Friday, February 9, 2018

You Can't Wear Elephant Pants

These. Are. Fabulous.
"You live here now, and you need to know this: you cannot wear elephant pants. That's what separates the expats from the backpackers."

I want to believe that my friend is joking, but I take stock of the places I've been, and it dawns on me: only backpackers wear the kaleidoscope parachute pants that are sold by the pile at the night market.

"But my teenage cousin-in-law has a pair of red ones, any my landlady wears them!"

"And they're Lao. They can. You can't."

I'm crestfallen. Not because I just spent 20,000 kip on a pair of fantabulous fisherman pants at the night market. You see....nothing fits me anymore.

That's an exaggeration. I still have my leggings. Of my ten sinths, only three still fit, but even they are struggling against my body-by-beer-Lao. My principal has given me permission to wear stretchy skirts while I sort out my December binge eating. But I was really, really looking forward to a meeting at the river office in my new elephant pants.

I sigh, and lovingly fold the elephant pants into a messy pile, and put them back in the "can't leave the house in this" pile. Backpackers. Grr. They're not everywhere, just in certain parts of town. But in a town as small as Vientiane, that can feel like everywhere. Our apartment isn't close to anything interesting, and still, just down the block, my friend saw two backpackers with thumbs out, sign blazing "Luang Prabang or Bust!" (Not the smartest move, since, at 340 km along mountainous roads, it's already a 7 hour drive... and a bus ticket is $21.00 with air con, and for a whopping $6 extra you can get lunch and a toilet). They are easy to identify, even without the trademark guidebooks (it's all mobile now, anyways). They're dressed like jerks. They come in Indiana Jones explorer gear, more pockets than you could possibly need, shiny new boots laced to the top ankle, missing only a bag to carry the looted tomb goodies. Or, they have on the tiniest shorts, spaghetti strap tanks, dirty hair, and a slight hangover. And of course, elephant pants. Sometimes couples are in matching elephant pants (what happens during the breakup?? Who keeps the matching set?! Is this in the prenup??).

I've been the tourist in Laos who wore the sleeveless shirt and shorts to a Wat, and was kindly, but firmly, given a sinth from a dusty box to cover myself up. That banged up box of donated sinths from the temple's ladies auxiliary exists for backpackers and ignorant tourists (like myself) who missed that bold type in the guidebook "don't be a jerk." Rather, it probably read something like, "Laos and Thailand are culturally modest countries, and it is extremely impolite to be half naked, so, please, outside of bars, cover your upper arms and thighs." Just not with elephant pants.
Sinth of Shame, circa 2012

The thing about the backpackers are: you're not entering the wilds of unexplored territory. You're visiting a capitol city of a country with an ancient history, that at the very least, has wi-fi. And most aren't going into the rural provinces for anything more than a bathroom break. They'll leave Vientiane and head to Vang Vieng for the great outdoors, Luang Prabang for elephant tourism and ancient temples, or down south for waterfalls and Wat Phou, the sister temple to Angkor Wat. So, if you wouldn't dress like an 1800's English tomb raider for a visit to a German castle, then why dress like that for a tour of a living, working, breathing temple in Southeast Asia?

 (You know the answer, I know the answer: orientalism. Stay woke, my readers).

I have so many more thoughts on backpackers, but I must admit something: I'm jealous. I'm jealous I didn't save my $7.45/hour Bath and Body Works college pay and backpack somewhere with a friend. I'm jealous I didn't spend my honeymoon posing in front of the Taj Mahal, or sipping green tea in a Kyoto tea house. I'm jealous I don't get to wear my elephant pants in a new city, eyes glittered over by the golden temples and glistening dumplings. But I'm not jealous of their flight home, where they relive the last week, month, or more of exploration, then lovingly fold their elephant pants in to a messy bunch, and place them in the "can't leave the house in this" pile. By the time I leave Laos, I'll only have elephant pants and sinths to wear anyways.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Some People Can't Sabai

"Sabai, sabai!!" They trill at me. It is meant to come out like a trickling giggle, a bubbling stream of words to dissolve the irritation and anger I'm spewing at the airport security officer. It's January 2012, and a MacBook went into the airport security scanner, and somehow hasn't come out. That MacBook is property of Prince George's County Schools, and I'm an unemployed mom with no job prospects. We cannot afford to lose this MacBook on vacation.

