A life that just gets better!

(Post Written for Diabetes Can’t Stop Me  link to post here)

Some Introductory details:

  • I was diagnosed with T1 diabetes in 1977, at the age of 11 years.
  • I was admitted to the Royal Children’s hospital (Melbourne) almost in a coma. I stayed in the hospital and was ‘trained’ to look after my condition over 2 weeks.
  • I was embarrassed and ashamed at that time and didn’t want anyone to know. My older brother (by 9 years) had been diagnosed at age 9 but he never talked about it.
  • My mother took the brunt of my care. She boiled my glass syringes and reusable needles every night, to soak in Methylated spirits until required.  I had to test my urine, using a dropper, test tubes and a magic tablet that was dropped in the tube, changed the colour and then was then measured up against a chart.
  • At the age of 13, more complications for my life after a serious car accident (Anglesea, during a Diabetes camp run by the RCH).
  • Needless to say, my teenage years were a mess, but I survived!

Skipping a few decades, I am now 51, working as a volunteer in Savannakhet, Laos – a little known landlocked country between Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, China and Myanmar.  I have two amazing children, a boy aged 21 and a girl aged 7, who still live in Melbourne where I grew up. I did a lot of study over the years, culminating in a PhD (Education) in 2011.  I volunteered in the Solomon Islands in 1994 after spending two crazy years in Kalgoorlie (Western Australia).  I never believed that having diabetes should stop me – and it hasn’t.

Not to say I’ve always been in the best of health, or particularly well-controlled.  My teenage years were a disaster – but having diabetes in a way stopped me from going as far awry as some of my friends did.  I have spent some time in hospital on occasions from DK (Diabetic ketoacidosis) and learnt a lot about my body and control in the process.  I felt close to death on occasions, and this is frightening, but gave me more determination to survive.

My son was born in 1995 (I was 29) – I spent 5 weeks in the RWH (Royal Women’s hospital) before his birth because of my badly controlled diabetes and risk of preeclampsia.  He was induced early, weighed 5lbs at birth and is now a healthy 21 years old.

My daughter was born in 2009 (I was 43) – and that was when I was able to go on pump therapy which has changed my diabetes control incredibly.  Another gorgeous healthy baby, induced but much easier than the first time around.  She is now an incredibly delightful child of 7, so much like me that I’m afraid she will be the next diabetic to join our extended family (currently – 2 siblings, 1 cousin and his child, 1 uncle – and who knows who else draws the next short straw?).

So, at the age of 51, with 40 years of diabetes under my belt, I am proud to say that it has actually incentivised me to conquer the odds, and do the best I can for humanity.  Here in Savannakhet, I am working at a Teacher Training College, with teachers who train young people from rural areas, so that they are able to return to their villages and share their knowledge as a teacher.  I feel appreciated for what I do, and I am so glad to be of help however I can.  Life here is not necessarily easy – complete lack of availability of the medications I need (I had to bring as much with me as I possibly could, and have cut back on blood tests and some medications so they don’t run out), the heat is constant – I’m always sweating, the food is so different to home, there is no suitable medical care locally and I must travel to Thailand or Vientiane for appropriate treatment for any problems that occur.

On the upside, I’m happier and more content than I’ve ever been before in my life.  I have everything I need.  My insulin requirements are much less than when in Australia (yes, even with the dreaded rice as a staple of my diet) and I have had incredible experiences and adventures.  And I appreciate life and every moment so much more.  I really thought, as a young badly controlled diabetic, threatened with blindness, amputations, and kidney disease for all my sins, that I would never get past 34 years.  Well I have, and I’m loving it!

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Food adventures in Laos… because they always are an adventure!

Getting a ‘good’ (in the taste of the consumer of course) coffee is quite an adventure.  Whilst in Vientiane I regularly went on missions to get myself a ‘café Lao’ – now you would think that whilst in Lao, do as the Laotians do – well every time I asked for one it seemed they would look at me in confusion, usually say no, and no, we don’t know where you can get one.  Even places that proudly had their “coffee” signs displayed.

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The most authentico!

I thought I’d hit a jackpot when I asked this man, and he nodded, and proceeded to offer me a seat and make me a coffee in the ‘traditional’ way.  I would ask for ‘café dam, bo namtarn’ – black coffee – no sugar.  *I also found later that ‘no sugar’ meant nothing, I need to say bo sai namtarn – no take sugar – for it to make sense*  Now what he made me was certainly drinkable, but I was starting to wonder if my stomach would ever settle, and had to wonder about the ‘quality’ of the coffee he was serving.  But I did enjoy the ‘tea chaser’ a refresher served with every cup of coffee.

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Cafe Lao

My also newly arrived friends were looking for ‘real coffee’, like back home so we had some enjoyable but rather pricy cups of decent coffee at a few of the better establishments.  Once we arrived in Savannakhet we had to renew the search.  After a while I wasn’t craving it any more anyway, so I often stop by a little place near my work for a morning café Lao, and even reverted to agreeing to a dollop of sweetened condensed milk at the bottom – I actually needed a bit of a sugar fix at the start of the day.  So that is now my regular and I get to meet all sorts of interesting people – usually blokes who are sitting around, usually drinking tea, but always agree to me sitting with them at the table.

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I think that might be me! 

 

Our little ‘Avalon Café’ close by also now knows how we like our coffee (hot!) and treat us well, if with a bit of bemusement after we had a few of our Lao language lessons in there.

