Even though life in the busy city of Vientiane is very stimulating, there is a fascinating element of simplicity in the daily lifestyle. For example, people do not use napkins, paper towels or facial tissues. Toilet paper is the only paper product commonly available, and it serves multiple purposes. They place small rolls of it in little round baskets to be used at the bedside for tissues or on the table for wiping one’s fingers and mouth while eating.

I was also amazed that despite what appeared to me to be very challenging traffic patterns, citizens of Laos exhibit no road rage. Even though it’s always “rush hour” in the narrow streets of the city, they don’t stress out like American drivers. Bikers, pedestrians, and drivers of all types of vehicles simply proceed to their destinations in a merging flow, seemingly unconcerned with time or traffic conditions.

Another example of simplicity is the widespread use of rice. A staple of their diet, rice in various forms is served as a main dish, a side dish, used as the basis for multiple kinds of desserts, as “sticky rice” and even sold on a stick like a popsicle in the market—a very popular item. Particularly in the countryside, Lao people eat mostly rice and other simple foods, fresh from the earth— vegetables and fruits of all sizes, shapes, colors and textures. Those living near lakes and rivers eat the fish they catch.

Simplicity is further seen in the national dress. Although Western styles are creeping in, many women still wear the traditional skirt, called a sein, that wraps around the waist and falls just below the knee. There is a decorative band around the bottom—a few inches wide for everyday wear, a foot or so wide for special events, and the entire skirt would likely be a woven design for a bride. Same basic skirt—varied to suit the occasion.

Lesson #4

In every culture, living simply tends to breed a contentment that is unrivaled. There is a certain level of health and happiness that comes from receiving sustenance directly from the earth. Creativity and placing an appropriate value on the passage of time are other habits that richly enhance our enjoyment of life.