LUANG PRABANG, Laos // On our last night in Luang Prabang, we volunteered to speak English at a book publisher called Big Brother Mouse. Every night from 5-7 PM locals come to practice their English here. There were around 30 people ages 15-26 including monks who showed up, and probably 5 volunteers some of which English was their second language. I sat with 5 boys in high school // “Her, as in not him but her" he says, or if it helps his friends call him "Lady Man" // “Kong” as in King Kong he tells me // and “Jo” rhymes with bow. I sadly can’t remember the other names, and it was a lesson to me that giving a little extra with your name helps you remember it. I should say my name is Jenny, like from Forest Gump.
They all go to a boarding school with over 90 students, and come from large families with over 6 brothers and sisters each. They have never left Laos, been on a plane, and some have never even left the city. Their homes are as close as 30 minutes away, and some as far as 13 hours by bus towards the Chinese boarder. They wake up at 5 am and make breakfast and study. Class begins at 8 am and runs a morning session until 11 am, and then an afternoon session from 1 - 4 PM. They study 13 subjects including information technology, chemistry, physics, English, and math. Her informs me that math is “not his cup of tea.” It is a co-ed school, but based on the pictures they show me on their smart phones, there are way more boys than girls. None of them have girlfriends. As Her tells me with a huge grin, “No money, no honey.” They all want to get married after they secure good jobs. The dream is to get a scholarship to university abroad in either Vietnam or Japan. Some just want to go to university near the airport and teach English like Chancim, the monk we met a few days ago.
I tell them I am from New York City, and Jo says, “Oh, the big apple.” How do they know these things? Then Her adds, “You must be busy as a bee” with another all teeth smile. I laugh. It turns out he loves idioms, and at this exact moment I can’t think of any. He then tells me his pick up lines he has learned. “Did it hurt? When you fell from heaven?” and “Your eyes are blue like the ocean, and baby I’m lost at sea.” I can’t stop laughing. They are great. I try to teach them, “How much does a polar bear weigh? Enough to break the ice,” but that gets lost in translation. It turns out, they have never seen snow or a polar bear, and the phrase “break the ice” is an idiom for meeting new people that I have to explain. I also teach them “above and beyond” as well as “I love you to the moon and back,” though I think both will be tough to put into a conversation.
We talk about marriage, and he says some people in the country get married at 14 because there is no school in the farmlands. They get bored, marry, and start having kids. They only want a few kids each so they can take care of them and give them a good education. Maybe 4 is a good number. To get married they must pay the girls family a dowery of 1,000,000 Lao Kip, equivalent to $125 USD, bring a pig, some Beer Lao, and Cokes to her house, and have a party. He informs me that girls only want to marry guys with money. I let him know this happens all over the world, especially in New York City.
Adams group is discussing the difference between the words "comforted" and "confronted" as they all try to pronounce both. He is also giving an example of the word "unless" which seems rather difficult. He also is asking them about travel and where they would like to travel if able to go anywhere in the world. The girl says the beaches in Thailand, and the guy says the USA to a city with big buildings.
Just like Chancim, I think we get more out of the conversations than they do. They are teaching us. I tell Adam at dinner about my groups conversations and we can’t stop coming up with idioms. We end up writing the attached note to Her, Kong, and Jo, and slipping it under the door at Big Brother Mouse with a few of the idioms we came up with. Still to this day we catch ourselves saying idioms and smile at each other. The following were some of the best ones that we came up with at dinner:
- "Don't count your chickens before they hatch"
- "Sleep tight, don't let the bed bugs bite"
- "Burning the candle at both ends"
- "Birds of a feather flock together"
- "It's raining cats and dogs"
- "Three sheets to the wind"
- "A horse of a different color"
- "The early bird gets the worm"
- "Pigs get fat, but hogs get slaughtered"
- "It's not over till the fat lady sings"
- "Stuck between a rock and a hard place"
- "It's water under the bridge"
- "Not the sharpest knife in the drawer"
- "Nice try, but no cigar"
- "Don't shoot the messenger"
- "The calm before the storm"
- "One more fish to fry"
- "The straw that broke the camels back"