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pure perfection

Sometimes perfection doesn’t have to be 100%.

What an odd statement coming from a perfectionist. But I think sometimes, just giving 100% is enough. At least for me, and especially if your name is Kina Grannis.

She is setting up. Magic carpet – check. Boots off – check. Mic – check. Nod to sound guy – check. I’m up front. My favorite spot when I’m attending a Kina Grannis show. And then she finally looks up and catches a glimpse of me. I’m  smiling from ear to ear and I give her my quirky signature wave.  The one where I am trying to hide it from everyone else but her. She gets a little excited and smiles and I know that the rest of the show is going to be amazing.

She’s been sick. I could hear that she still hasn’t fully recovered, but she gave 100% for the tiny crowd that had formed inside a small bar in a small sleepy college town in Iowa on a  Sunday during the Fall. I have seen her a lot of times in California where the venues are large and the fans come by the car load, but there was something magically about this tiny crowd.

I’m baised. Not only do I love Kina, but I grew up in Iowa. Iowans are like the Lao in terms of hospitality and love. You could feel the love. And it was an amazing show. And everyone was blown away, just like I knew they would be.

I came close to crying once. Right before Back To Us. Oy, Kina.

She played Give Me Back and Make Me. Love. Prior to her “This is for Toby!” encore dedication when she started her tour in San Francisco, CA, Give Me Back has always been one of my favorite songs. She has since started adding it to her set list, which I love. I was hoping for an encore so I could request These Magnet Hearts but ended up listening to These Magnet Hearts during the first 2 hours of the drive home instead. Maybe she’ll play it during the rest of Midwest tour. 😉

The cutest moments came during the meet-and-greet. During one point I caught her eyes when a fan was busy buying merch for her to sign and she instantly did her cute happy dance. I did one in return and then for fear of looking stupid, I eventually stopped.

And eventually got to front of the line and to Kina where I got the best Kina hug. The best part about a small crowd at a small venue? A lot of quality face-time with Kina.

Kina in Iowa. Pure perfection.


miles of wire

Who knew that 37 minutes of talk time could exude so many feelings?

The missing is 83745 times stronger after a really great phone call home. The girls have just started walking to a farm about 3 hours away. Now that our rice has been harvested, they are going to a nearby farm to harvest for extra money. They do this during the planting season too.

I am humbled at their willingness to do whatever it takes to make ends meet.

I’m instantly happy when I hear that initial voice on the phone. This time it was the middle girl. I’m laughing about something she said. She’s commenting on my laugh. This makes me laugh some more. She laughs to. The phone gets passed to the oldest girl. Usual formalities. She asks for my mom and I tell her that she’s not around. She passes the phone to my aunt.

Sabaidee. Sabaidee bor?

I ask about the littlest girl. She tells me that she’s so far ahead she’s oblivious. She asks about my parents. I ask her about everyone I know there. We start talking about the oldest girl and her desire to continue her education. She knows I support it 100%. I know money is tight and the rice this year has been the worst crop they’ve seen in their lifetime, but I support education and I want my cousin to continue.

We talk about resiliency. Fight for what we want. I remind her that I put myself through college and even though I have debt from it, it was what I wanted.

I can hear the sadness in my aunt’s voice and it makes me so incredible sad. The short silence overwhelms me. I wish I could do more, but she knows I’m currently jobless too. She tells me to keep searching.

She passes the phone back to the oldest girl since she has been waiting patiently for the phone to circulate back to her. I joke with her about a boy. She tells me he’s too dark and short and ugly. I laugh wholeheartedly. She goes on to talk about how he’s been interested in her since last year. She talks about how he constantly buys her stuff and lunches and how she allows him to. I tell her she surely is my cousin. I laugh again.

She’s a good kid. I tell her she will have plenty of time to fall in love. She’s not sure what she wants to do when she is done with school this year. Her last year. I tell her become a nurse, but she’s unsure. I tell her she can become a teacher too, if she wants. I want to support whatever dreams she has for herself.

The operator warns me of the final minute.

I tell her that it’s almost time for me to go. I tell her to study hard and she promises me she will. I know she will. I tell her that I’ll call her back in a few weeks and the line goes dead.

Even resiliency can be heard through those miles and miles of wire.

food and drink


Food and drink is a very important part of Lao culture. Refusing either is insulting. Now you know why my trip consisted of  a lot of eating and  a lot of drinking with a lot of great company.

