Friday, December 3, 2010

Bike Rides and Trash Cans

You're probably wondering what in the world those two things have in common. Not much...

You see, Thursday of this week was Lao National Day- and thus a holiday from work for many in Laos. I had talked with some friends about possibly renting bikes and going for a bike ride that day. I decided to invite my Lao roommate to go too, and she was super excited about it. Well, the day before the holiday, one friend wasn't feeling too well and another didn't get back to me about whether she wanted to go or not, so I told my roommate it might just be the two of us. Her expression turned to disappointed and she said, "Two people isn't very fun." I've heard this expressed by multiple Lao friends- the more people you have, the more fun it is. In fact, I've even hosted get-togethers where only four or five people made it and I was told by those who attended, "Next time, please invite more people. Then it will be more fun."

I have to step out of my culture and choose to try to understand this from their cultural viewpoint. Because from my perspective, (maybe I'm too sensitive), those comments almost seem hurtful- as if I am not fun enough to hang out with by myself... or as if the party I put a lot of time and effort into wasn't successful or enjoyable.

So, from her response, I figured she didn't want to go. Then she kept bringing it up- but said things that in my view made it sound like she was rationalizing not going... it was already late Wednesday and I hadn't rented a bike (because I didn't think it was going to happen), by the time a store was open to rent a bike it would be too hot and the sun would darken our skin thus making us less beautiful, we weren't totally sure of the route we wanted to take, etc. So at this point, I was convinced she didn't want to go.

However, I happened to mention that instead of renting a bike, what if I borrowed one from one of my teammates? When I said that, her face totally perked up and she got excited and said, "Ok, let's go! I actually invited a friend already so let me call and confirm with her."

WOAH! I was really not sure what had just happened. I have been here for 1 year and 4 months and obviously still have SO much to learn culturally! All I can figure is that she didn't want me to lose face... so tried to bring up other reasons why it wouldn't be too good for us to go besides the fact that others backed out. And then at the same time, I think she didn't want to lose face with the friend she had invited. I'm not sure I'll ever fully understand this face thing. In the end, my teammate graciously brought the bike over to our house after 10 pm that evening, we left at 6:30 that morning, and enjoyed a 48 km bike ride with lovely weather.

As far as trash cans go, my roommate left for work before me on Friday morning, and a few minutes later, I get a call from her on my cell phone saying the trash truck was coming and we needed to get our trash out. Thursday's holiday kind of threw us off on our days. Anyway, we took out the trash just in time. We carry our trash down the road a ways for pick up in a blue trash basket.

After I got home on Friday afternoon, I walked back down the road to retrieve our trash basket. As I did, I visited with one of our neighbors and noticed her husband coming out of the house. He asked his wife in Lao if she'd talked to me yet, and she said no- he should talk to me. (It's fun to know enough language to catch stuff like this, but not enough so people think maybe you don't understand when they say this in front of you- ha!) So the man asks me if we've paid our garbage fee. That's the first time I'd ever heard we needed to pay for the garbage pick up service. Makes sense- just didn't know. :) I told him I hadn't ever paid the fee, and then we proceeded to count the months and calculate how much our house owed. Then the neighbor across the street comes out of her house and asks the neighbors who just broke the news to me if I knew yet. So we had the whole conversation all over again. Of course, all of this is done with a smile and very graciously. I communicate that I understand and will pay our fee, and thank them for letting me know. Then I get back to my house and the neighbor boy on the other side comes and informs me, well, you guessed it. We need to pay 24,000 Kip per month for our garbage fee (about $3.00 for a month- 4 pick ups). However, he says it wasn't our fault that no one came from the garbage company to ask us for the money- and that the garbage company is in the wrong- so we should only pay for the current month. Then grandma comes out of the house and asks her grandson if he's informed me yet. :)

I think this might have really urked me in the past... but honestly, I love how Lao people, especially Lao neighbors, know each other's business... and take care of each other. So, maybe it's a bit embarrassing that the WHOLE street seemed to know that the clueless foreigners have not been paying for their garbage pick up service. Oh, well. Perhaps I lost face, but I think I also gained some by responding with gratitude and choosing to see the positives in how our neighbors watch out for us. We are blessed.

Whether it be bike rides or trash cans, things like this usually happen daily, if not multiple times a day. I feel like every day there is so much to process about life, and how cultures are different, or similar. I often wonder if and when the learning curve will calm down?! It seems I rarely get around to writing out these thoughts in a blog despite the many blog ideas that run through my head. Now you are blessed. Ha, ha. Especially if your name is Esther Ruth because you are the only person I am positive reads these posts. Thanks for the love, mom. :)


Anonymous said...

Oh my goodness...I just burst out laughing at the end when I made it into your blog. Of course I read every single one but I know other people do too...they just don't feel as compelled to write a comment as I do.
VERY interesting cultural're a good student though and you'll keep learning each day! Proud of you!
love, love, esther ruth :)

Anonymous said...

I read your posts Suzy!!!
Gail Barr

Emily said...

I'm glad you were able to respond with graciousness and even gratitude toward your neighbors Suzy! I don't think that would have been my experience, sadly. Can you imagine if we in the US knew our neighbors' business that well!
Thanks for sharing these moments!

Maren said...

Amen Sister! When will the learning curve calm down?

David and Kristi said...

That was a fantastic blog! I don't know if I would have been able to be as gracious as you.I think right now the tears would have come out after the 4th person asked me. You go girl! I love your attitude and will be praying for you!!!!

Nicole said...


Your blog made me laugh and smile. I wanted to let you know that you are on my blog roll and that when I read your posts I always send thoughts to the father for you.

keep up the grace!,

Brittany Gray said...

I read your blog too! Totally know where you're coming from with the "losing face" thing. I run into that constantly and am not sure if I'll ever fully understand. :0)

Janet said...

THere are many of us who read but do not necesarily comment each time. You are such an example to me!