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”.