Tag Archives: fishway

Hello Something

6 Jun
A handy fortune teller right there when you arrive at BKK airport

A handy fortune-teller right there when you arrive at BKK airport

 

Hello! This post comes to you direct from Jakarta, Indonesia. For those with no time to read, photos are at the bottom.

A lot has happened (once again) since my last post. Before Liz and I set off for a 2-week trip to Thailand, we got a chance to celebrate the Lao new year (pii mai). I won’t dawdle too much about it as not only am I over a month late but a few of the other volunteers here have already written about it on their blogs. If you’d like to read more about this awesome, week-long celebration then you can do so here and here.

To summarise, it involves bucket loads of water, beer and Super Soakers. It puts water restrictions and conservation to shame. Considering the exactly same thing happens in Thailand which has almost 10 times the population of Laos, you begin to see the picture.

Here’s a video to help you understand what I’m talking about.

Songkran festivities

Songkran festivities

The Thailand trip was really fun and it was nice to be in a more developed country for a while. We certainly made the most of the food options by eating ourselves to daily standstills. Bangkok, Chiang Mai and the beaches were all awesome.

We started out in Bangkok where the malls had a constant smell of tiger balm (Jimmy, here is a link for you). The Thais call their version of the new year celebrations, Songkran, and we landed right in the middle of the water fights that were raging all across the country. When it’s 40 degrees outside, a country-wide water fight sounds awesome but when people add ice inside their water pistols it adds a whole other dimension to the game.  Luckily we arrived ready with rubbish bags for our luggage and plastic pouches for the wallets and phones.

We had a rough idea of what we wanted to do while in Thailand but hadn’t yet booked flights or accommodation when we arrived. We decided that Chiang Mai was next, a place that I had heard so many good things about before. On our second day there, we hired a random driver (Mr Chai) with an awesome car to take us out of the city to see the Mae Sa waterfall, Tiger Kingdom, Monkey School and the Huay Tung Tao lake. We attempted to rent one of those cycling boats on the lake but the rental guy took one look at me and just said “overweight”. I tried to take his advice as constructive criticism.

The highlights and lowlights of the day were had at the Tiger Kingdom and Monkey School. While both places provided some great entertainment and excitement, it was really sad to see the monkeys at the Monkey School chained up and pacing around their enclosures, clearly in distress. It was one of those surreal experiences where the tricks performed by the monkeys were really cool but the way they live was not so cool. It’s really hard to get much information on these places. Apparently the monkeys get let out onto the main property outside business hours but who knows if that’s actually true or not. In hindsight, I would definitely go to see the tigers again but probably not the monkey place.

The next day we hired a couple of trusty bicycles and spent the day touring around the Old City of Chiang Mai and then headed north-east to the Chiang Mai Zoo. I hadn’t been to the zoo for ages and this one was awesome. We got to TOUCH and feed hippos, giraffes and an elephant!!! There were also a whole bunch of other cool animals there.

In Laos, Liz always gets mistaken for a local and I have a great time asking her what they said to her as I know she doesn’t understand a word but politely nods along. Well, it was the same in Thailand except that not only did the locals think she was Thai but she also got local prices for some of the attractions. We also came up with many creative ways to save and cut costs but I won’t get into that as they weren’t all entirely legal.

Everywhere we went, there were stalls filled with random stuff that locals were trying to sell to ‘falang’ like us. A common way of enticing the foreigners to look at their stall was by calling out “hello, something” as you pass by. This is matched in Laos by similar stall holders calling out “looking” to passersby.

Following our week-long city stay, we spent the second week at the beach. First at Koh Lanta, an island just south of Krabi and then a few days at Railay which is located on the mainland and has some really beautiful beaches.

On our last day at Koh Lanta, we hired a motorbike and spent the day riding up and down the island. We went to the really interesting Lanta Animal Welfare shelter and saw how they employee volunteer travelers to help the local cat and dog population. We then headed south and managed to find this awesome spot overlooking the sea where we watched the sun set, sipping on the local brew.

Sunset at Koh Lanta

Sunset at Koh Lanta

I liked Railay better than Koh Lanta if for no other reason than that on the first night we got to watch Wolf Creek 2 at this outdoor restaurant while it absolutely bucketed down (which only added to the horror movie vibe). As weird as it might sound, Wolf Creek actually made me homesick. This was until we got back to our accommodation and were promptly kept awake half the night by one of the most bogan groups of Aussies I have ever met. They were from Queensland.

