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My last week in Laos was amazing. Laos New Year (Pi Mai) officially lasts for three days but is celebrated for one week in Luang Prubang. Water is a major theme of their new year’s celebration. Water is used to pour over monks, elders and Buddha images. This custom has evolved more playfully into splashing people with water through any means necessary – squirt guns, hoses, bowls and buckets of water. Everyone joins in the fun and gets doused. If I’m walking on the street, I’ll be drenched. Driving on a moped, I’ll get a wet head. They will even open the doors of your car and pour water on you! So I succumbed to the madness and became a water douser, splashing and getting splashed for many hours on the street. And of course there was dancing too. And karaoke. And many toasts (I just drank water). At the end of the day, all of my friends starting washing their hair with the hose and I politely declined to shampoo my hair on the street. And then it hit me – I felt like such a dumb American.

For two weeks, I’ve been watching my friends wash their hair in the river. Most of my friends have squat toilets in their homes, and my one friend that has a regular toilet always apologizes that she doesn’t have running water in her house when I need to use the bathroom. She told me she stayed awake until 2am waiting for the water to turn on so she could fill her buckets (which is what she uses to flush her toilet, take a shower, wash her dishes). Everyone washes their hair in any available water source because they don’t have water – duh! My friends live in a city, drive mopeds and cars, look like supermodels, but they don’t have running water. I was relating this revelation to the owner of my guesthouse and he told me he also sets his alarm clock to wake up in the middle of the night to fill up his tank with water. I had no idea – I just turn on the faucet or shower and the water comes out, so I assumed he had a limitless water supply!

In addition to the water splashing and cultural ceremonies for new year, I was also invited to a friend’s house for their new year Baci ceremony. Baci ceremonies are performed at many times in Laos, for a wedding, new baby, housewarming, etc. The new year’s Baci is supposed to be the most auspicious. The living room was filled with elders and children, circling around the offerings. After some chanting, everyone ties string around people’s wrists. First one wrist and then the other, while offering blessings. In English, my friends wished me good health, good luck, happiness, success, love and out with the old and in with the new.

After extending my stay several times, I finally had to leave Laos and arrived in Chiang Mai, Thailand two days ago. Tonight, I had the best massage ever! Which is saying a lot since I’ve probably had over 100 massages. A few minutes into it, I realized it was the best massage in my life. It’s even better when as it’s happening, you know it’s the best _____ ever!

Everyday, I’m speaking in superlatives. Last night, I ate the best curry ever! In Laos, I had the best time! I just bought the best bikini! My mom sent me the sweetest email the other day. She said she can’t remember me telling her that I’ve been completely happy. And that she is so happy I’m happy now. My first reaction was to think that I’m a pretty happy person so a bit surprised by her statement. But as the days passed and I ladled out the superlatives, I realized I am the happiest I’ve ever been in my life. Sometimes, it feels almost sinful to be this happy. I get over that pretty quickly when I realize I’ve worked hard to get to this point in my life and I absolutely deserve every shred of happiness.

That doesn’t mean I’m not thankful for my life. Today, I went on a tour with a Danish husband and his son, and a Thai wife and her daughter. It was a weird Brady Bunch blended family. And they were all totally miserable. The woman was the same age as me but looked decades older. I wondered why she married her husband and about all the sacrifices she’s made in her life to create a better life for her daughter.

Tonight, I removed the strings from my wrists since it’s been three days since the Baci ceremony. I think this is going to be THE BEST YEAR EVER!

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