Category Archives: Laos

Reparations

Heidi wrote a compelling article about the COPE Centre in Laos back in April 2016. In her post she addressed the issue of unexploded ordinance (UXO) spread throughout certain parts of Laos, and the damage these devices are doing to the local communities.If you haven’t read it yet please follow the link above and do so.

“That conflict was another reminder that, whatever the cause, whatever our intentions, war inflicts a wrenching toll, especially on innocent men, women and children. – President Barack Obama, September 2, 2016.”

More than two million tonnes of bombs – “one tonne for every Lao citizen” fell on Laos between 1964 and 1973. ‘Bombies’, as the locals called them, were dropped from American planes on a peaceful country that they were not at war with, as part of a CIA led operation desperately trying to prevent the expansion of Communist North Vietnam. To put this in context, the Americans dropped more bombs on Laos during the Vietnamese war than they dropped onto both Germany and Japan during the second world war.

I’m not going to discuss the morality, politics or strategic reasoning that this decision was taken. Many people have been doing this for decades and will continue to do so for many more years to come. I just want to see some support and assistance for the Laos people to clean up the mess and prevent further catastrophe. To that end I was pleased to see that President Obama recently announced during his visit to Laos that it was,

“…time to pull America’s secret war in Laos from the shadows.”

Great! So what does this equate to for the Laos people? Unfortunately the President stopped short of apologising for the actions of his predecessors, however he did commit to a three year, ninety million dollar, clean up plan.

Will these reparations result in a UXO free Laos? Only time will tell, but its a good first start.

laos

I Love Laos’ Chaos

This little beauty appeared on the J&C Expat Services website a couple of days ago

No More Right Turns On Red Traffic Lights: Lao Police

Source: Laonationaltelevision Tnl

As of yesterday, according to this report of the Lao National TV, it’s forbidden to take a right turn on a red traffic light, unless there is an additional green arrow light (apart from the main signal light) present and flashing.

green arrow

Not following this rule will result in fines of Kip 700’000 for cars and Kip 300’000 for motorbikes.

There was no mention of going straight ahead through a red light (which multitudes or locals do every day),

…or riding your motorbike on the footpath whenever you feel you want to,

…or the amount of passengers a motorbike may carry at any one time (the most I’ve ever seen is six),

…or…

I miss living in Laos.

The Black Stupa

That Dam (pronounced Tat Dam) is an old weather-beaten stupa located near the centre of Vientiane. There are many rumours surrounding this rather forlorn looking object. Some suggest that it was once adorned completely in gold that was stolen by the Siamese during the ransacking of Vientiane in 1828. Others suggest that it houses a seven-headed naga (dragon serpent) that protects the city, but must have been asleep in 1828 😉

There is not much information available about this ancient relic. According to the sign in the photo the department of electricity maintains the grounds around the stupa but, as you can see, unchecked vegetation sprouts from cracks all over the monument itself. No one comes here to pray and the only visitors appear to be tourists who stumble upon it either by accident or good fortune.

And so it stands relatively unloved, in the middle of a quiet little roundabout near the old American Embassy, waiting patiently to unleash the naga should Vientiane once again require its assistance.

That Dam, The Black Stupa

That Dam, The Black Stupa

Last Lao King

Chao Anouvong, also known by the regal name of King Xaiya Setthathirath V is the last king of the former Lao kingdom of Lane Xang, who ruled from 1805 – 1828. The statue pictured below and the surrounding parklands are a memorial to a man perceived locally as one of the countries most cherished leaders. During the unveiling of the monument in 2010, Deputy Prime Minister Somsavat Lengsavad gave a rousing speech acknowledging the kings bravery and devotion to keeping the Siamese away. Although the king was unable to achieve victory, and was later captured and tortured by the Siamese,

“…his determination to fight on reflected the depth of his devotion to maintaining the country’s independence.” – Deputy Prime Minister Somsavat Lengsavad.

