|Vientiane still isn't on the level of "impromptu dance party to street music in Estonia" happiness, but it's something better than where I was when I started here, so I'll take it.|
I figured it was time for an update of sorts considering how generally gloomy I was about Vientiane in this post and yeah, for sure, in this one, too. Okay, let's get real, pretty much every post I've made since moving to Laos has included some element of side eyed exasperation at the fact that I am contractually bound to be here in this town until June rolls around. I don't retract anything I said before, and it's not that any of my fundamental issues have changed; rather, I've forged an uneasy truce with this town by changing some things in my control and then just accepting the patterns of life here and finding a way to work around the ridiculous thorny bits which are certainly still inexplicable to me.
Moving improved my situation exponentially. This has reinforced my skepticism of the oft quoted maxim of "Wherever you go, there you are!" Sure, just moving somewhere is not going to take your life from Shit Town to Ivory Tower if things are fundamentally really awful. Are you depressed, addicted to something, in a terrible relationship, stuck in debt, in a dead end job you hate, did you make a huge mistake and are now dealing with the consequences? Yeah, moving isn't going to change anything. Same problems, different place, this is clear. But where you live, from your house to your town all the way up to your country, absolutely affects your quality of life; if the fundamentals are good, but you're still not happy, a change of scenery really can make all the difference. In my case, my location was not only steeped in some bad memories, but it wasn't supporting me in being very social or active. By that I mean it was too easy, in the state of mind in which I found myself, to walk the 5 minutes to home and just stay in for the night. In contrast, now I walk 15 minutes home and at that point I'm only a 20 minute walk downtown to the river to watch the sunset. It's far easier to just keep going, or to drop off my bag and go out, than it was to drag myself back out of my house again. Of course, if I had a scooter this would be a moot point, but I do prefer walking or bicycling, so again, my new place supports me far better.
The second thing is that I just gave up trying to understand what is, to me, a very bizarre social scene, compared to other countries in which I've lived and traveled, and other states in which I've lived and traveled. I don't know if it's Vientiane's fundamental culture, the intersection between local culture and expat culture, the fact that it's SE Asia, the impact of the backpacker trail which is fully blazed through here, but whatever it is, I felt like I couldn't get any footing or human connection on almost any level that made any sense and so many interactions felt strange. I still find the social stratification and groupings here to be oddly formal and segregated, but it is what it is and I'm learning to just work around the random awkwardness that I encounter. This is wholly and utterly new to me- I have never, ever, ever, ever, I'm going to say never again just for emphasis, had any issues with feeling out of place with people in any country in which I have lived or traveled. Those of you who know me in real life know of my penchant for making friends just about anywhere, and many of you reading are people I have been lucky enough to meet along the road, and I'm so glad our paths crossed and you resonated with whatever crazy I was putting down when we met. On that level, Vientiane humbled me- I couldn't figure it out, I clearly wasn't getting it, what the hell was going on, I'm the Make Friends Everywhere Girl, why does this place feel so deeply icy and reserved toward me? Looking back, I think that I was probably so out of sorts from everything falling apart in the first month I moved here that I was just incapable of being a fundamentally pleasant person to be around. I was resentful, stressed out, overwhelmed, and often depressed. Sounds like a good time, right? Who wants to hang out with that person? I didn't even want to hang out with me, but I had no choice. I also know that I certainly wasn't feeling up for extending myself that much (see that entire previous paragraph about coming home from work and just staying in my house).
Graduate school deserves a shout out for making my life suck at the beginning of my contract here. It was really hard on me this semester, and unnecessarily so due to just getting behind because of a lack of internet access. Those 6 weeks of backlog have dragged me down this entire semester and it has been something I have worried over almost every day. I've just now, finally, gotten a handle on it but make no mistake- I'm still not finished, and I'm learning to accept the reality of an incomplete. Speaking of school, work has finally hit that excellent spot where you're over the first three months and you know your kids, your schedule, the flow of daily work, and you have your planning and grading down. School and teaching finally shrinking down to a much more manageable pace and workload help more than I can adequately express.
I also have to cut myself some major slack because this summer marked a year since my sister's death, and shortly after that I moved here, started a new job, my boyfriend left, grad school kicked off, I felt socially isolated, and I was doing everything I could just to hang on by my fingernails. I don't mind admitting I barely made it, and there were many days when it took everything in me not to quit my job and go somewhere else. Not home, just not here. As it turns out, that feeling was satisfied simply by moving into my new apartment.
If someone asked me if I like living in Vientiane, I would still say, in general, no, but there are many specifics that I really enjoy. It has to be said that this is not just Vientiane's fault- by the end of this contract I will have lived and worked in two developing countries for two years back to back with no break to go home. It's been interesting, I've learned a lot, I've honestly had more fun than I thought was possible, but I can definitely feel the fatigue of lack of infrastructure, healthcare, museums, parks, public libraries, and certain basic regulations I really need in my life. My next contract has to be somewhere that has governmental regulations and city infrastructure that is more Western, because I'm weary and I feel my interest and curiosity turning into annoyance and frustration. Related to that, I can't keep working in this middle ground of mid-sized, kind of sprawling towns. I would like Vientiane if it were far smaller, quieter, and more slow paced, but right now, I feel like I'm in a boring American suburb with poor public transportation and too much traffic. I don't want to put up with the inconveniences of city life without any of the benefits. If I'm going to be walking through traffic, I need to walk through it to get to a beautiful park. If I'm going to live right next to my neighbors, I want the building to be well made and have noise regulations so that I'm not kept up all night listening to yet another wedding or a football game blared on a loudspeaker. I would still recommend living and working in developing countries, but know when it's time to bail. For me, that's this June.
Or I'll end up in Cambodia and read this post and laugh. Who can say. Just kidding. Actually, I don't know. I add this at the end without thinking about it, which is both confessional and prophetic I'm sure. Not Cambodia specifically, but the reality that I have no idea where I'll be next contract. So, all of this is subject to change and it could change quickly. When I think of how miserable I was at the end of September, and compare that to the end of November, I'm astounded that two months can make such an incredible difference.