I'm making this point clear to the confused security guard, while the laxidaisical French backpackers cheer me past with their Columbus'd "sabai, sabai, it's ok ma chere, sabai." Two weeks in the jungle and they're all chill as the OG that sells coconuts on the roadside. And they're in my face trying to calm down the crazy American  instead of browsing the postcards on the side that's their business.
If you know me, you've seen one of these outbursts. If we don't get along, you've been on the other side of my tirades. As expected, the tirade had the anticipated affect, and another guard sheepishly rounds the corner with the MacBook, and a mumbled excuse of "it's clean." Damn right it's clean.

Sabai means "be content," in Lao, and "happy" in Thai, but has a much deeper cultural meaning, that I can roughly translate into "be cool, it's all good, chillout, chillax." It's more than a vocabulary word. It's an attitude. It's the reason most expats never leave. Nothing is a problem in Laos. Anything can be fixed with a little relaxation, having a few friends and family over, perhaps another beer, if it's a serious problem, call in the grandmas, and add whiskey. The international aid workers here actually have strategies to handle the amount of beer and whiskey that they're poured... during development meetings. Nothing really happens on a schedule, no one is ever too terribly upset, and no one ever yells. And yet, things get done.

I have yet to see anyone multitask since I got here.

I multitask constantly. I brush my teeth and pick out my clothes or cook breakfast. I finalize meeting plans while washing my lunch dish and brewing my afternoon tea. I'm practicing my Lao vocab as I write this blog.

The D.C. in me cannot sabai.

Part of the draw of Laos was to sabai a little more, panic a little less. The lifestyle of chill is the polar opposite of my harried D.C. suburb-commuter-tiger mom life. Boon has always had a little inner sabai, which is part of what I love about him (and part of what drives me crazy about him). Now, after a substantial time totally immersed in sabai, I have concluded: some people just cannot sabai.
In the past two weeks, I've had to bite my tongue and go with the sabai flow maybe three times. Each time, I've found myself calculating how this thing could be done more efficiently, with more clarity and less frustrations. On the outside I'm just snarky, but on the inside, I'm like Lord Farquad before the dragon eats him, screaming "I will have rules! I will have order! I will have perfection!" I bite down a little harder, let out just a few snarky retorts, and let the process proceed in Lao style. What ever it is, it will get done. Sabai, Sabai.
Enjoying a little sabai sunset on a boat, because, why not?

Stateside, the mindfulness movement is the closest thing I can think of to sabai- a social experiment with being present in the moment, taking perspective of the situation, and taking small joy. An academic I was once serving as a bridesmaid once told me, "I hate the mindfulness movement, they're just repackaging Asian culture for stressed out white people." I was a little hurt at the time, having just discovered meditation and dealing with my stress outside of a gin bottle, but she may have been on to something.

Caden is finding his balance under the sabai as well. First off, he's already a little oddball, with a little Napoleon complex about playing. Ordinarily, he quits a game when people stop following instructions, or veer from the plan. Slowly, surely, he's letting go on the playground, and letting things just be. He's learning to just sabai when things don't go his way, at least from what others tell me. He's still a little Lord Business at home.

Boon, well, he's gone full sabai. I'm not sure there's any turning back now. Declan? He's just happy to be here.

Where does the sabai stop? At my door front? Can I shut out the sabai and have order and perfection at home? Where should the sabai stop? Could the perfection maybe take a break? Could I let it rest until I'm back in my office, over looking the D.C. traffic and snow? Should I pack a little in my soul and let it stay there? Questions, questions.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Once in a Lifetime

We've never seen this view of the town before, and looking down on Vientiane's river walk from a hotel rooftop, it strikes me that this is a city, and is a small town, at the same time. The river grass is a shock of green across a brown and grey landscape, with the sidewalk restaurants all blending together to form a single stream of twinkle lights along it's banks. The view ends around the midsection of the night market, which has quadrupled in size since our 2012 visit, growing with the tourists. On a Wednesday night, it's bustling.

Caden's face is streaked with dirt and tears. It doesn't matter how many times you wash his face off, he seems to have a permanent dusting of dirt on his face and legs. This is, "the worst night of [his] life." Huddled on an elephant cushioned elegant wooden chair, arms crossed and face contorted, not even the tickles and nose jokes of our goofy Irish friend can make him smile. He collapses into giggles, then regains his posture of dejected anger, a cycle he'll repeat for the next ten minutes. Declan is tippy-toed to the edge, nose touching the railing, breathing in this new place and stretching to cover it all.