I like to blame my dad’s genes for making me a lover of both. I only learned about how much his family loves to party in 2007 when we were there. I mean, his side of the family in the States likes to have fun, but his side of the family in Laos is ridiculous.

Ridiculously awesome, that is.

feeding frenzy

If you saw me after my Laos trip, you would know I like to eat. Instead of losing weight, I gained a good 10-15 pounds upon my return. Like a piranha on a feeding frenzy, I ate very well.

We were extremely spoiled and often invited to homes for an excessive amount of food. Otherwise were out at one of the fabulous restaurants we had fallen in love with or just out at Mieng Chao Kao enjoying dinner and drinks with friends. I’m really easy to please and all I really need is some good company and great food.

As soon as I got there, I began noticing that I really liked to serve people food. Maybe it’s the Southern Lao girl in me coming out, but there is something truly satisfying knowing that others were happy and full. I noticed that Euay Noi did the same thing when we went out with her for karaoke one night.

In no particular order, some of my favorite meal memories:

  1. Nam Ngum. The raft trip included so many delicious items including Sao Noi Disco dancing shrimps. We even had the first of insects.
  2. Ake’s Family Times Two. We had wonderful food at both of his family’s home. Each completely different and each insanely wonderful. There’s something insane about a table full of food. And something extremely humorous about his family encouraging us to eat all the food before us because they didn’t want our families to think we weren’t well taken care of in Laos.
  3. First Night at Kong View. Maybe it was because it was our first taste of really good Laos food, but probably because of the company and the location. We’d end up eating there again as our last meal as a group. Again, another perfect meal together.
  4. Birthday Lunch and Dinner. It was perfect. With the kids and later that night with the adults. I don’t remember a birthday where I enjoyed the cakes that much.
  5. Seen Dot at Euay Noi’s Parent’s House. There were only 5 of us at the table (the kids ate separately from us that night), but it was just so lovely that they made this huge meal for us. Euay Noi served us so much food. Not only did she serve me a second bowl, but almost succeeded in serving me a third. She knew better than to try.
  6. Take-Out and Karaoke at Friend’s House. What can be better than dinner and karaoke? There was so much food and  beer flowing.
  7. Dinner Like The Locals. Near the That Luang. Always tasty, always cheap, and always such a nice walk.
  8. Pho and Karaoke. Again, nothing better than dinner and karaoke. The pho bowls were massive and the pho itself was delicious. We sang before we ate and then again after our meals. Always love spending time with the crew and the people that made the summer worth remembering.
  9. Ban Phongsong Meals. The best Lao food is the Lao food made in the villages. The ladies treated us all to so many wonderful meals during our stay. It’s even better when music and dancing is also involved.
  10. Lunch with Sack in Luang Prabang. Simply because it was made with love.

almost everything

People are still curious about Laos and I think it’s rather difficult, as a native, to give an unbiased and adequate explanation of this country. The culture still shines through and the people mostly unaffected by the influx of tourists in the recent years. It’s beautiful, untamed and still quite underdeveloped.

With this said, life is different there. And having been spoiled throughout my life with necessities, needs, and wants constantly at my fingertips, it’s not surprising that I would miss a few things from the United States.

  • High Speed Wireless Internet. It’s just not comparable and I love that I can use my laptop in bed here.
  • My soft comfortable bed that I sink into and it cradles me to bed. My bed was so hard there and there wasn’t a morning that the AC wasn’t leaking on my head even after telling the staff and owner’s daughter many times.
  • Having everything and anything at my disposal. I forgot or didn’t bring enough of so many things. Mainly Q-Tips and bug spray.
  • Non-white shirts. Too dirty, too fast.
  • Showers that aren’t hand held and has decent pressure. The best showers I had were in Khon Kaen and in the countryside. That says a lot.
  • My 9389472 pairs of high heels. I would have loved to have brought more but that meant sacrificing valuable luggage space. I even had to buy an extra luggage coming back.
  • My Toyota Camry baby. Being without a car meant giving up some of my independence. Trying to count on people and tuktuks really tested me but it honestly wasn’t too bad.
  • A non-chaotic road system. I don’t know that I can drive in VTE with my road rage, but chaotic and rage just doesn’t go well together.
  • Faster texting capabilities. I swear, I would spend minutes trying to text something just to have to re-type it again 5 minutes later. It just means I would have to get a better phone next time.
  • Large Q-Tips. I’m a creature of habit and I must clean my ears every morning. Related  story, when I got back to CA, I was overjoyed at finding some large Q-Tips in the bathroom at my friend’s house. Oh, the little things.
  • Free water at restaurants. Although it wasn’t expensive, I really hated spending money on water. Instead, I just ordered Beer Lao.
  • Napkins, toilet paper, and hand towels. There seemed to always be a shortage of it wherever we went. I started to carry it in my purse or school bag for emergencies.