Chao Anouvong’s statue points across the Mekong toward Thailand, perhaps as a final act of defiance, or perhaps (as blogger  believes) he is looking for the 20 million former Lao people living nowadays as Thais in Thailand’s north-eastern Isaan provinces! Personally, I think he is offering an outstretched hand of friendship toward the Thai people whom he once rebelled against.

Chao Anouvong, also known by he regal name of King Xaiya Setthathirath V

Chao Anouvong, also known by the regal name of King Xaiya Setthathirath V

Wat Si Saket

Wat Si Saket is perhaps the oldest surviving Buddhist temple in Vientiane after the Siamese army sacked the city in 1827. It was built by King Anouvong c1818 in a traditional Thai style and named after a sister temple, Wat Saket, in Bangkok. It is believed that the use of Siamese architecture in the construction of the temple is what kept it safe during the sacking of Vientiane because the invading armies used it as both lodgings for the troops and as a temporary head quarters. The older buildings are undergoing restoration at the moment and the temple is open as a museum. Entry fee is a modest donation to the restoration effort. Photography inside the old buildings is generally frowned upon

The COPE centre

Understated, tucked into the ground of the Centre of Medical Rehabilitation in Vientiane, Laos, the COPE visitor centre tells incredible stories of survival and challenges today.

More than two million tonnes of bombs – “one tonne for every Lao citizen” fell on Laos between 1964 and 1973.  Laos is most heavily bombed country on Earth, per capita. [1,2]

Cluster bombs COPE centre

At the very least, that’s a lot of scrap metal to be had, which means money to be made. People have become reliant on the scrap metal trade. Although it is illegal there are still communities using basic metal detectors and small shovels to check paddy fields and forest for metal they can sell. Children earn money by collecting metal and selling it to scrap metal merchants.  Scrap dealers pay less than 25 cents a mile which is enough incentive for poor families to take the risk.

It also means a lot of UXO’s (unexploded ordnances – or ‘bombies’ as they are known in Laos.

Mr Ta COPE visitor centre

Mr Ta COPE visitor centre

Mr Ta was fishing with two of his sons, aged 8 and 10, when he found a zombie lying in the ground.  He knew it was dangerous but he had heard that you could use the explosive inside to catch fish.  He sent his children behind a tree and crawled up to the zombie.  As soon as he touched it it exploded.  His sons ran from the terrifying noise – when they returned they had to take care of their father, who was losing blood from his terrible injuries.  The dragged him into the boat and rowed back to the village.  In total it took nine hours for him to reach medical help.  Ta lost both arms and an eye.  After returning home from hospital his life was very difficult – Ta described how he had to “eat like a dog”.

Ta was not aware that there were services available to help him; he was, fortunately, brought to the CMR yay a UXO clearance team.  He received three different types of arms that enabled him to be much more independent and to play a larger role in his family  Ta went on to become an advocate fro an international ban on cluster munitions and traveled to Oslo in 2010 to see the singing of the Convention on Cluster Munitions.  He continues to campaign for countries to sign the ban and implement its obligations.

There are some good stories too.  Since 1995 the US has invested over UDS$60 million dollars to clear and safely dispose of UX in Laos, and deliver education to people in at-risk areas.  In June 2014, the US announced that it was increasing its contribution to the UXO effort from $9 million to $12 million per hear.  In October it announced that it would provide an additional $1.5 million to COPE to expand the provision of free, local access to prostheses and other mobility devices as well as quality physical rehabilitation services throughout the country.

Prosthesis COPE Laos

What is COPE?

COPE (Cooperative Orthotic and Prosthetic Enterprise) was founded in 1997 focused on working with Lao health authorities in developing quality services for people with disabilities.

COPE Connect began in 2009 to make services available in remote areas.  Inspired by a boy named Santar it has a powerful outreach programme, and shows and how much difference a prosthetic can make.

