Monday, 29 April 2013

Magical Kuang Si Waterfalls + the Big Brother Mouse Project!

My alarm went off at 5.15 am and I begrudgingly got out of bed, it was still dark, what the hell am I doing up at this time? These Monks better be worth it...turns out it wasn't really. Met Devyn and the girls at the same ATM at 5.45 and then we walked to the night market area where it was supposed to all take place.

The Alms Giving was cool and everything, I have an obsession with Monks - their bright apricot gowns, shaved heads and the manner with which they hold themselves along with the amazing religion they represent - Monks are simply beautiful! However we didn't see much alms giving going on, by 6.15 am it was all pretty much over, but we got some pictures so it made it worthwhile, then we all just went back to bed.

Woke up again at 8.30 and got ready for the waterfalls, met the group at JoMa Bakery which is a cute little cafe on the corner of the street their guesthouse is down. I had a Chocolate Croissant and iced Laos Coffee, then we negotiated a tuk tuk to the waterfalls for 25,000 kip each, return and headed on our way. We all chatted for half the journey but the windy roads, sitting sideways, meant many of us just ended up trying not to feel ill!

When we arrived we gave the tuk tuk driver our entrance fee for the waterfalls as he got commission, so we didn't see why he shouldn't earn a little extra! Then we walked up the steep road to the waterfalls and when we was like something out of a Tinker Bell movie, you could actually imagine her and her fairy friends flittering around! It was pure paradise and the water was a wonderful menthol-green, there are 3 levels of the waterfall, all with several cascades, it was just heaven on earth, I've never seen a waterfall like it.

So we took a ton of pictures and then took a walk up to the top of the waterfall...which turned out to be a horrendous hike! Once at the top it offered a pretty cool view of the surrounding mountains, and then we had to hike back down again, but it wasn't too bad as most of it you could do on your bum. We then took some more pictures before heading down to the next cascade, where we weren't technically allowed to swim in but a few people were, but we decided to wait for the bottom pool...which was just as amazing as the main waterfall cascade!

As soon as we got there we all stripped off into our swim-wear and jumped straight in, for some of us, quite literally, using the giant tree in the middle as a diving board, or the more adventurous of us, using the rope swing off the giant tree! I had a go at jumping from the tree, which for someone who hates going under water, was a pretty big deal! After getting up, it looked a lot farther than it did from the ground and it took me several minutes to pluck up the courage to jump. But once I was up there and everyone was waiting and watching, I HAD to jump, there was no way I was chickening out! So I did, and it was fantastic! We then just swam and sat around for ages, before venturing down to the endangered bear enclosure/ rehabilitation centre. Took a few pictures there and watched the Sun Bears play around and eat bananas.

We then headed back out where the tuk tuks waited, for some food, before heading back to Luang Prabang, again concentrating on not feeling ill. Once in LP we headed back to our hostels/guesthouses to change and freshen up before a few of us planned on going along to the Big Brother Mouse organisation. It is an organisation run by locals and volunteers for school children and adults who want to practise, or need help with their English and studies. Volunteers are urged to come along between 9-11am and 5-7pm to be paired up or put into groups to help the kids - most of them are high-school and university age. They also ask for funding for book parties, where they buy a load of books and take them to remote villages where there aren't many supplies, to urge children to read. It really is a great project and if anyone is interested in donating, please do,  it really is inspiring young children from poor backgrounds to learn and read. Perhaps an interesting project for all those who are in publishing!

I met a new girl in Spicey's called Katie, a top journalist from Canada, she's writing some amazing pieces, check out: And she'd just come from a volunteer project in Thailand, working with Burmese refugees teaching English, so was really interested in coming along. So we walked down to meet the girls, but they didn't arrive, so went to the guesthouse where we found Esther also waiting for them. We managed to find out the room numbers, but it turns out they'd all gone for naps and couldn't get enough energy together to go so they'd go another day. So as we'd already planned to go, me Katie and Esther went along anyways. Took us a while to find it as it's down a backstreet, but as soon as we saw the giant cartoon mouse outside, and the eager-to-learn locals inside, we knew it was the right decision!

Once inside we were welcomed and all asked to talk to Sai, a local boy of 17, in his last year of high school, who was taking his final English Exams this year. He had only been studying for one year but already his English was near perfect, athough he didn't believe it was - that's the thing here, not only are they eager to learn, they are always trying to be better, they never stop until they are at their best. He was telling us how most of the people that come here to learn start school at 7am, finish at 4pm, Monday to Friday, they then come straight here to continue practising what they have learnt, and then most go to the library after, until it shuts at 9pm, then either cycle or motorbike home - most live in villages about an hour away, before doing it all again the next day, plus studying and coming to BBM on weekends too!! If that's not dedication to studying, I don't know what is! I wish kids in the western world appreciated education as much as these do, I even put my hands up and say I never appreciated education as much as these kids do!

