Getting fit in Vientiane

Getting fit in Vientiane

VIENTIANE, Laos (MindaNews / 6 Sept) – It’s 5 p.m. here in the prefecture. In Vientiane Times newsroom, journalists take off work one after another, leaving the editors and layout artists to close pages of the paper. A few of them came out of the office’s comfort room after switching from formal shoes to sneakers, from uniform to dry-fit short pants and shirts.

They’re not taking their motorbikes or cars with them yet. Two-minute walk from the office at Pangkham Road sits the Chou Anouvong Park where a gigantic statue of King Anouvong, the last monarch in Vientiane, is enclosed by green patches, foliage and paved pathways for pedestrians and cyclists. A stone throw away from the statue, the Mekong River beside the park gulps the sunset. At the other river bank, Thailand unhurriedly lights up its street lamps.

I take my knapsack with me on my way to the park as I’m a bit shy to be seen by colleagues suddenly transformed into some kind of “sporty”. Inside a public toilet within the park, I changed my clothes and shoes for 3,000 kip (US$0.38). And, by running in a calculated slow pace (my first time to jog again after two months since I arrived here), off I joined the health enthusiasts of the capital. Non-electric exercise machines of free use are anchored to the ground in the shade of big old trees at another area of the park.

The asphalt road along the river bank stretches over a kilometer long. This road has no traffic rules; it’s not open to vehicles. My momentum has adjusted to run at steady faster pace when I abruptly halt as a boy in soccer shoes chases to kick a ball that rolls towards my feet. It’s a bit hard for me to keep the pacing while anticipating whether or not a bike exhibitionist would perform his next stunts as I pass by.

Some tourists jog in groups and others religiously finish their rounds to and from either ends of the road alone. Young people, usually wearing earphones and clad in bright color outfits, nonchalantly pass by couples and peers who prefer to watch the sunset squatting at the cemented dike. It resembles the benches in an Olympics stadium.

Flags of Lao PDR and the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party alternately line in two sets of 10 poles in a platform like a center stage above the dike. Performing here are hundreds of women in pink shirts and headbands, dancing in Zumba. Another group of women, young and adult, perform their aerobic steps. They manage to synchronize their movements among members, without being distracted by overlapping music from other group’s sound box. The river is their backdrop and their audience is the array of red tents set up by bustling vendors in time for the night market.

Before darkness completely envelops the park, sodium street lights brighten the place. The small red tents are now full of almost everything that is saleable – handicrafts and garments from Laos, Vietnam, China, and Thailand; accessories with copied brands; pirated DVDs; media players and even mobile phones. Paintings are also sold by the artists themselves for as low as 50,000 kip each.

Four kilometers from the Chou Anovoung night market (seven minutes motorbike ride), the That Luang esplanade is simultaneously packed of fitness aficionados. With That Luang temple and the National Assembly building on the side, the esplanade has four-lane paved roads that connect Kaysone Phomvihane Avenue and Nongbone Road.

But, the vast pavement is not part of the city’s traffic. Both ends are temporarily fenced with steel bars. Several groups in aerobics sessions found their own spots at the side, while soccer varsity players are at the other. People jog in the middle undisturbed because drivers of motorbikes (either in a test drive or crash course driving lesson) change lanes to yield to the former.

It’s 8 p.m. in That Luang esplanade when I went there to jog after my Lao language lessons. I just did two rounds as I felt that I’d already run about three kilometers in 30 minutes. I left the place with still a few cyclists, runners, soccer players and by-standers. The place is open 24 hours.

Friday in Lao language is called “Wan Souk” and “souk” means “happy”. It’s 5 p.m. on a happy day. Let’s exercise in a form of sport that doesn’t require a change of outfit. Let’s play pétanque!

Men in their slacks and women in their Lao sinh skirts parade to nearby compounds that have pétanque courts. I sweat a little bit after several throws of those heavy metal balls that never hit the small one. But, it doesn’t matter as long as I sip enough beer. Yes, this is the sport that will help you gain back the beer belly that you tried to lose days before. You cannot see any pétanque courts here on Fridays without beer bottles or cans. Nevertheless, it’s a part of healthy lifestyle. This time your heart pumps regularly as you enjoy the start of the weekend laughing out loud with friends—usually with beer and some “pulutan” to go with it.

