Tag Archives: costumes

Souk San Wan Kurt!

A birthday party abroad, for the third year in a row.

Homemade mango sticky rice, grills, kebabs–what more do you need for a delicious party?!

This year was a blend of new and old: some new friends, some old friends, a new house, but the same idea–fill a cooler with Beerlao, fire-up two Lao-style grills (basically half a metal drum with a grate on top) and a party will ensue.  In honor of the many theme parties past, my theme this year was simply “Accessories,” allowing for a motley collection of leftover hats, sunglasses, costume jewelry and bowties to be dusted off and see another party.

We take accessorizing very seriously.  These are only a handful of the night’s decorations.

Some guests were less happy about the theme than others.

Once again, I had not one, but two, amazing cakes: a work of art from a local bakery in the shape of a purple handbag sculpted from marzipan, and a delicious coconut cake.  With an impromptu living room dance party, about 30 friends who stopped by at various points in the night, and a plethora of silly headwear (berets, headlamps, ski hats, and more), it was yet another very happy birthday here in Vientiane.

This is a cake. Amazing.

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Happy Halloween!

Laos is a country familiar with ghosts.  From my conversations with friends and students over the past year, I’ve gotten the impression that nearly everyone, at least a tiny bit, believes in pii–in ghosts or spirits.  Naturally, some of those beliefs are more serious than others, but the concept of spirits existing all around us, both bad and good, is quite prevalent.  This is visible just walking down the street and taking in the wide array of “spirit houses” outside nearly every business or home: miniature buildings to appease the spirits of the place, with small offerings, from liquor, sticky rice, and bananas, to Pepsi and cookies.  Some are flashy, covered in mirrors, and neon paint, others modest and minimalistic.  But they’re always there.  For some, this is a tradition, perhaps less a literal belief than to promote general good luck, but still entrenched in the culture.

A sampling of spirit houses, from right to left: Bangkok, Vientiane, Bali.

And from the urban legends I’ve heard, the pii are all around me here.  On Halloween night, a Lao friend started recounting tales of all of the spirits in the surrounding area, from the “scariest ghost in Laos,” according to him–a little girl who eats live chickens (and sometimes children)–to which places in town have particularly high concentrations of spirits (for example, one area on a main road, where all of the ghosts of people who have died in traffic accidents congregate).  He spoke half as though he were recounting simple facts, and half as though he was just trying to freak us out.  “Do you really believe this?” I asked, after a story about a ghost over the bridge in Thailand.  He just shrugged and said, “Maybe.  Why not?”

So perhaps it makes sense that the Western tradition of Halloween is becoming quite popular.  In talking with Australian coworkers, I recently realized how American many of the traditions I associate with Halloween are.  Many asked, “Do you actually carve pumpkins every year?  And go trick or treating?”  A such, these traditions were an essential part of my first Halloween celebration with the new American Embassy scholarship program.  Two of my good friends are teaching and developing this brand-new two-year program, that teaches both English language and American cultural customs to underprivileged local high schoolers.  As the first of the American culture celebrations, the roof at Vientiane College was decked out in orange and black, the American ambassador was in attendance and 60 high school students carved greenish Lao pumpkins with scarily large knives.  A few of the other American teachers and I joined after class to help out (and mostly to feel nostalgic for childhood).  After jack-o-lanterns were aglow (with minimal loss of blood), we hid in various classrooms to jump out and scare “trick-or-treating” students before handing out candy.

Saturday night  was the main show, costume-wise.  Kongkhao, a favorite hangout among expats, was hosting a “dead celebrity”-themed Halloween party, so naturally, we had to go all out (the day my life ceases to involve sporadic necessity of costumes will be a sad one).  I was Audrey Hepburn, and was joined by a posse that included the likes of Albert Einstein, Amy Winehouse, Judy Garland, Lucille Ball, Buddy Holly, Janis Joplin, and a very dead rockstar.

A peek into the classroom: YLPF1 students working on Halloween masks.

Pumpkins? Check. Costumes? Check.  Halloween should be over, right?  Because I can never let a celebration pass by without drawing it out as long as possible, this was not the case.  Halloween Monday was a party all over again.

Teacher--leave me alone and let me work on my mask!

I conveniently had both of my Young Learner’s classes on this day, which was a great excuse to let lesson plans slide and allow both my and my student’s excitement to join forces for some just-barely-under-control fun classes.  With my smallest children we made Halloween masks and then played a version of “Red Light, Green Light” that involved walking around like zombies (and turned out to be a surprisingly good listening exercise).  My older class sat around and told scary stories, most of which involved–that’s right–more pii sightings around their houses (and even Vientiane College!).