Overall, I loved Thailand. We ate at so many buffets that I don’t want to see another buffet for a long time. Thailand is a much more dynamic place than Laos which you would expect as it’s almost 10 times larger. Both Bangkok and Chiang Mai were cool in their own rights and the beaches were really nice. They still have nothing on Australian beaches mainly because the beaches back home have waves. I know, I know, there was that whole tsunami thing but seriously, it’s only for so long that you can waddle around in still water.

Following our holiday in Thailand, I was called up to drive north to Luang Prabang for work. This time it was to start a new project with the local government office. We were to survey the ground around the two weirs we are planning on building fishways for, install water level rulers and undertake a fish survey over the entire wet season. The plan was to engage the local fisherman at both villages to catch fish for an hour, once a week and record it all on a simple data sheet. Having translated the data sheets into Lao, we spent two days driving out to the sites, meeting the Naibans (village chiefs) and having lunch with everyone. It was really interesting to interact with the villagers and see more of how they live outside the main cities. No trip is ever complete here however without a binge drinking session which the group managed to do at one of the engineer’s restaurants. Karaoke was included.

However, my favourite experience while up there was definitely an impromptu dinner at our driver’s friend’s house. Both named, Bounphan. Bounphan the Friend (BtF) lives in a really cool house, the inside of which is completely covered in wood furnishings from floor to ceiling. Once Bounphan the Driver told BtF that I could speak Russian, BtF became really intrigued and excited that he could once again practice his Russian. We pretty much became best friends instantly after that moment.

It was awesome getting a chance to practice Russian while also interacting with a local. A lot of the 50 year olds over here studied somewhere in the former Soviet Union which is where they learned their Russian and communist skills. Over the course of the night, BtF managed to bring out five different bottles of Lao Lao (the local moonshine), one of which contained bile from a bear’s spleen, imported all the way from China.

Back home, things have rolled along and I am now over 7 months through this adventure. I can’t believe how fast time has flown and it won’t be long before I’ll be back to a more (less) familiar environment. I’m both anxious and excited about the next 6 months.

More recently, Liz and I went on a weekend trip to a really remote little eco-retreat called Dreamtime, about 25km north of Vientiane. To get there, we hired a motorbike for the weekend. On the way there we had a small stack as the last 2km was on a really dodgy off-road track. A broken mirror and some cuts and bruises were all that were sustained. However, on our way back to town, we has to drive home first so that I could fix the broken mirror and so that we could put on pants to hide our scratches. The motorbike rental place didn’t even take a second look at the bike, I guess as long as it still had two wheels and could go, they were happy.

So that’s a brief summary of the adventures since I last wrote here. Elizabeth and I are currently taking a short holiday in Indonesia, getting wined and dined by her family and friends. We’ve also got a couple of days in Kuala Lumpar before heading home so that Liz can pack her bags and say goodbye to Laos. It’s been an awesome experience having her here and I’m sure it will be really strange once she goes home.

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Not only am I about to say goodbye to Liz but we also recently said goodbye to our beloved dog, Pac. With Liz going and me constantly away on work trips, we decided to find a new home for him. There was no way of taking him back to Australia due to the customs restrictions and we did rescue him from being put down so all in all, it was the best outcome. It was really sad to see him go but luckily I can still visit him at his new home until I leave Laos later this year.

Till next time,

Len

Elizabeth with a cowboy

Elizabeth with a cowboy

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One of the many Thai malls that we visited. A staple of locals and tourists alike.

 

Monkey playing basketball

Monkey playing basketball at the Monkey School

Bit of a bushwalk to the top of the waterfall

Bit of a bushwalk to the top of the waterfall

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Panda

Chiang Mai night markets

Chiang Mai night markets

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Feeding an elephant at Chiang Mai Zoo

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Giraffe

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Liz and a hippo – love at first sight

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Liz + tiger

Liz + tiger

This one was a bit angry (check out its open mouth and the 'I'm about to bite you' pose

This one was a bit angry (check out its open mouth and the ‘I’m about to bite you’ pose

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Temple hoping in Bangkok

Temple hopping in Bangkok

Building fish traps and getting ready for the wet season experiments at Pak Peung

Building fish traps and getting ready for the wet season experiments at Pak Peung

Work lunch at Luang Prabang province

Work lunch at Luang Prabang province

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Sok Dii Pii Mai – Monthly Update

13 Apr

Hello curious people! As much as I always have plans to write more, it never quite works out that way. Once a month looks like it’s all I’ll be able to do for the next little while.

