We follow Brice on his motorbike in the streets of Vientiane, already half in the dark. Three years ago, we already visited Brice and Vanh while we were touring Asia. We are impatient to see the family again: Vanh's parents, her sisters, little Aline who was just born when we were last here and Estelle, born a month ago.
We stay with Brice and Vanh in their little house, at the back of the main house. It is not very big: a kitchen, a bathroom and a living room, all one after the other (no corridor) but the European feel makes us feel at home. In France, each room has a purpose: we sleep in the bedrrom, eat in the dining room, watch a movie in the living room ... In Lao, the rooms are used for several purposes: at lunch time and in the evening, people pick a small cane table hung on the wall and everyone sit around on low stools; at night, they unroll mattresses and the bedroom is ready! Even though there is a gas cooker, Vanh's family often cooks on the wooden stove in the yard. It also fulfils a social purpose: while the sticky rice is heating up in the basket or the chicken is roasting on the barbecue, the women sit on low stools and talk.
Life goes at a peaceful pace here. In the morning, Brice goes to work (or sometimes takes a day off, it's Christmas after all!). The women go about their daily tasks: sweeping the floor, cooking, caring for the children, washing clothes... Women in Europe lead a much more stressful life whether they are single or in a couple: drop their baby at kindergarten, take the children to school, work and then get back to housework in the evening. Here the tasks are shared and if Vanh needs to run an errand, she can leave Estelle with her mother or sisters.
For us, it is even more relaxing. Once the bikes are cleaned up and the blog more or less up to date, we can relax! For lunch, Vanh cooks Lao or French cuisine (spaghetti bolognaise, steaks for Ben!). Sometimes, she hops on her scooter and brings back vietnamese nems or fish grilled in a salt crust. Every morning, one of the girls go and buy fresh baguettes for Ben. Sylvie hopes that between the butter and the Nutella, he puts back on some kilos. Less than 10 kg gap between us, she is gutted! Thanks to Brice, we make an appearance in the Vientiane Times! We had already been interviewed while we were crossing Turkey but we never got to see the article. This time, Brice sends us a scan (you can see it in photo album for Lao).
On Christmas day, nothing changes. At the time where everyone is running like headless chickens for last minute shopping in Europe, here no one seems to care. Most people here are Buddhists. And New Year here is actually celebrated in April and they are way ahead of us. In April 2009, they will celebrate year 2552! Toun, one of Vanh's sister, join us with Jacob, her German boyfriend. We celebrate Christmas with a curry and pineapple chicken cooked by Ben and a lemon and meringue pie, courtesy of Sylvie. Cooking is a bit of a challenge, the equipment doesn't suit European cooking: we struggle to break an egg on the round edge of the bowl, the 'pie dish' doesn't fit in the oven but Ben solves the problem by reshaping it! And we fight between us for the single gas cooker!! At the end, everyone loves it.
On the 31st December, Brice and Vanh invite family and friends to a basi for Estelle. It is a ceremony to wish good luck to someone. Last time, they did a basi just for us! Brice's father also did one to bring good luck to his society when he moved offices. This time, we celebrate Estelle's birth. As she is a baby, the tradition specifies the ceremony has to be held in the morning. Everyone gathers around a magnificent flower bunch, some cold chicken, sticky rice and alcohol. An old man says some prayers then everyone ties white bracelets on Estelle's wrists. She is so tiny, the bracelets make like white sleeves on her arms! Brice and Vanh also get a lot of bracelets and then everyone starts tying bracelets on the rest of the family. The one who ties the bracelet says a few words: 'A lot of money, a good job, a lot of children, good health...'. The ceremony ends up with a party as it is always the case here: heaps of food and alcohol! In the evening, we celebrate the New Year at Michel (Brice's father) and Vi's, his wife. We have barbecued lamb (reared by Michel), a big salad and a few cocktails ... the evening ends on a mix of French and Lao music!
In Vientiane, we meet at last with Amanda and Olivier (globicyclette). We met them in Paris while we were preparing our trip. They left a year and a half before us and their website was our therapy when we were feeling the day of leaving was too far away. They started their trip the other way round: Iceland, South America, China,Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Khirghistan ... and we meet in Lao! We were hoping to cycle a bit together but they are going north and we are cycling south to Bangkok. We share with them all the information for northern Lao and Khirghistan, very useful! We also meet Fabien and Coralie whom Amanda and Olivier met in Bangkok. They crossed Asia in a 2CV (small old Citroen car)! We spend a few days together, have lunch, talk travels... That's how we learn formalities have changed to enter Thailand. Those who enter by land can only stay 15 days. Longer than that, we would need to either extend or buy a visa. So we delay our departure from Vientiane by two days.