We're at a table for 15, waiting on the moon.

After much debate, "river boat? Mekong rooftop bar? Regular bar? Down town rooftop? Street? School yard..?" our friends have settled on this hotel rooftop restaurant. The super blue blood moon eclipse is set to begin it's moon-rise and eclipse at 5:51 pm, become visible by 6:48 pm, begin the partial eclipse at 7:48 pm and full eclipse by 8:29 pm. These three incidents, being super, blue, and blood, only occur every few years, and since the last one was in 1983, and the next one is in 19 years, it could be considered once-in-a-lifetime. I'm not planning to have dementia by 53, but I'm not hedging my bets on it either. However, the eclipse part only happens every once in 150 years, and judging by my diet and exercise routine, I'm not going to make it to that one. So, here we are at 5:51 pm, bundled up against the uncharacteristic chilly night, hoping to see the celestial wonder.

If the clouds would consider moving.

It hasn't rained in weeks, and yet, for once, the night sky is a sea of grays. Our beers and pineapple smoothies arrive, with spicy Lao sausage and green bean stirfry. I hope this will take the edge off of Caden's hangry, but the 11 fried red chilis on the plate signal a new wave of weeping. My Finnish friend is hopeful and keeps pointing to where the moon should be. At 6:48, she points to the roof corner of the hotel next door, just in case the clouds are just slightly less gray, proving the moonlight is seeping through. Declan joins in Caden's misery, when I try to swap the cellphone, a consolation prize Boon has given him, for the comic book in my purse. So. Many. Tears. Fried fish cakes, like little lemony Girl Scout cookies, arrive, which lessens the sorrow.

Soon, the table is covered in bright white plates with shimmering fried kaffir lime leaves, golden bowls flecked with peanut and chili dust, vibrant green lettuces and herbs bound tightly in pearly wraps. The table fills in as our Belgian/French/Indonesian/Thai friends arrive, and toasts continue for our friend's birthday on this auspicious night. It's 7:17 pm; the clouds do not clear. Our American-turned-Kiwi friends arrive, the husband now the only one warm in his 20-year old Mexican sarape, and I remember his story of the time "La Bamba" saved his life in the Mexican foothills. The conversation turns to past lives. Doing the math out loud, my friend and I realize we made more than 10x the salary in the USA. From the river front restaurants, the Thai pop music is sung by two lovesick and tortured teens, and if I knew what they were singing, I'd probably be sad too.

Caden's hangry sets, as Declan's clingy rises. Our Australian teacher-turned miner-turned creative writing teacher-principal turns up, immediately recognizable in his safety-orange motorbike jacket. Finnish friend is on the verge of conceding to the clouds, but still looks hopefully to the space where the moon should be. Just last night, she and I saw it, bright and nearly full, outshining the night market stalls just a few meters away.  7:47, no moon on the horizon. Our Lao-American friend arrives from coaching kid's soccer, with his Portuguese assistant coach who looks like he should be on a Portuguese football club team, not sipping whiskey in Southeast Asia. I'm sprinkling in my high school French to speak to my Belgian friend, since it's late and she's probably really, really tired of translating into English all night. She's kind, and essentially spends the time correcting my grammar. It's time to accept it: there will be no super blue blood moon eclipse for Vientiane.

In the parking lot of our apartment building, I think about the last blood moon. I watched in flannel pajama pants from college, holding Declan in a blanket my aunt knit for him. We gazed at the moon from my bedroom window, the second floor of the townhouse just high enough to see over the identical town houses, across the treeline. Even his infant eyes were mesmerized by the tea stained moon that loomed large in an inky blue sky.  It's 8:10 pm, and I look up one last time, hoping to see the moon as we walk into the building. It's there, the shimmering outline of something bright and not-quite round, behind a thin wall of smoky clouds. I try to get the boys to look up, but they're too preoccupied for once-in-a-lifetime.

*ps: I have a photo of the rooftop view. Unfortunately, my battery died, and my cell phone won't charge anymore. This could become a very expensive problem, the least of which is my inability to get the photos from the phone... hm.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Beaches are All the Same

Every beach meant for vacationers has sand, salt water, some sunlight. Most have some food nearby, and perhaps an overpriced towel and tchotchke shop.  You will relax, dig your toes into the sand, consider life choices, and perhaps drink a few beers. If it is a nice beach, you may call it the "most beautiful beach in the world."

