Monthly Archives: January 2013

7. Beerlao

Ah, Beerlao, the true crown jewel of the Mekong, the second national symbol of Laos.

Upon arrival, novice falang marvel at the size of the bottles and the sheer pervasiveness of this golden liquid. Before long, all falang become Beerlao connoisseurs: they will regale you with stories of the time during Pi Mai when their Lao neighbors poured so much Beerlao down their throats that they didn’t even make it to the river, or launch into a lengthy explanation of why Beerlao is superior to any German beer they sampled during their Eurotrip phase.  (Note: This will not prevent them from spending exorbitant amounts of money on imported beers at Chok Dee.)  They will certainly all claim that it is “the best Asian beer,” and any disagreement will be a welcome opportunity for them to brag about how well traveled they are, by comparing it to Singha, Bia Hà Nội, and Bintang.
Beer of champions
Until you have uttered the sentence “When I first moved here I thought it was weird that people put ice in their beer, but now I won’t drink it any other way” you are not a true falang. Drop this line casually, as you refill the ice in your Lao friend’s cup while sitting at Lao Garden or Moon the Night and you are well on your way to becoming a genuine member of the expat community.

Only the very most advanced falang can get away with not liking Beerlao, and only if they have enough past Pi Mai stories to claim that they “just can’t do it anymore,” which serves as a subtle and jaded way to remind listeners how long they have been in Laos.  These falang can get away with ordering Beerlao Dark or whiskey instead.

Loving Beer Lao (you’re not allowed to just like it) might be the single common denominator between falang, Lao people and the-wrong-kind-of-falang.  Beer Lao muscle tanks, however, are another matter altogether.

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6. Cultivating Facebook

typical falang status

In addition to being a developing country, the fact that Laos is small, landlocked, and Communist, gives it a very high exotic and obscure coolness ranking. Thus, falang believe that basically every aspect of their daily lives is fascinating and unique.  Falang in Laos thrive off of the jealousy of friends from home, which allows them to bravely endure daily trials and tribulations–like when the mani-pedi place downtown is too busy on a Sunday, or the internet goes out at Joma–in hopes of always having a good story.

Luckily, social media makes it easier than ever for them to share their foreign and completely one-of-a-kind escapades.  This allows for posturing with other falang abroad, eliciting shocked and envious comments from falang not adventurous enough to travel, and amassing as many “likes” as possible.

Examination of a typical falang facebook profile reveals numerous tell-tale signs of careful Expat Coolness Cultivation:

  • Profile photos engaging in extreme activities, on mountains, or with locals. (The introduction of the Cover Photo has offered falang the welcome opportunity to showcase their striking foreign panoramas.)
  • Checking themselves and their friends in to exotic locations: “__________ is at Meuang Pakse” or  “____________ is at Inle Lake, Nyaung Shwe, Myanmar with 3 others”.
  • Instagram photos of sunsets, lunches, and motorbikes.
  • Complaints about the daily inconveniences of life abroad: “Ugh the internet is hardly a trickle today!” or “So much boat racing traffic I can’t go anywhere!”
  • Overexaggerated excitement about managing to find falang comforts in Laos: “OMG just found Skittles at DMart/Simuang/Phimphone, so excited!” or “The turkey sandwich is back at Joma. Makes me nostalgic for home!”
  • Appreciating the beauty of living such a meaningful and culturally-enlightened life: “The old Lao woman at the end of the street smiles and waves to me each afternoon, which always brightens a stressful day” or “I can hear tuk-tuks, birds, dogs, and a distant temple gong right now, the symphony of the city…”
  • Outright bragging: “Manicure, massage, and happy hour, not a bad life!”

It’s only polite to like your falang friend’s status about her meaningful experience sinh-shopping in the local market, and then she’ll return the favor by liking your next (and 12th) latte pic.

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5. Phimphone and Simuang

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Between seeing people you would rather avoid at Joma and crafting your next happy hour tale of cultural misadventure, expat life in Vientiane can be downright demanding. At the end of a long workweek, the last thing falang want to do is navigate the abrasive sights and smells of the local market looking for dinner. Thankfully, a Western culinary oasis exists in the form of Phimphone and Simuang. Looking for fair-trade unbleached hand-milled buckwheat flour for your next dinner party dessert? If it exists in this town, you’re sure to find it at one of these two locations. Be sure to check out the noticeboards on your way in the door to find out the date of the WIG Bazaar or snag that perfect sectional sofa. If you’ve been to the field this week, or had a particularly stressful meeting with the Ministry of Energy and Mines, you should treat yourself to the imported, hermetically-sealed filet mignon. (You totally deserve it!)