With that said, I’d like to think I did very well for someone who has grown up privileged when compared to some in Laos. I took each flaw as it came and tried to make the best of it. I’d give up all of these material goods up again in a heartbeat to be back in Laos.

that phon

That Phon

That Phon is about an hour and fifteen minutes by car (or truck) from my village. If you’re lucky like me, you’ll be sitting inside of the truck when you make this trip. I felt bad for my family who were sitting in the bed of the pickup, but they had a good time talking for the duration of the trip and hooting when we unsuccessfully avoided a large pothole. Even I giggled with every failed attempt. And grateful for a padded seat as the wheels on the truck went ’round and ’round and the people in the truck went up and down.

I had never been to this particular That before, so I was thrilled that my aunt took time to take me there for some merit making. The grounds of this particular That is absolutely beautiful. An elaborate temple is front and center as you walk in. Believed to have been constructed on an earlier religious site by King Phothisarat or his son Sai Setthathirat I in the mid 16th century, That Phon is one of the most sacred stupas.

Before we went to  make merit, there is a huge golden drum that you are suppose to rub for good luck. I am proud to say that I have full command of the language, but sometimes customs are still unknown to me so I asked my aunt to show me how it was done. She graciously obliged.

Put money in basket. Lift basket to head and ask for something silently. Rub drum until it rings. Or in my aunt’s case, it doesn’t ring.

You can see where people have rubbed the drum. So after a bit of “No you go, no you go, no you go” between the youngins I went first and mimicked my aunt. Put money in basket. Lift basket to head and ask for something silently. Rub drum until it rings. And when you rub, you do more of a ‘diggin’ motion inside the belly of the drum.

A sweet ringing sound was heard. All of my aunts looked at me and said I had a lot of boun. I kept rubbing and the sound grew louder and louder. At that moment I felt like all my worries were carried away. None of the ladies got it to ring, but the four of us younger ones did.

hate hospitals

I blacked out in the hallway of my All Girls Dorm one time during my undergrad years. I had spend the night and morning covered in sweat just to be followed by a chill to the bones. Right before I blacked out, I had been in the shower, trying to cool myself down. I eventually became too cold to make it back to my room. Knees buckled and I came an inch from knocking my head on the hallway mirror. Eventually, I managed to get myself in bed, top bunk, and it literally took the police to get me out of it. I remember they called my parents who were crying on the other end and begging me to please go. I didn’t want to be a burden to anyone. I was scared to find out what it was. I was scared about the bill. Luckily I was a fairly healthy girl growing up so our lack of health insurance never really effected me. Now that I was in college, every penny meant something and I really didn’t want to spend all my earnings with just a visit to the hospital. But eventually I went. And all tests came back inconclusive.

Another time during my undergrad, Holly had been in the hospital for something that I have since forgot. Holly became my best friend and confidant and the thought of anything going wrong during surgery just killed me. I dreaded going to see her but I knew I had to. I had went and got her some flowers and balloons and trying my hardest to be strong as I walked into her room. I broke down instantly. I didn’t want to be hurting and I didn’t want to see her like that. So much for being strong.

There have been numerous times when my dad has been in the hospital for his diabetes spikes and I hated being there. Every visit just a temporary fix.

Then mom went in for a week a few years ago and I wanted nothing with going to see her. Her diagnosis was bad and she had a long history of hospital visits. She hasn’t been well since we left Laos and I knew that. Of course, I went, but I would have volunteered to be elsewhere but there. It was hard seeing her so helpless, but I stayed with her every night. During the mornings I would sooth myself by crying on the way to work and then again when I was returning to the hospital for the night.

I hate hospitals. I hate that I lose all sense of strong when I am there.