage Cartel

My hair smells like cabbage.

Actually, everything about me smells like cabbage. 

I’ve gone from Kimchi Princess to Cabbage Patch Kid. 

So, I’ll go ahead and answer the question everyone has been asking. How exactly did I end up surrounded by cabbage on a van from Laos to Cambodia?


Well, the real answer starts back in 2013. I went on a trip to Cambodia then and saw the establishment of the first BMA church there. I became friends with the believers there and have kept up with them since. So, when I found out that we weren’t far from their border here in Laos, I asked if we could go visit.

I have crossed land borders before. We’ve driven to Canada, and that one is pretty easy. We drove from Jordan into Israel. That one was a little bit tougher because of the high security, but still okay. But, as I was told: Laos to Cambodia is a whole different story.

We were told our van would arrive at 8 am to pick us up. Joy had warned me that it would be an “interesting” experience. 8 am and we’re waiting. As I see vans pull up, I ask Joy: is that the one? To which she kept responding, that one looks pretty nice, that one is pretty new.. Which made me wonder what exactly I had gotten myself into. And what exactly our van was going to look like.

Finally, at 8:40 am, it arrived. Looking okay, not bad at all, a little dusty, but that’s to be expected around here. Then, they opened the door.


A Lao-Vietnamese family occupied the first row of seats. As the door opened, they all gave a sort of amused look like: you’re riding in here? The second row was to be occupied by Joy and I… And cabbage. 


So. Much. Cabbage.


The driver gets in the back to start re-arranging and makes just enough room for us. I look at the floor and look at Joy, trying to figure out where to step. And finally, as the driver is getting out, I realize that I’m just supposed to step on the cabbage. Because what else is there to do?


We settle in for the ride. It’s about two hours of pretty good roads to the border. Along the way, I notice, we stopped to hand off some money to a man in a uniform. I thought possibly it was some sort of toll system. So, I asked Joy why we randomly had stopped in the middle of the road. She informed me that these are passenger vans only and not allowed to haul any type of goods. But, our driver has a friend (the man in the uniform) who will look in, make sure we only have passengers (and not 700 pounds of cabbage), take some money, put it in his pocket, and let us pass on by. Seems okay to me. 

About an hour or so in, we stop for a bathroom break. Which looks like this.


We continue on our way, smelling more and more like the produce aisle as we go along. We arrive at the border, where I have to get a Cambodian visa. While I am waiting, I notice the van door has been opened and the driver is ripping into a bag of the cabbage., the one that was at Joy’s feet nearest the door. He hands off six heads of cabbage to a man on a motorbike, who stacks them all in front of him, balancing one on top of the other, and takes off. He starts passing out a few more to the men at the border, which they all happily accept. I finally get all my paperwork filled out, get stamped through, then, we hop back in the cabbage wagon and take off again. 

The roads get more treacherous to navigate as soon as we enter Cambodia. Causing a lot of bouncing around. There are no seat belts, of course, so its hard to anchor yourself to any one thing. We arrive in Stung Treng, which is our transit town where we switch vans. As we unload our stuff at the stop and say goodbye to the cabbage van, all I can think is: what will we be hauling next?

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America, Asia, Beauty, Culture, Family, Health, Missions, Travel

Mother Roasting

I saw Mama Lao today. In case you missed hearing about her, you can see Be Nice. for reference. She saw me and immediately said (in Lao): my foreign daughter! I’m so glad to have you back! I’ve picked up the word for foreign: it’s pronounced like falong. So I always know when people are talking about me. Which seems to happen quite often around here.


I’m a little late on a Mother’s Day post. Things move a lot slower in Laos, so according to our standards, I’m probably right on time for Mother’s Day. Plus, they don’t really celebrate that holiday here, or atleast not at the same time as we do. 

It just so happened, though, that my Monday lesson was about pregnancy, breastfeeding, and introducing children to new foods. Did I mention that I was teaching this lesson to a room full of Lao ladies who have almost all been through this process? Did I also mention that I have never been through any of these processes? I think that should go without saying, but still. Book knowledge vs. real life experience never compares. 