Some incredibly advanced falang actually frequent the local markets for produce (but never meat). If you are one of these exemplary people, be sure not to mention it to other falang. It will just make them feel bad. Definitely do not mention the fact that you can buy a kilo of avocadoes in the street for the same price as a single one at Simuang. Some things are better kept to yourself…

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4. Bragging Rights

Life as an expat in Laos is a constant struggle to “out-do” other expats in Laos. Though a few facebook photos in a tuk-tuk may be enough to impress armchair traveling friends at home, they are of no interest to the hordes of other falang in Laos. Anecdotes that illustrate a more adventurous or authentic lifestyle are an important currency in falang conversation.  Well-integrated falang derive their bragging rights through numerous channels: “cultural encounters,” extreme travel, uncomfortable experiences, and length of time living abroad.  Overheard at Sticky’s, 7PM, Friday night:

  • When my Lao friend took me to his village his grandmother gave me this disgusting blood soup.  I didn’t want to offend her so I just had to eat it.
  • Remember when Sunset Bar was still open?
  • The people in Myanmar are just so kind.  You really haven’t been yet?  You have to go before it gets ruined by backpackers.
  • Ugh, I got so sick of the rice porridge at the Udon hospital when I was there for dengue.
photo via: kimchimaiden.wordpress.com

photo via: kimchimaiden.wordpress.com

If a fellow falang is telling you about the time they were bitten by a spider while conducting surveys in Phongsali Province and had to negotiate for local medical care in a combination of Khmu and Lao languages, and end their story with “it was no big deal,” then you are interacting with a truly advanced falang.  Your bragging rights stories will have no effect on this person.  Move on to Bor Pen Nyang Bar for better luck.

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3. Hating Backpackers

The bane of every expat falang’s existence in Laos is their own unfortunate resemblance to the “wrong kind of falang”—the backpacker.  Nothing offends a falang more than being asked “How long are you traveling for?”  Avoid this pitfall by recognizing the common traits of the homo backpackeris:

photo via: travel.cnn.com

photo via: travel.cnn.com

  • Tubing in the Vang Vieng tanktop
  • Dreadlocks
  • Many conspicuous tattoos
  • Unshowered appearance, sometimes accompanied by an unpleasant odour
  • Shirtlessness or general inappropriate show of skin
  • For women, tattered denim cutoffs; for men, “bro-tanks” with massive arm holes
  • Lonely Planet book
  • Beerlao bottle in hand walking down the street
  • And the dead giveaway: a giant backpack

If, despite your best efforts, you fail to distinguish the two, dig yourself out of this hole by complimenting the expat falang on their bravery to live abroad for so long. (Yes, this even applies to those falang who have lived here for three weeks.)

Falang will go to extreme measures to differentiate themselves from the “wrong kind of falang.”  These efforts include wearing sinhs, greeting restaurant staff in Lao, carrying a motorbike helmet as if it’s an additional appendage, and denouncing traditional backpacker activities and “lack of cultural awareness.”

If you’re hanging out with your falang friend and conversation stalls, ask their opinion on shirtless backpackers.  Expect them to give you an earful as they posture to distinguish themselves from their maligned alter-egos.

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2. Having Lao Friends

The main reason that falang live in Laos is to be able to tell people that they live in Laos. But the fact that they hang out almost exclusively with other falang detracts from this claim. This is where Lao people come into the picture.  Being able to casually drop the phrase “my Lao friend…” into conversation is an important milestone to which all falangs aspire.

photo via: ispot.la

photo via: ispot.la

To successfully land and maintain a falang friendship follow these simple steps:

1. Be fluent, or nearly fluent in English.  As most falang will hardly ever reach any competency in Lao, it is essential for you to be able to communicate.  Fluency in English allows to you be just like one of their falang friends, but with even greater social capital.  However, imperfect English is not a roadblock to falang friendship.  Being able to gently correct you, or introduce a funny new vocabulary word into your conversations, will make your falang friend feel like they are helping you at the same time they are becoming a well-integrated falang.

2. Invite your falang friend to a Lao cultural event.  Opportunities to dress in local attire or take photos with cute children at said event are a bonus.

3. Pepper your conversation with simple Lao phrases.  Although you and your falang friend will primarily communicate in English (see #1), they will derive much enjoyment from your use of simple Lao words in conversation.  This reminds your falang friend that you are actually Lao, which makes them feel good about themselves.

4. Compliment your friend on their non-falang-like abilities.  These might include being able to eat spicy food, drink Lao Lao, or understand a few simple Lao phrases (see #3).

5. Go to a falang event with your friend.  Being able to take you to a party will make your falang friend proud, as your friendship will be evident.  This is also a great way to pick up more falang friends, as those without Lao friends will latch onto you in the hope of claiming you as a Lao friend of their own.

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1. Joma

The perfect start to a falang day.

The perfect start to a falang day.

Although trendy falang hangouts are numerous these days, Joma will forever epitomize the falang lifestyle in Laos, and is an important core location in every falang’s introduction to expat life.  Falang love Joma for many reasons.  Coffee, pastries, and falang food are available on an English-only menu, which makes them feel at home.  Sometimes the food is even holiday-themed.  They are guaranteed to run into an acquaintance at Joma, which allows them to remark “what a small town!” and pat themselves on the back for being so well-connected.  There is wi-fi, which is essential for falang existence; this way they can post photos of their soy chai lattes, or the holiday-themed food to show friends at home what a novelty it is to celebrate common Western holidays in their new, exotic locale.  Joma is also socially-conscious, which allows falang to feel less guilty about spending the same amount on their coffee and snack that could be spent on days’ worth of food from the local market.  Can’t find your falang friend at Joma 2?  You should consider checking Common Grounds, Cafe Nomad, or Naked Espresso, and you’ll be almost guaranteed to spot them.

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