Monthly Archives: March 2013

16. Sengdara

photo via:

photo via:

Falang complain about it incessantly, but still fork over a relatively large sum of cash in order to sweat it out at the see-and-be-seen gym in Vientiane. In the midst of their complaints (which conveniently serve as a way of placing themselves in the sporty/fit falang category), they will often lament the fact that no other acceptable gyms exist in an appropriate radius of their house. Drive all the way out to BeeBee? Unthinkable!

How could you possibly complain about a gym as conveniently located as Sengdara? Well, for starters the building mysteriously maintains a temperature consistently four degrees warmer than the outdoor air, despite the numerous AC units that adorn the walls. (Experienced falang will claim to have never seen them in use). Want to turn on a fan to prevent yourself from passing out during your run? It’s not recommended—you’re sure to get a glare from the person walking next to you in a luminous silver sweat suit. Passive aggressive on-off fan battles have been known to occur.

If you can take the heat you still have to combat a gym full of dysfunctional, ornery second-hand equipment. Ever been mid-stride on a treadmill that has suddenly decided to stop moving forward? You aren’t alone. Can’t get a treadmill to turn on? Tell the desk staff and they are likely to shrug and tape ‘out of order’ sign on it. Want to work out at 6PM? Good luck finding parking…or an elliptical. You’ll be relegated to the reject (aka dead) equipment upstairs, which would function as a nice memorial to cardio equipment of days gone by.

Despite its shortcomings, you too may find youself inexplicably drawn to the land of misfit fitness goers.  Soon enough, you will start recognize the quintessential Sengdara cast of characters:

  • The Lao ‘bodybuilders’, who inspire awe with their ability to hold up massive upper bodies on such spindly legs and their dedication to monopolizing every bench for television viewing
  • The high society housewives, who alternate patting themselves with towels, talking on their iPhones and strolling at a breakneck 3 kilometers an hour on one of four functional treadmills
  • The motley crew of personal trainers, who are perhaps the only people who know how to work that strange medieval torture machine located on the second floor
  • The misguided wrong-kind-of-falang, who have been fooled by Lonely Planet into thinking they’re paying for one day at a luxury spa
  • The unsupervised children, who either beeline it straight to the pool or make you incredibly nervous by trying out every piece of free equipment while their parents secure towels

Sengdara’s redeeming qualities may be few and far between, but let’s face it–see you falang at the gym!


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15. Housewarmings and Goodbye Parties

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Photo via:

Falang live in a perpetual cycle of welcoming or bidding adieu to their fellow compatriots.  In any other setting, these constant festivities might be onerous, but in Vientiane, since there is “nothing to do,” housewarmings and going away parties are always a welcome chance to make new friends and stock your bar.

For newly arrived falang, a housewarming party is a time to commemorate the fact that they’re really living in Laos.  Nevermind the fact that they may be simply paying for two months rent for a room in someone else’s house, they have officially arrived and they have the Beerlao crates and cheap tortilla chips to prove it.  Housewarming parties are a time to engage in pleasant banter about how much falang are paying for rent, who their maeban is, the pleasant (or annoying) interactions they’ve had with neighbors and that new painting they bought the last time they were in Myanmar.

Advanced falang have seen it all.  They have warmed so many houses that they inevitably know exactly which convenience store to pop into for a bottle of Vina Maipo in just about every falang neighborhood.  Long-term expats can even join in on this ritual by holding housewarming parties when they move bans. (All within an acceptable radius of Joma 2 of course).

Every housewarming party has the same predictable trajectory: someone awkwardly shows up first (but still fashionably late/on Lao time) and gets to help take the plastic wrap off the spring rolls.  Then the coworkers arrive. Their stay is short, and they’ll probably be gone before the first crate of Beerlao disappears.  The rest of the night passes by in a blur of house tours and repeatedly giving directions to late arrivals on the phone.  Soon enough, it’s 1am and the bizarre assortment of housewarming stragglers are too drunk to notice that they don’t really know the names of any other people in the room. The morning-after cleanup may appear daunting, but falang don’t have to stress—there’s a maeban for that.

The natural counterpart to housewarmings, goodbye parties are equally essential to the falang cycle of life in Laos.  For those falang continuing their stay in Laos, goodbye parties always offer a chance to reflect on just how long they’ve been here and wonder what they heck they’re doing with their lives.  Nevertheless, it represents another tick mark on the tally of falang who have come and gone. No matter how long they have actually lived in Laos, falang have achieved veteran status by being able to refer back to “the time when so-and-so was here”.

