She is now 31 years old. Her boyfriend is far away in Australia and she doesn't know if he will ever come back. This is the story of Tui, a woman in Vientiane, Laos. When she was young, she grew up in the south of Laos, close to the famous Wat Phou temple. "As children we used it as a playground", she says, "and my brother used it sometimes as a toilet, because there was no other place to go." Her father quit the family early, moved to America. The mother was left with 4 children and some land for growing rice. The Lao social system based on a close mutual commitment between family members who support each other might have saved Tui's life. She went to a local school, learning basics like writing Lao and reading. Most of the time she spend on the rice field. Electricity wasn't available at that time.
When she was in the early 20s, she decided to move. "I wanted to make money to support my mother, and in my home town was no way to do that". So she went to Vientiane, the capital. The brave woman found a job in a textile factory, and the next 4 years she was producing t-shirts. But she was smart enough to watch other sewing, and one by one she starting collecting pattern blueprints. In the rare free time she started sewing at home. after 4 years she had enough. "We worked very hard, 10-12 hours a day, the food was poor and bad. I was done with it". she got another job as a cleaner in a Apartment building. At that time she made enough money to attend English classes. That was enabling her to communicate with foreigners. Her goal: Getting a foreign boyfriend. But her requirements were quite high. at least 45 years old, tall, "good heart". Young man "gamble and drink", she said, "old man don't do this anymore".
One day the dream became true, she met an Australian man fitting in at a bar popular with westerners. He became her boyfriend, she stayed with him in the hotel every time he came to Vientiane. She also quit her job, rented a small apartment with a bedroom, an outside kitchen and a small living room for 80 USD a month and made some money from making Sinhs, the traditional Lao skirt for 40.000 KIP each (5 USD). Main income was still the money her boyfriend gave her, 5000 USD a year, he also payed the rent. She has a bed, what she did not have before. People usually sleep on the floor, having as small mat as mattress. She bought a washing machine and a gas stove. She still prefers to use the traditional Lao grill for cooking. But compared to her mother, she has a luxurious environment.
But now this story seems to come to an end. The boyfriend won't come to Laos much often. "It is okay", she says, "I will find another one." In the appartment complex next door just moved a foreigner in. "His name is Alex, he is handsome", she says, "maybe he want Lao girlfriend?". Love seems to have a different meaning in Laos.
Note: I changed the name of the woman to keep her identity secret.