First Day at Work at the International Water Management Institute in Vientiane, Lao PDR
My first day at the office of the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) in Vientiane was Monday, 6th January 2014. I had a refreshing straight 9 hours sleep, thank goodness for the spatial room with 4m x 4m window facing to the west, which provides me with enough fresh air, view of people coming into the community, and voices of students playing diverse sports even late in the evenings. The morning was bright, sunny, and little cold, but not as the US or Canada. It was still about 100 degree F outside. I was little nervous getting ready to meet folks I have being communicating with since July 2012 to finally see them in person and talk.
At about 7:30am, I was ready to head out the door of the dormitory room to start my first work day. Just as the taxi driver told me the day before that I should cross the street in front of the dormitory building and go through the gates of the Ministry of Forestry and Natural Resources and keep walking until I see IWMI’s office, I did just that. As I approached the main gate to the ministry, I saw a security guard on watch. I greeted him in Lao (Sa Bai Dee) and he responded as I walked and passed him. About 10 meters from the main gate was a sign board written in Laotian scripts and one of those boards had IWMI logo and pointed to the direction of the office building. As I followed the sign towards the building, I also realized that it wasn’t closer enough than I expected so I walked into a nearby office, which was the Director General’s Office for Water and Land Resources of Laos. There I greeted the administrative secretary and asked if she could direct me to the office of IWMI. She could not speak English, so I showed her the logo of the agency after which she realized what I was looking for. She told me to follow her and we passed two buildings and she pointed at the office building. I thanked her in Lao appropriately and she responded in similar manner and walked away and I completed my walk to the office.
As I approached the office building, I realized there were men and women shoes at the entry of the building and on a board a note read “Please take off your shoes.” I took off my shoes, but left my sucks on and went into the office. It was my first experience taking off shoes while at work. Never have I experience that except in Laos. It was relaxing not having those shoes on my feet. I felt totally refreshed and motivated as I walked into the office to meet my colleagues (those are knew through email exchanges and those yet to know). I was immediately greeted and taken to my office space and I was given an information package. I was shown the entire office building and taken to the office of my supervisor. My supervisor and I had once video-conferenced via Skype. We exchanged series of emails, which eventually landed me here today. It was through his support and those of staff members at Clark University as well as U.S. Borlaug that I was able to be here today. They all played and are still playing paramount roles in shaping my academic and professional life.
I was given a quick tour of the facility by Ms. Sengkham after which she showed me my office space. I settled in and after few minutes she came back and asked if I would like to meet Dr. Pavelic, my research supervisor at IWMI. We went upstairs to the second floor of the same building and I formally met him. He asked me about my impression of the city and dormitory and I said that everything looks good right now. He told me to settle in and we could talk the next day. I concurred with him and Mr. Sengkham took me back downstairs and completed the tour of the building. As I was heading back to my office desk, I met Dr. C. T. Hoanh, Director of IWMI and a scholar on water resources. He recognized me and said you are the one going to work with Paul on the groundwater project right? I responded yes and he said welcome onboard and I look forward to talking with you more. I thanked him in Lao (kob chai) and he responded in similar manner. His office is just adjacent to mine. He is an elderly man in his late 80s or probably early 90s. He is someone who is full of knowledge, wisdom, experiences and a great teacher.
Generally, my view of the workplace ethics here at IWMI is truly unique with everyone working together as a family what seems to be a less competitive working environment contrasted with a typical workplace environment in the U.S. or other western country. In Laos, respect for others and being patient is crucial for collective productivity. This idea is generally reflected in the smiles, mutual, and respectful greetings, which forms the sphere of the workplace.
The rest of the day was spent at the office answering unanswered emails and revising my research plans, prospectus, and updating my WordPress blog for non-research related post of my experience in the country and other areas I have travelled or plan to travel. I had lunch at a small Laotian cafeteria at work and I ordered fresh rice noodle soup with pieces of pork. It was nicely cooked and tasty! This was the third dish of the same kind in two days. So, I hope you imagine what I mean.