Or raw vegetables.
Eating raw vegetables: a ‘healing’ experience

Eating raw vegetables: a ‘healing’ experience

By Lorie Ann Cascaro on June 11 2013 2:56 pm

VIENTIANE, Laos (MindaNews/11 June) — A plateful of raw mint, basil leaves, cabbage, sliced string beans and lime was served on my table ahead of the rice noodle (feu) soup that I ordered.

Then small bowls of raw bean sprouts and suki, a sauce made of ground peanuts and garlic cooked in oil with a dash of chili powder, arrived before I finally got my noodle soup.

It was my first day after arriving in Vientiane a month ago. My colleagues from the Vientiane Times, Pou and Samly, took me to a popular noodle restaurant here.

I needed a heavy meal at the time, but eating those raw vegetables piqued my appetite. I already knew though that Lao people eat raw vegetables, either with noodle soup or any dish. Despite my strong desire to try everything they eat here, it was totally different when you were about to actually do it.
Lao people eat raw vegetables and leaves that we don’t usually eat in the Philippines, or at least in my hometown.

They wrap dumplings with wild betel leaves aside from cabbage and lettuce. They eat raw morning glory, string beans, broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus, dragon-bone beans, and young leaves from mango trees.

Some people also eat bergamot leaves, which are often cooked with fried meat or insects. Most Lao dishes contain raw garlic, along with other seasonings.

The first time that I ate them, I was worried that my stomach couldn’t digest all those raw vegetables. I grew up thinking that meat and vegetables have to be cooked for good digestion and to kill bacteria with heat.

Eating my first raw vegetables with a supposed “delicious” noodle meal was nostalgic—I felt like my mother was staring at me when I was a kid, chiding, “Eat your vegetables!”
As they say, “There’s always a first time.” But, after a month, I have been craving raw vegetables every meal every day. They really taste so good, especially if dipped in a variety of sauces or mixed as salads.

I learned from reading online and health tips from friends in the medical field that eating raw vegetables allows one to consume more nutrients. They said cooking vegetables destroys vital nutrients and kills enzymes that aid digestion.

Most vegetables that Lao people eat without cooking contain folic acid (vitamin B9), which is an important nutrient to prevent many types of cancer, fetal deformities, Alzheimer’s disease, and depression, among other mental conditions.

Dr. Somchine Singharaj, head of the Food and Drug Division of the Vientiane Health Department, said folate, the form of folic acid in food, is essential for the brain and nervous system to function properly as it is needed for cellular growth and regeneration.

The health expert said uncooked vegetables contain higher amounts of folic acid and antioxidants, including lycopene, beta-carotene, and vitamins C and E.

Many varieties of tropical fruits that are also rich in antioxidants and folic acid are sold in the streets here at reasonable prices.

As a city girl, I badly need detoxification from the processed and junk foods I eat almost every single day for lack of time and creativity. Surely, I will need a lot of folic acid!

But, Singharaj said, you cannot get all the folic acid you need from food alone. If you badly lack folic acid and other nutrients, it is important to seek your doctor’s advice. But you may still want to experience Lao food while you can.

You will not only regain your sense of well-being while enjoying a calm and stress-free life in the countryside but will also restore or reinforce your good health and youthfulness.

With the way people here eat their vegetables, Laos is indeed “a place for healing.”

(Lorie Ann Cascaro of MindaNews is a fellow of the FK Norway (Fredskorpset) exchange program in partnership with the Vietnam Forum of Environmental Journalists. She’s currently in Laos and hosted by the Vientiane Times.)
How my handwriting changed in four months

How my handwriting changed in four months

I didn't notice it until recently when I jotted notes in my pad. My strokes look different now. I used to write in very tiny letters, especially if they're cursive. But, now, I can barely write a complete short sentence in one line. I write in chubby letters now and my strokes became more curvy but aggressive than before.

I wonder if this is because I've been practicing how to write Lao characters, and the new strokes influenced my old style of writing.

My first round of learning Pasa Lao at Vangvieng
And driving a motorbike everyday, gripping a not-so-smooth accelerator knob, has also made the difference of my handwriting. Two callouses have appeared to be permanent in my right palm.

So much must have changed in me after four months here in Laos. I noticed my arms are darker now than the part under the sleeves. I think there are also some changes in me beyond my skin.

To catch up with some personal stuff that I did in this landlocked country, I will post my previous articles published on MindaNews.

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