07 December 2009

A balcony garden in Vientiane

I sat down today to start work on some entries about our years in Laos. I thought I would first scroll through some of my hundreds of photos, to see what visual material I might want to share with you. But the first photos I came across were these, of our little balcony garden in our Vientiane apartment. It seems I can't get away from plants and gardens, even when living in a 6th-floor apartment with just a couple of little balconies as my share of the South-East Asian outdoors. The 'nursery' in Vientiane where I bought most of my plants was a wonderful street of open-air plant stalls, most specialising in one or two varieties and all staffed by helpful and knowledgeable growers.
Getting information from these stallkeepers (mostly older women) was sometimes problematic unless they spoke a bit of English or French to complement my basic Lao (which didn't extend much beyond 'How much is that?', 'Very beautiful' and a reasonable fluency in numbers going up into the thousands – at that time, the US dollar was equivalent to about 10,000 of the local 'kip', so fluency in the thousands was essential). The service was wonderful, of course, as it was in most commercial venues and markets we visited on our weekend shopping excursions. Merchants had in-depth knowledge of their products, and nothing was too difficult. In the case of pot plants, for example, if you selected a plant and then a decorative pot – or even if you brought along your own pot, purchased elsewhere – the stallkeeper was only too happy to dart around the back and repot the plant for you. No charge for potting soil, of course –  not that such a thing actually existed. No self-respecting Lao gardener would dream of paying anyone for dirt! But the rich soils of this city on the banks of the Mekong, replenished annually by all that wonderful stuff flooding down from the upcountry mountains, needed very little help from chemicals. Besides, our cleaning woman liked nothing better than to potter around on the balcony all morning. We and a dapper elderly Japanese man two floors down were the only residents in this building full of 'falang' (foreigners) who bothered to grow anything. It made for a polite bow of recognition whenever we would meet that gentleman in the lift, but our cleaning woman was determined we would not be shown up.
When we settled in for our two-year job in Laos, we had tossed up the pros and cons of apartment living vs renting a house somewhere in the suburbs. But since I was working a good 10 or more hours a day, and travelling often to remote districts to monitor project activities, we opted for as simple a daily lifestyle as possible when in town. Probably just as well, or I'm sure I'd have spent too many hours I could ill afford tending a lush garden such as those maintained by the families of our Lao friends.Will I ever again grow a lotus as lovely as this one? Bo pin yang (i.e. 'never mind'). The memory of it will always be with me.

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I started this blog in 2009 when I became a full-time caregiver. My husband had been diagnosed a few years earlier with primary progressive aphasia. Over the next four years until his death in 2013, we went on a journey of discovery about this rare condition. My blog is about what I learned, how we both coped and how the journey deepened our love and appreciation of each other. Allen’s journey is over, but mine goes on.