I'm pretty privileged, and I've gotten to experience the beaches of New Zealand, France, Morocco, Australia, Miami, and not least of all, Delaware. The beaches are all the same. They are all magic.
Delaware: not as bad as it sounds.

When I planned our winter get away, I was fully conscious that I wasn't exactly escaping from the cold. Vientiane had finally cooled down to a level of less-than-killing-me heat, and between our friends, our favorite bars, and more than two weeks without teaching or a contract job, we didn't really need an escape. I just wanted to see something new, break out these passports, and complete the mission of "seeing the world," during this little excursion from the USA. A Thai beach was a natural choice, especially given the inexpensive flights and hotels. Half a day of flying, one taxi ride in the darkness, and we arrived in Ao Nang beach, Krabi, Thailand.

Taken with her permission; don't ever
 take a person's photo without asking.
That's poor manners. 
Despite the copious airline food, I had to leave the hotel and experience Thai street food the minute we settled in. At 10:00 pm, I walked down the alley from our hotel and onto the main drag, immediately encountering Krabi's "Muslim Street." Que?? Is this appropriate?? Well, technically, it's the two blocks facing the local mosque and masjid, where local women sell crispy candied pancakes, rotis filled with every fruit you can find here, fried chicken sandwiches and shwarma, and of course, pad thai. I watch the roti woman make roti after roti for the locals and tourists, her arms rolling, flipping, smacking the dough by muscle memory. I know at this moment, I will eat a roti every single day we are here, and possibly twice a day. My eyes aren't bigger than my stomach, something I immediately regret when my modest purchase is devoured by my brood within minutes of arriving back at the hotel.

Taking a tuk tuk down the modest walk from hotel 1 to the beach, we pass by art galleries, coffee shops, food carts, and tattoo shops. Signs are in English, Thai, Hindi, and sometimes German. Blonde and sun burnt 20 somethings stagger back to hostels in their flip flops and tie-dye balloon pants, sunglasses covering what must be bloodshot eyes. Golden browned backs with impressive sun hats stroll in opposite directions, pushing their strollers and babbling about sunscreen levels.

We arrive early enough to see all the long boats lined up for tours; one will leave every few minutes, taking six or so tourists to one of the many islands that make Krabi famous, including one from a James Bond movie filmed in the 1960s, but still relevant. The boat captains wear matching blue long-sleeve water-wicking shirts that proclaim the long boat cooperative of Krabi, and lounge barefoot on the benches, playing cards, drinking coffees, kicking a threadbare soccer ball. They ignore the tourist, seeing through them to the ocean, clear aquamarine on this still morning.

We settle in the sand, and immediately are offered an icy Chang beer, folding bamboo mat, pineapple cut into sticks, and various earrings. It's only 9, so we take the mat, but forgo the beer until 10. We're not drunks, you know.  We can sit here for hours, watching the tide and the long boats, leaving the boys to their own devices in the still, shallow water, waiting as various foods are brought by on the broad strong shoulders of men and women much older than us. The beach chefs carry two buckets across their backs, suspended on a bamboo stick. Some carry just food. Others carry food and a grill, ready to sear the last bit of sweetness into the corn, fish, or chicken you know you need after two beach beers.

We spend almost five days like this, trading the hotel for a resort, and cooling down in the pool when the beach becomes a sauna. We watch bridesmaids trips do old cheer leading routines in the sand, and Korean couples in matching bathing suits, so many selfie sticks it starts to look like part of the flora and fauna of the beach. A proposal is held right in front of our beach mat on our island trip, and the couple poses for the next hour in a pre-arranged photo shoot. The boys find live crabs that fit in their hands, and try to catch fish in the shallow end.

We consider a jungle trek, which Krabi is also famous for, but can't find a trip that doesn't involve riding an elephant. It feels like we're missing an opportunity to explore, but the consolation prize is another day in the sand, so we're not too sad. I comb through the tchotchke shops, looking for items made in Thailand, and find very few. A few postcards by a 'local' artist; a foreigner who dropped his backpack in Krabi and decided to make a go at living the dream. A machine embroidered clutch that invokes the flowers on the island. A rainbow pashmina for Well, my mother-in-law's mae bahn who is quitting on New Years. After a few shops, we're ready to go back to the water. There's just nothing special on the strip.

There's a reason we run away to the beach. Every beach is the same.

Have Kids, Will Travel, May Scream.