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Not my house – under the table at Teacher’s Day!

Of course coffee is but a small part of our culinary experiences.  I’ve also fully briefed (and will continue to do so) any reader of my predilection for local beers, in this case ‘Beer Lao’.  Taken to buying it by the crate load now that I have my own house and fridge to keep them in (12 bottles for 95,000 kip – $AUD15.70 – compared to the ‘normal’ price of 10,000 kip – $1.65 – per bottle from just about any random store).  Very happy with my Beer Lao – as most local people are getting to know.

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Making do for breakfast!

In Vientiane our hotel was very close to a fruit stall that served freshly cut ripe fruit.

Once in Savannakhet, we discovered that it was actually hard to find ripe (souk) fruit, especially cut up and ready to eat.  But the market is great and there are many choices of fresh produce available.  I tend to avoid the meat section and have never bought any – the closest I get is a tin of tuna.  Any dsc_0753meat dishes I save for going out – or the occasional nibble at a party or event.  But I do
love my fresh produce – oh the biggest juiciest
avocados and limes are heavenly!  Tomatoes and cucumbers are a hit, and a variety of greens and different types of fruits and vegetables.shopping5

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Yummy mango-steins!

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shopping1shopping7shopping6

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Often, dsc_0766my Lao work colleagues share their lunch with me.  They find my tastes pretty amusing, and my horror at some of their dishes.  I will try anything, but I won’t pretend to like it!   The fish was a winner, the frog and bamboo (image – thanks BouaKham) was not!  Sticky rice (the Lao specialty) rolled up with fingers and a bit of whatever is going is the regular offering.dsc_00131

 

 

 

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Trying to reciprocate the sharing with my vegemite sandwiches – not a hit with locals or foreigners alike!

 

 

 

 

 

 

white-house

Had a meal out with Bob (I’ve had many meals out with Bob…) at the ‘White House’ – so named because it is, well, White!  And clean white is pretty rare around here – an upmarket establishment sure but we have to try them all out!  Felt like a great place to drink Gin and Tonics on the terrace but it was lunch time so we made do with delicious icy cold fruit smoothies (no sugar added!).  We had a delectable salad with salmon, bacon, egg and greens, and a fabulous pizza – the best part being the buffalo milk mozzarella – delicious!

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Lao Food Collection

Looking online for a local restaurant serving Lao food to invite friends and family to before I go.  Most establishments seem to offer combinations of Vietnamese-Thai-Lao-Burma.  Salivating now…  Here are some excerpts (+source links) from what I found:

1.  Minh Minh

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Lao restaurant Richmond

https://www.zomato.com/melbourne/minh-minh-richmond

Google Map Directions

Mmmmm, yum – central, easy to get to, mostly good reviews, this is it!  … Stay tuned for review!

Minh Minh menu

https://www.zomato.com/melbourne/minh-minh-richmond/menu#

2.  LAOS  (foodie excerpt from Radio show transcript)

I don’t think I ate ANYTHING in Laos that I didn’t enjoy. The nicest surprise was the absence of oily, wet curries, and the much bigger emphasis on fresh, light, spicy salads or meat/seafood dishes; lashings of supremely fresh herbs, a huge array of vegetables, and a good variety of meats and fish.

Common dishes
Laap (Larb in Thailand): Minced chicken, pork, fish with onion, chilli, mint.
Papaya Salad – Always spicy, even when you ask for the mild version! Strips of green papaya, garlic, chili, peanuts, sugar, lime juice and more chili.
Pho – From Vietnam, that tasty broth with beef or pork, meatballs, thai basil, Sprouts, chilli – awesome for breakfast.

Sticky rice – that glutinous version served with almost every meal in Laos – be it salad, stirfry or soup. The idea is to take a couple of fingers full, roll it into a ball, and dip it into your dish to eat the two together.
My best meals in Laos:
Eggplant and fish with thai basil at Vilayvak restaurant in Vientiane – mushy and tangy and wonderful.
Breakfast Pork Pho at Kungs Café in a hidden little laneway in Vientiane.
Dried, fried beef with sesame seeds and spicy salsa at Spirit House by the Mekong River.

Where you can get it here:
YIM YAM – 12 Margaret Street Moonee Ponds   http://www.yimyam.com.au

A busy restaurant just off the buzzing Puckle Street, Yim Yam is an absolute gem. The highlight here is without a doubt the Yum – warm salads with bags of herbs, spices, vegies and texture.  The Goy Guy Chicken Salad is basically a laap, so a good one to try, but the stand out is the signature dish – Yum Yim Yam. Available with either Prawns or Tofu, it’s a dish full of strips of carrot, lettuce, red onion, spring onion, with toasted coconut and garlic and banana blossom. Absolute bliss.

Other good Laos staples to try include the spicy Laos sausage, Laos Beef Curry; and you can get sticky rice here. Importantly, Yim Yam offers unbelievable value for money, with most mains between $13 and $18. (Note: they have a sister restaurant in Ballarat Street Yarraville).

3.  Lao Food Blog

Lao food blog

 

http://www.foodfromnorthernlaos.com/

4. …National Dish of Laos – with live crabs!

Check out the complexities of preparing Laos food flavours – mmm, yum, I’d forgotten.

http://laosforums.com/viewtopic.php?f=14&t=229

 

 

Ant Egg Soup

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Ant Egg Soup: The Adventures of a Food Tourist in Laos Paperback – February 1, 2005