And, as with everything else, they had quite a bit to teach me. Our sessions are really informal, with me introducing topics and then asking them questions about it. Then, inevitably, they’ll ask me questions about America and the way we do things. It’s a learning experience from both sides. Which I love. 

They asked me about water births. That’s something that is so foreign to them, so they wanted to know how it works, if it’s beneficial, etc. I know a little about the subject, so I was able to share with them what I knew. 

Then, they said: do you do mother roasting in America? 

That’s the literal translation of it. Mother roasting. 

I had read about it before, so I wasn’t unfamilar with the process or terminology. But, I’d read about it in the context of villagers in Cambodia. So, to be in a roomful of doctors who had experienced this surprised me.

Mother roasting starts right after child birth. They keep the new mother in a room, with coals under her bed and keep the temperature extremely hot. It’s supposed to be a cleansing process for her body. In some cases, the mother is also required to squat over hot coals as well, for cleansing purposes. And, they insist that every new mother take a scalding shower a few days after childbirth with water as hot as they can get it. 

The time for mother roasting varies from woman to woman. It’s essentially a time of confinement for the woman, where she stays in the house, alternating between time on the hot bed. Relatives will come visit and the woman does not cook at all during this time. A lot of them see it as a treat. It’s almost a welcome to motherhood. 

Most of the doctors said they had done it only for about two weeks after birth. Other mothers had their roast for 1 to even 3 months. It’s been 111 degrees here for a few days, so I can’t imagine being trapped in a hot room on top of the already unbearable heat. But, it’s a very culturally accepted and necessary practice. 

So, I’ve decided that I’ll wear the Lao skirt, I’ll eat the Lao noodles, but I don’t think mother roasting is a practice I’ll adopt. Once a falong, always a falong. 

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Asia, Auto, Food, Health, Missions, Religion, Travel

Not of this World

I’ve done it, guys. I think I finally have mastered the art of riding side saddle on a motorbike. Hands politely in my lap, balancing carefully as we go around the corners. I’m officially a Southeast Asian lady. 
So far, I think I’ve had my picture taken about 73 times since I’ve been here. This morning, I saw one of the ladies in our nutrition training session trying to take a picture of me as we were preparing to begin. So, I stopped what I was doing and stood still to smile for a picture. Because, if you’re going to take my picture, I atleast want it to be a good one. Then, that opened the door for personal pictures, so some of the other women took pictures with me. 


I forget sometimes that I stand out here. I’m trying my best to blend in. I wear the Lao skirt. I sit side saddle on the back of the motorbike as we navigate the streets of the town. I know their greeting, so I greet the people that I meet in their own language. I fold my hands and bow politely when I meet someone. 

Today, one of the women brought me a Lao traditional basket of black rice (because I had asked some questions about it yesterday), so I took it for lunch. As we were walking from the hospital back to the motorbike, with my Lao skirt on, carrying my Lao basket of rice, I thought to myself, I am blending in. Adopting a few of the customs. Dressing like them. Eating like them. 


Then, I looked up, came out of my day dream, and realized that I am a blonde girl, who is about a head taller than everyone here, and people are still staring at me. Actually, they’re staring at me more than if I were dressed in my normal clothes.

Why?

Because they can see by the way I look, by the way I act, by the way I speak, that I don’t really belong here. Not that I’m not welcome here. I feel very welcomed here. But, by taking on some of their culture and adapting to some of their ways, they’re wondering even more: who is she and what is she doing here? She’s obviously different, why is she trying to be the same?

The Bible speaks about this phenomenon a little bit too. In Romans 12:2, the apostle Paul urges the believers to not conform to the pattern of this world. Again, in John 18:36, Jesus reminds us that His Kingdom is not here in this world, but beyond. 

As believers, we are called to be different. The way that Christ lived, the example that He gave for us to follow, doesn’t look anything like what this world promotes. Where we want to hate, Jesus said to love. Where we want to judge, Jesus said to forgive. Where we want to fight, Jesus said to make peace. 

Like me in a Lao skirt on the back of a motorbike, true believers stand out, even in the midst of the world all around us. Why?