My boys are troopers: they're soldiers of the long road-trip, veterans of the long-haul flight, and ninjas of the hotel circuit. I smile contemptuously when my parenting contemporaries claim they can't travel with children, that their dreams are on hold due to Junior, that really, the stay-cation is going great! I smile condescendingly, then launch into a monologue about the joys of traveling with children, toss back my cocktail, then sashay my way away towards more interesting individuals.

Aquarium: not pictured are the real live mermen
who swim with sharks for a kids show. 
When planning our winter get-away, I focused on covering as much ground as possible, so when the opportunity to take a long layover in Bangkok arose, I jumped at it. Four days in Bangkok, with two kids, and no spouse? Of course, I can totally handle this. For Christmas this year, I would give them the world, literally.

The thing about travel is: expect the unexpected. But don't be cocky enough to think you can cover all of the unexpected. So when my Air BnB cancelled just as I was getting onto the metro from the airport, at 7pm, after traveling all day, that was not exactly something I'd had a back up plan for. Single, adventurous Amanda could have gotten a hotel online in less than ten minutes. That's a task that is tripled with a travel-weary, potty-training two year old clinging to your neck. And perhaps doubled when your screen-afflicted/addicted five year old realizes the wi-fi doesn't work. Insult to injury, we can't figure out the intersection and the two metro train lines, end up walking in circles with a roller bag, and find the one terrible restaurant in the whole city for dinner. Within 24 hours of arriving in Bangkok, I was researching flight changes, and ready to throw in the towel on the whole trip.

Despite the "Murica-sized public tantrums, the Thai people I encountered were polite and gracious to my brood. The exception being one taxi driver, who refused to unlock the doors and made me stand in the street holding Declan, negotiating the destination before he pulled off, wheels screeching and my curses falling uselessly on his trunk. Bangkok was otherwise incredibly family friendly, with countless play areas, wide sidewalks (I'll explain in another post why that's so lovely), and a degree of cleanliness that I'm not accustomed to anymore.

Free Lego playzone in a mall; of course we went.
Taking a tuk-tuk to one destination, the boys marveled at the open air carriage, and felt the glee of the wind against their cheeks, mussing their hair, and chilling their spines. Briefly I considered the lack of seat belts, but then recognized the ridiculousness of it all: it's riding on the back of a pick up truck, but with a cushion. The traffic in Bangkok puts D.C. to shame, so their legs carried them across most the city, past luxurious holiday mall displays juxtaposed to ragged children selling bananas. We experienced Modern Bangkok: mega-malls with aquariums, incredible food, and movie theaters. We didn't try the old city, with gracefully aging temples, quiet gardens, and floating markets. Have you met Declan?? You try keeping him in a narrow boat when the sweets boat goes past. We missed a lot of what makes Bangkok Bangkok to foreigners; the orientalist charm of the "other." But when you live between Buddhist temples, it stops being quite so fascinating; meanwhile, a place with robotic dinosaurs is something kinda special.

Can I say we've been to Bangkok? Yes. Can I say we've experienced Bangkok? A little. Will I try Bangkok with them again? Of course.

I never learn.

Monday, January 22, 2018

One Chapter in a Lao Love Story

Full disclosure: I (Amanda) did not experience the events I am about to describe. I've been regaled with tales of the glory to such extent, that I feel competent to share the story. The experience, however, belongs entirely to Boon.

A seven hour drive in a chartered van turns into fifteen hours, between bathroom stops, roadside eateries, and the demands of the five older ladies in the van. Sometime after nine, legs stiff and head swimming from motion sickness and Beer Lao, I stumble out of the van.
Along is the one on the left,
if you were wondering. 

The next day, I'm woken up with a shot glass and the sounds of women bickering in the other room. I stand on the sidelines as Along, my bother, is dressed in the ornate traditional turquoise silk pantaloons and pointed slippers. As an attendant, I'm expected to walk by Along's side during the long procession to Sant's home, bearing some of his gifts to her. I'm also a barrier between him and the shots of Johnnie Walker whiskey that keep appearing, like disembodied hands just appearing with liquor. Of course, this means literally taking the shot for him. It's only 10 am, and I've had six shots of whiskey. And I'm only one of four attendants.

When the dressing is complete, the women are adorned like Faberge eggs, I'm handed a bundle and shoved out the door. We walk through the streets of Salavan carrying our gifts, while the women clap and sing to mor lam songs, and a family friend plays the khene.  Along carries flowers and candles, while an uncle carries a straw mat, someone carries a blanket, while I carry a meal. Along has to prove he can provide a home, warmth, and sustenance for his bride.