After the last gluesticks and scraps of colored paper were finally cleaned up (along with the vomit of an over-excited 8 year-old), I headed out with a few coworkers to some final Halloween festivities.  Though it was a Monday, bars, restaurants, and clubs across town had huge Halloween parties on.  After all, if you’re going to celebrate a foreign holiday, why celebrate it on the wrong day?  After visiting a few of fake-cobweb strewn venues in the city we ended this year’s holiday watching an elaborate costume fashion show with some of our awesome TAs at one of the city’s fancy clubs.  Now the costumes are back in the closet for the time being, but the seemingly endless stream of holidays that mark the fall term marches onward.  Next up: birthday, That Luang Festival, and (eventually) the rest of my stories from Australia.

This is an accurate depiction of how it feels every time I enter this class.



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Glitter All the Way

Q: What do Borat, Sailor Moon, Zorro, and the Queen of Hearts have in common?


A: They all attended the Vientiane College holiday “glitter party” on Saturday night.

The Glitter Party is a VC tradition that was revived this year–a celebration of the end of term and the holidays for all of the teachers, before the long break.  Each year there is a different theme, for those who want to venture beyond glittery holiday attire.  This year was Heroes and Villains, and there was a motley crew in attendance.  I chose to dress as the Queen of Hearts, from Alice in Wonderland, and constructed a fairly elaborate costume with the help of my friend and coworker Sam, who is a costume extraordinaire.  Step 1: purchase red and black satin fabric from Talat Sao.  Step 2: visit the tailor with a sketch of our vision for the costume (which had a high “vampire” collar and hearts on the front and back).  Step 3: give her 2 weeks to work her magic.  Step 4: pick up the costume and marvel at her handiwork, decorate the skirt with playing cards. Step 5: attach cards to a headband and walk to the salon across the street to style my hair around it (for less than $5).

Other attendees included: Christmas Borat (green man-kini, Santa Hat), Sailor Moon, the devil, Zorro, “Stardazzle,” a fairy, Scott Pilgrim/Ramona Flowers and “Beerlao Man,” as well as several people decked out in sequins.  It was a nice opportunity to get to know the other teachers outside of the staff room, and felt like the holidays were really here.

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A Lao Halloween

Obviously, my days of costume-wearing didn’t end with college theme parties, so I was more than a little excited when I heard that there would be a Halloween party at work this Saturday.  With four other friends I decided to dress as the “Pink Ladies” from Grease.  Getting our outfits together was an adventure in itself, and proof that costumes here are limited only by the imagination and how far in advance you start planning.  Early last week, I bought pink satin fabric from Talat Sao (a market/mall where you can find anything and everything if you just know where to look).  Next I brought it to the tailor, who took all of our measurements and an example jacket to copy.  Ten days later, the jackets were dropped off at the screen printing shop, and we picked them up a couple of hours before the event, and completed the outfits with teased hair and pink knockoff Raybans.  Some of our male friends dressed up as very convincing Lady Gagas, but for their own sakes, names and photos of this spectacle will not be released.  Other costumes of the night included several different zombies, and a woman with a giant bug on her head.

After finishing teaching on Saturday (and handing out more than a few Halloween word searches and phonics games), preparations for the night began.  The roof room at school, where the party was held was decked out with papier-mache bones, cut-out bats, and orange lanterns.  The event of the night was trivia–one of my favorite party activities.  The quizmasters were dressed as  zombies, a led us through several hours worth of trivia, with “movies,” “science and nature,” “Halloween,” “food and drink,” and several other categories.  Our team, composed of a group of the “under-30s” from the “ex-colonies” (Americans and Australians, while the quizmasters were British) made a strong effort.  Despite the fact that we unexpectedly dominated the “music” round, we were unable to identify the Singapore Sling or the man who discovered the x-ray, and didn’t win any prizes in the end.

It was a very fun weekend, and there is only more to look forward to this fall.  The weather is starting to cool off here, which means I can sleep with no air conditioner, and am starting to forget what it’s like to sweat all the time.  The city is gearing up for the celebration of Vientiane’s 450th year as the capital city of Laos: more Lao flags are lining the streets downtown, and 450th tshirts and bracelets are for sale all over.  I’m not sure what this celebration will entail, but I’ll get to find out in the next few weeks, which will also include the That Luang festival.

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