Because we don’t belong here.

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America, Animals, Asia, Food, Health, Missions, Travel

Southern Fried

In the South, we fry things. Like everything. 

I’m pretty sure if it can be dipped in a batter and thrown in hot grease, it’s been tried in the southern states in America. We can all agree on this, right? 

Well, apparently in Southern Laos, they fry things too. 

Like things we’ve never thought of.

Our friend , Jenny


Fried june bugs, anyone? 


Haven’t seen that one at a state fair yet.. 

My real story starts out with me being smart. Like all the best stories do. I thought ahead before I came, planned my packing list, brought smart things. Like a clip fan. Because I knew what the rooms were like and air flow is important, so I thought, this is a smart bring.

And it was. So I got it out once I got here, proud of myself for thinking ahead, plugged it in (using a power adapter that I was smart to bring), and went about getting ready for my day. 

I noticed before I plugged it in that the plastic had broken slightly around the part that attaches the fan to the clip. So, being the smart Arkansas girl that I was, I thought, no problem, I’ll buy some duct tape. 

No problem, quick fix


About two minutes into putting my makeup on, I thought I smelled something. Slightly sweet. Maybe hair spray. But, I hadn’t used hair spray. Maybe my straightener. But, it wasn’t plugged in. Because the fan was plugged in. 

So, I lifted up the fan, no problems detected, went back to my task. But, the smell was getting stronger. So, I unplugged the fan because I thought it was circulating the smell and I wanted to identify what was causing it. Smart idea, right? 

Until I picked up the fan again. 


Fried. Fried in a whole new way. 

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Asia, Culture, Missions, Religion, Travel

Passport Pile Ups

There are literally 18 people on this flight. I know because I counted. This is my 4th trip (7th flight) on Lao Airlines, which I think should qualify me for Frequent Flyer status. 

Waking up from a jet lag induced sleep is probably like waking up from a coma. I wouldn’t know, but I feel like that’s maybe accurate. I slept really, really soundly and woke up in a dark, strange room by myself, wondering where I was at. I set my alarm for 9 am, to make sure I made it in time for breakfast. Which I did. A bowl of miso soup, a salad, rice, watermelon, and coffee. 

Breakfast of champions


Now that I think about it, I’ve had a salad for breakfast three mornings of the last ten mornings.. Strange. 

You always have plenty of time, until you don’t. I’m not the best at managing time, as noted in my number 1 instruction from my brother before I left: “Pay attention to the time.” 

I needed to leave the hotel in Bangkok to go back to the airport at 1:30 pm. That gave me the morning to work out, chill at the pool for a bit, then get ready to go. I made it to the airport perfectly on time, checked in with no problems, flight boarding at 3:15 pm. 


“Hope the lines aren’t long!” Famous last words. Security was fine, my bags only got searched once. Passport control: another story. I can tell something is going on as I approach the escalator to go down. Sure enough, I look down to see a sea of people. The passport control is so crowded that they won’t let anyone else go down til it clears. Looks like plenty of time just turned into running late. 


I’m at the front of the line to go down, so when I get on the floor, I go as far forward as I can and start trying to figure out how I can make my way ahead faster. This is where it comes in handy to be blonde. One older Chinese guy sees me looking a little concerned and yells at his friends to let me ahead. I take the small pass gladly and focus only on what’s in front of me. Which happens to be 300 other Asian tourists. 

I hate it when people start yelling in a crowd. But, add in the element of not being able to understand what is being yelled and it’s slightly terrifying. I’m in the middle of trying to elbow two Asian women out of the way because I was in line in front of them and they knew it, when I hear the yelling from behind. 


As I turn in the direction of the commotion, I quickly realize the escalator is going and people are still coming down, but we’ve run out of floor space. There’s a pile up at the bottom of the escalator, literally. People are just running into other people and falling down on top of each other. The ones coming down realize too late what’s going on and can’t turn around. The people on the floor have no where else to go. 

One American guy decides to bail off the side of the escalator as he gets closer to the bottom, which sends people into a panic, trying to get the escalator shut off. Which causes all the more yelling in about 5 different languages.