Santar is from Muang Sin, in the far northwest corner of LAOS.  COPE staff on holiday there heard about a little boy who had been in involved in an accident some years before.  After some searching the village was located and there, in one of four houses, sat 8-year-old Santar, depressed and withdrawn.  He had been hit by a sugar cane truck two years before, losing one leg and badly damaging the other.  He had been confined to the house since.

Santar COPE Connect Laos

Some months later he made the 24-hour bus journey to Vientiane.  Surgeons operated to correct his left foot and fitted a prosthesis for his right leg.  After four months of physiotherapy Santar returned home and returned to school.  A few years later Santar returned to Vientiane to study, the pictures tell their own story.Santar COPE Connect

What can you do?

Make a donation to COPE!

This is the best present you could imagine, giving someone an improved life through mobility. Here are examples of what your donation will go towards. It’s easy to make a difference here in Laos.

  • US$10 – a developmental toy for a child with a disability
  • US$ 15 – Food for a week
  • US$ 30 – Rehabilitation equipment
  • US$ 10 – A developmental toy for a child with a disability
  • US$ 15 – Food for a week
  • US$ 30 – Rehabilitation equipment
  • US$ 40 – Special Chair for a child with a disability
  • US$ 75 – Prosthetic leg
  • US$ 150 – Prosthetic Arm
  • US$ 200 – Complete Treatment
  • US$ 250 – Club Foot Treatment

Donate and Make a Difference – We did!

References

[1] Mekong: a river rising.  Guardian Newspaper 26 November 2015.  http://www.theguardian.com/environment/ng-interactive/2015/nov/26/the-mekong-river-stories-from-the-heart-of-the-climate-crisis-interactive  Accessed 29 November 2015.

[2] COPE visitor Handbook

Ban Thongkang Cafe Salas

Lizards Dropping

xmas The Ban Thongkang Cafe on Sokpaluang Road in Vientiane (near the Siavonne market), is one of those hidden gems you often read about in travel books. Our fascinating host is very friendly and always ready for a chat. Along with her many stories of cooking in Paris with her francophone husband, and boating across to Burma on regular visa runs, she also spent twelve years on a dive boat preparing meals for scuba groups and has over 200 open water excursions herself. These experiences help to create a menu that offers an excellent selection of wonderful Thai cuisine, all for a very reasonable price.

We were enjoying a BeerLao here the other day, waiting for our Penang duck curry, spicy laab gai and sticky rice extravaganza, when I noticed they still had their Christmas tree on display. This in itself was not surprising when you consider the overall kitschy design of the alfresco restaurant with old photo’s, damaged pith helmets, Vietnamese coolie hats, fish traps, Chinese lanterns, dusty gourds and other assorted op-shop treasures adorning the salas within the grounds.

From our seat it looked for all the world as if the authentic cow skull (fresh from the set of an old John Wayne movie I bet) had replaced the traditional angel at the top of the tree. As I wandered over to investigate an apparent homage to a ‘cowboy Christmas’ a lizard fell out of the sky and landed with a thud at my feet.

I had read about this happening in the Dr Siri books, and even joked about it in one of our recent posts, but until I saw it with my own eyes I never really thought that it could get so hot a lizard would no longer be able to cling to the walls with its sticky feet. I guess this little guy was not quite the gecko he thought he was. After a minute or two the apparently non-concussed reptile shot off across the scorching concrete faster than Usain Bolt.

I’m glad he was ok, and happier still that I wasn’t underneath him when he decided to bungy jump without an elastic 🙂

splat

Impossible Shrooms

It’s springtime in Laos and we are in the middle of a very long dry spell. There has been no rain since January and temperatures are peaking in the high 30s and, occasionally, the early 40s (for our American friends, that’s well over 100 degrees Fahrenheit).

Birds are dropping out of the sky, geckos are falling off the walls, toads are hibernating deep underground and Mekong river catfish are knocking on the door asking to borrow a cup of water.

Yet, in the midst of a dusty sunrise, two mushrooms found the will (and enough moisture) to say g’day.

Impossible Shrooms

Impossible Shrooms