Most of the kids just want to simply have a conversation with you in English, as it's the only time they can actually put it to practise. So that's what the session started off as, they want to know as much about you as possible, and it's actually a great way for you to get to know about their culture too. If they have any problems, they have dictionaries to help them and text books. I ended up being paired with another boy, which then ended up being all his mates too, and we went through emotions like anger, happiness etc and how you express these emotions. At the beginning, they didn't even know what the words meant, by the end of the session, they were constructing amazing sentences using the emotions and applying them to their every day lives. It truly was amazing to see them go from unsure, to so so happy that they finally understand and can say the words correctly, as well as use them! Then we went through all the words they had written in their books that they weren't sure of, using the translation dictionary as well as my explanations of what they were - though, when one pointed to 'Hermathrodite' I was like, holy cow, how do you explain this one?! Me and Katie used all of our knowledge to explain it, as it wasn't in the dictionary either, in the end, the only simple way we could explain, that they could understand was the term, Lady Boy! Their eyes lit up then and we knew we'd hit jackpot - or kind of! Esther had a man who had literally only just started learning English so she was in the tricky predicament of what the hell do I teach? So she spent her time going through things like colours, days of the week etc, pointing to her clothes to show the colours and using actions to associate with them so it made it easier to remember. In the end he literally learnt the colours through the actions she used, it's astounding how you begin to understand the ways people respond to learning and how everyone is individual in remembering and associating to help them learn. Through this 2 hour session I learnt more about teaching, the English language and the ways in which people learn, than I ever did in one English lesson at school.

After this we then met everyone at the night market for our now regular trip to the veggie buffet. Then they headed to Utopia and me and Katie headed back to change before heading out. We managed to rope another girl into coming out with us, Menka, a doctor who'd just finished her med school in the USA and was doing a term in Bangkok before graduation (she's specialising in optometry as a surgeon - wowsa, I really have met some incredible people on my travels, not just people who are out to party!!)

So we all headed to Utopia, and we were walking in the street because the pavement was pretty narrow. All of a sudden, we heard this motor bike zoom up beside Katie and her left shoulder was jerked violently. We thought the bike had hit her but then we noticed her bag whiz away with the motorbike. All three of us screamed out after the two men on the bike and 20 metres ahead on the road, some locals darted out onto the street and knocked the men off the bike. Sparks flew into the dark street and we sprinted toward the bike, Katie yelling, “stop him, he stole my purse, he’s a thief” over and over. One of the men on the bike ran away but the man with her bag was caught by the locals and her bag lay on the ground, all the contents in tact and just the strap slightly broken. She was a little bruised but was lucky the bag wasn’t worn across her body otherwise she might have been ripped down behind the bike.

We waited around while the locals called the police and temporarily restrained the man with a plastic rope. Then one of the men came back with a pair of handcuffs, which we thought was bizarre. Some of the women who saw the theft were very compassionate, making sure we were alright. Eventually four plainclothes guys in an unmarked pickup truck arrived, shoved the guy into the back of the truck, loaded the motorbike in the back and drove off. One of the men who intervened said Katie had to go to the police station and said "we take you on the motorbike" and she said no, I'm not going on some random motorbike with someone I don't know. She wrote them a statement on a piece of paper right there on the street, thanked everyone for their help and then we were on our way. Neither of us wanted to stick around for the cops to come especially Katie, who was worried the thief would get a good look at her and maybe come after her later. I then later told them that in my head I feared the other man coming past in a blacked out car and taking revenge. It might have been far fetched but when you’re victimized, all sorts of paranoid thoughts run into your head.

So thankfully once all the drama was over and Katie had her bag back, the guy had gone and the locals were thanked we headed to Utopia, where we met the others and...Maaike, Tim and Rik from the Gibbon Experience, they had arrived yay!! So we all hung out for a while before some headed to the bowling alley and the rest of us headed home, after the night we'd had, and because we only had managed to get in one or two drinks, me, Katie and Menka headed home, along with Maaike, Tim and Rik. I was moving to Devyn and Tanya's room tomorrow as Tom was leaving, as were Esther and her boyfriend. So it would just be us three and Julie and Sabrina, everyone's leaving again! So it was probably good to get a good nights sleep in for the packing and the move!

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