Finally, someone shuts down the whole operation, as people are trying to shove forward to make more room. My flight is boarding in 30 minutes and the line is still forever long. Causing me to panic. Because there is one Lao Airline flight per day. And I don’t wanna be stuck in Thailand. 

Somehow, I successfully manage to keep the Asian ladies from cutting in front of me, get my passport stamped and make it to the gate with a little time to spare. Check ya later, Bangkok! 

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Asia, Food, Missions, Religion, Travel

Time Lapse

I woke up at 5 this morning. There is something about waking up and realizing it will be around 30 hours until you see another bed that makes you kinda not wanna get up. 

Since I get asked quite a bit what it’s like to travel so far, I was going to detail everything from when I woke up to when I went back to bed. But, 30 hours is a lot to cover and I really don’t think anyone cares that much. So, I’ll (try to) condense it for you. Woke up at 5, picked all the raisins out of my bowl of Raisin Bran because I don’t like them that much, got to the airport, screaming baby, rain delay, gate change, fly to Chicago, 30 minutes late, rush to gate, early, grilled chicken salad 10:41 am, still early, last minute phone calls and boarding. 

Brunch


*note that all the time stamps are based on home time, since I don’t really know how to convert it in an understandable way across so many time zones.

11:47 am: got an aisle seat and both seats next to me are still open, trying not to glare at every passenger who walks by, silently deterring them from taking the seats I could sleep in. 

11:49 am: hopes dashed, other aisle seat taken, but middle is open, so it could be worse. 

12:11 pm: take off, settled in for the next 12 hours and 2 minutes

12:34 pm: scan movie selection, choose The Monuments Men

1:22 pm: decide to paint my nails, finish one hand and part of the other before a flight attendant tells me that nail polish is not allowed because of the fumes.. Mentally plan to finish when she’s not looking, nickname her Nailpolish Nazi. 

1:57 pm: receive lunch, which consists of chicken teriyaki, rice, vegetables, salad and a roll. Eat the dry lettuce and the roll (not pictured for obvious reasons) The rest looks less than appetizing. 


2:38 pm: start second movie (Spotlight), Nailpolish Nazi brings me some green tea gelato. I take it as a peace offering and decide maybe she’s not that bad. 


I get a little lost between 3 and 11 pm.. I think I alternate between movies, reading, and lightly dozing.

11:29 pm: “breakfast” meal, which I only get for the roll. My options are eggs or teryaki noodles. Also, note that the smell of this food is awful and want to tell Nailpolish Nazi that this is what shouldn’t be allowed to be opened on a plane. 

12:13 am: flight lands, it was right at about 12 hours total.

Tokyo airport: (12:45 am – 2:45 am) spend a lot of time waiting in lines, boarding pass change, takes forever. Long walk, where is everyone?, am I going the right way? 


Bright side: upgraded to EconomyPlus seating (whatever that means) for free. Lay down on a bench at my boarding gate and contemplate going to sleep. 

2:55 am: complete exhaustion setting in, board for Bangkok, another 7 hour flight.

3:03 am: realize that the EconomyPlus seating slightly reclines and I cease to care about pretty much everything else.


4:17 am: “dinner” meal, I get a “western” option and a Japanese option.. Choose western, but it looks Japanese anyway. Eat a tiny piece of spongy chocolate cake and leave the rest. Lean back and try to get some rest. 

4:25 am: can’t get comfortable, decide to watch a movie, pick “Pretty Woman” and realize I’ve never actually watched this movie before.

6:13 am: delusional, try to get comfortable enough to fall asleep, realize that I’ve officially crossed the 24 hour mark of no sleep. Feeling every minute of it. 

9:19 am: completely wake up, spent the last few hours flipping from side to side, restlessly, catching 30 minutes of sleep here and there because I’m finally so tired that I can’t physically go without sleep anymore.

9:42 am: land in Bangkok, passport control, bags, where am I?, airport shuttle.

10:48 am (10:48 pm Bangkok time): checked into my room at a hotel near the airport, 29 hours and 48 minutes since I’ve seen a bed, sleep. 

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