When we arrive at the house, Sant's family is ready for us. The women, in matching hot pink silk sinths, stand guard at the entrance, holding the silver sinth belts across the walkway, blocking us. Ha, ha, very funny, I think, and try to move forward. Shot 1 is tossed down my throat, almost before I'm sure what it is. I look to my left and my right, and Louis's cheeks are turning scarlet, as he fields the onslaught of whiskey. Some seven shots of whiskey later, and maybe an equal number of beer shots, the groom's family is finally allowed to enter, having proven our good intentions.

This is about the time when my memory fails me. I'm pretty sure the couple met up at some point, and I've seen a video of the bedroom being blessed. I know there was a basci blessing, the living room overflowing with towers of marigolds, candles, and incense. Somehow, I just wasn't in a condition to really know what I was looking at, but still standing tall. Later, just like most weddings, there was a reception with hundreds of attendees, everyone you know plus some you don't, with dancing, singing, and more whiskey. The bride, Sant, usually reserved and genteel, was dancing till 1am (and sometimes from the top of the table).

Salavan is a small town by American standards, but a sizeable city by Lao standards. Sant left Salavan to study medicine in Vientiane , but remains close to her family and friends in her home town. During the wedding week, the procession, the reception, and the days after, her friends come out of the woodwork with dishes of food, crates of beer, and apparently an endless supply of whiskey. Every event during the wedding has the touch of a family friend. While the nicest event hall in the town is booked for the reception, it's the meals before the reception, made with eggs fresh from someone's yard chickens, meats grilled while ladies swap memories and scheme about babysitting the couple's future children, and all shared with open hearts that I tell Amanda about, over and over again, subtly hinting "yea, you missed a good party."

ps: this took a long time to post, because I was hoping to add photos of the procession. As of now, I don't have any photos, but will add eventually. 

Toilets and Toddlers: a tale of two realities

By the time our plane landed in Vientiane, we were down to the last six colorfully printed, soy inked, biodegradable American diapers. By the time I woke up from my 24 hour nap, we were down to two. Clearly, we were in need of diapers.

First, we were taken to the mega-mart, D-Mart, a Chinese owned company that sells third quality exports to foreigners at a significant mark-up, but has the benefit of price tags and some level of English comprehension. At 160,000 kip, it seemed like a bit of a stretch to keep diapering Declan. After a few weeks, we realize that the Lao mini-marts also sell diapers, although not always in his size, but for nearly half the price.

Where are the cloth diapers? I don't know any Lao mothers well enough to get an answer to the question, since it's not polite to discuss poop at meals. I ask my own Mother-in-Law, but the face she gives me is about as close as she's gotten to contempt; it's just not polite, so she quickly busies herself in the garden. Given the fact that she won't touch a disposable diaper, I'm not entirely sure why I thought she'd want to invite cloth diapers into her life.  I consider the environmental impact of our 'sposies and realize that at least they won't spend forever in a landfill. They'll be burned with the rest of the trash. Which... perhaps, isn't much better.

At 90,000-150,000 kip, diapers are a luxury reserved for disposable incomes, foreign pay checks, and the lazy. Looking around Chou Anouvong Park, I see a lot of bare bottoms waddling across the grass, free-ballin' as my cousin would say. At 24 months old, it was about time Declan learned some responsibility: control of his own bottom. 

Inspired by all of the pants-less toddlers idly playing behind their mother's food stalls, we began toilet training with a splash. As in, urine all over my mother-in-law's floor. Of course, in the event of an accident, Live-at-Five-Action-News-Caden would come racing to cover the event. Inevitably, his super-senses, which could detect an accident, would fail him at locating the accident, and we'd have a second person covered in some amount of feces. This was a particularly popular dog-and-pony show to try before bedtime, while we video-chatted with family, or when a deadline was looming. 

Five months into this experiment, we've learned that by Lao parenting standards, we are complete failures. We aren't sure what we're doing differently, we only know, Lao parents are giving us "that look" and the bidet nearly negates the need for wipes. Lao toddlers train earlier; diaper companies start selling pull-ups at size small; by size medium, the flaps aren't even an option. It's a not so subtle "get on it, parents." By Declan's size XL, they're basically telling you "have you considered psychotherapy?" 

ps: I have the perfect picture for this blog, but realize that Declan might disown me in later life if I share a photo of him on the toilet. So, use your imagination.