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14. Complaining

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Although falang have multitudes of hobbies, perhaps the one to which they are most devoted is complaining about the place where they live.

The opportunities for complaint are endless, and they common fodder for small talk, much like talking about the weather. In fact, the first one is the weather.

 Falang test: Give yourself one point for each of the following things that you have found yourself bemoaning in the past two weeks. Tally up your complaints to see how you rank.

  • Weather
  • ATMs
  • Neighbors’ music
  • Maebans
  • Having nothing to do
  • Places closing too early
  • Service at restaurants
  • Unreliability of shops being open
  • Coworkers’ annoying habits
  • Loud kids at Joma 2 or Common Grounds
  • Inefficiency
  • Your tailoring taking too long
  • Corruption
  • The price of flights out of Vientiane
  • Being landlocked
  • The ‘wrong kind of falang
  • Traffic
  • China
  • Digestive problems
  • Burning garbage
  • The inconvenience posed by Lao holidays
  • Air Asia (they lie!)
  • Internet speed
  • Falang from _______ (insert nationality of your choice)
  • Construction
  • Ant invasions
  • Power outages
  • Vientiane Times headlines
  • Being charged ‘falang’ prices
  • MSG
  • The disrepair of Sengdara equipment
  • The town being “too small”
  • The dating scene
  • Police
  • Random curfew enforcement
  • Inadequate air conditioners
  • Senglao not having the latest movies (before they come out in theaters)
  • No clothing available in falang sizes
  • Not being able to find a preferred product, brand, or specific food item from home
  • Other

0-9 complaints: You are either an experienced or novice falang. Experienced falang have been there, complained about that. They’re so bor pen yang about life in Lao that they rarely get worked up over Vientiane’s inevitables. They’ll be sure to remind you that  ‘you’ll get used to it soon’.  On the other end of the spectrum, the novice falang also rank low on the complaining scale. They’re so eager to live their adventurous developing world life that they readily embrace every inconvenience they come up against. 41 degree weather? The novice falang relish this opportunity to take a screen shot and marvel at the heat on the Facebook.

10-19 complaints: You are an average falang. The average falang has embraced the fact that complaining is just a integral part of the falang existence.  Their honeymoon period with Laos has worn off and suddenly they no longer find their neighbor’s 5am karaoke sessions endearing, but rather terribly off-key.  This falang will have something to add to most gripe sessions about Vientiane, and will remain respected unless they turn into…

20 complaints and above: …the jaded falang.  No matter how long this falang has been around, they will find something to complain about. After a conversation with this falang you might be convinced that they lead a completely miserable life, or even be tempted to ask “Why are you possibly living here?” Marvel at this falang’s ability to complain about things that have never even crossed your mind.

 What else do you complain about?  Comment on Facebook!

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13. Stickys

Perhaps one of the most iconic falang institutions of Vientiane, Sticky Fingers (or more affectionately, Stickys), is the place everyone hates to love.  Stickys represents every cliché that all falang seeking a “cultural experience” desperately try to avoid, yet its gravitational pull still manages to drag them in every Wednesday and Friday.

The siren call of half price cocktails is irresistible to all falang above (or somewhat below) the drinking age, be they WIG members, NGO “volunteers,” or international school students staff.  It’s the place to see and be seen…or see the people you’ve been trying to avoid.  It’s difficult to reconcile a love of Tom Yum Martinis with a desire not to make small talk with every falang you’ve ever been introduced to at an awkward house party.

On Fridays, arrive early or risk being relegated to the second floor, or to a blue plastic chair on the fringes of the patio.  Once your spot is secured, order a round of jugs.  It’s a great opportunity to “practice” Lao ordering skills with forgiving staff who will completely understand your Lao-glish.   Sit back, and enjoy identifying backpackers by their need to look at the menu on the roadside.  Occasionally, the wrong kind of falang will infiltrate Stickys but they are generally (thankfully) kept at bay by the sheer multitudes of cocktail-crazed falang.

Despite the clichés, it’s hard not to love Stickys.  Inevitably in a post-Vientiane life, falang will look back fondly on memories of times spent at this dimly lit, orange-walled hangout with nostalgia.  Or at least what they can still remember of it after three jugs of Passionfruit Margaritas.

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