The last few weeks have flown by with lots of things going on. Work has been really hectic with trips to Paksan, working on the fishway model, exhibiting the model at the National Agriculture and Forestry Research Institute symposium and working from home on upcoming work in Luang Prabang.

Working here in Laos has definitely been an eye-opener so far. The aid and development sector is very dynamic and confusing. It’s hard to know who the aid money and workers actually benefit. Is it the locals, struggling to make ends meet or the locals struggling to decide whether to they need an upgrade of their SUV. There’s also the aid workers themselves (myself included) leading relatively wealthy lives, sending their kinds to posh schools, hiring cleaners and gardeners to look after their every need, 7 days a week. There are definitely people here who do good and make a positive impact but it does feel that it could be done so much more efficiently and with much less fanfare. A lot of people give the excuse that everything is because of the communist government but I’m not as convinced. Yes, the government is certainly not perfect and has many issues but I don’t think they’re the cause of so many projects here failing.

I don’t want to become a “typical” aid worker though. Complaining about everything. I’m super-stoked to have been given this opportunity and am loving every bit of it.

Some updates:

  • I had a discussion recently with my Lao language teacher about the English words ‘crab’ and ‘crap’ and the difference between the two
  • One of my colleagues bought what I thought was a baby dog for his wife’s stomach as it was apparently some sort of secret Lao remedy. I promptly accepted this as fact and made a note to look it up online later on. Turns out it was in a fact some secrete Lao remedy. Not for his wife though but for his baby dog. Glad that one was cleared up before I made too many judgments. Language barrier wins again.
  • Had a fish bbq at Pak Peung village. The fish was really fresh. In fact it was still jumping after having lemon grass stalks stuck down its throat and placed on the grill.
Jumping fish

Jumping fish

  • Lao people love beer and they like to start you on it early. I’ve seen toddlers given a glass.
  • We saw a snake at the work site. The workers promptly split the snake in half (almost) and buried it alive. Slightly different to ecological practices in Australia but much more entertaining.
  • Calling roosters stuck in the trees all day with minimal water and food. Occasionally falling down and dangling from the string that keeps them tied there.
Calling rooster that lives in the tree (not by choice)

Calling rooster that lives in the tree (not by choice)

  • Many  highs and lows. The locals tend to throw rubbish down everywhere. As soon as a bottle or plastic bag have been used, they get tossed into a rough pile to be burned later on.
  • Animal cruelty is quite prevalent as well as love for animals and using up every last bit of a slaughtered animal in cooking and eating
  • There are lots of dogs in Laos. Like really a lot. Anyway, as well as seeing all kinds of wildlife (cows, buffaloes, pigs, chickens and ducks) along roads and highways just casually munching on grass, I also got to see what happens after dogs mate. They stay like this for about 15 minutes:
This will show my ignorance but I honestly thought these were some weird Lao conjoined dogs.

This will show my ignorance but I honestly thought these were some weird Lao conjoined dogs.

If you’d like to know why this happens then you can find out here.

Explaining the fishway model to the government minister (this was actually taken once he had left and took all the paparazzi with him)

Explaining the fishway model that I built to the government minister (this was actually taken once he had left and took all the paparazzi with him)

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The boss and I at the NAFRI symposium

Well, that’s it from me for now. Liz and I are off to Thailand in a couple hours for a 2-week holiday. 1 week in the city and 1 week at the beach should be a nice break from the grind.

Len

P.S. I’m half-way through my placement here which means that people back home should start planning/organising a ‘welcome home’ party.

The Easy Life – Monthly Update

14 Mar

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Hello, how have you been? It’s been a while…

So it’s now been over four months since I arrived in Vientiane and I feel like the time has flown. But it’s not the same as when I was back in Sydney, when weeks, months and years seemed to go by so fast and without notice that it would be scary. The difference here is that I feel like I have done, seen and experienced a huge amount in the last four months.

Here are some of the things that I got to do since arriving here:

  • live in a big house for the first time, sharing it with pretty cool people
  • get a dog!
  • have a cleaner and a gardener (this bit is kinda weird but does mean that I don’t need to do the washing or the ironing! Actually I never did the ironing back in Sydney)
  • have checked out 2 or 3 farms, had time to look into farming and have realised that is what I want to do (on a small-scale)
  • learned to ride a motorbike and went on a pretty awesome motorbike trip with hopefully more to come
  • time to do some online courses (currently I’m finishing a course on nutrition and health)
  • learn a new language
  • a chance to travel and live with Liz!
  • explore Laos and the south-east Asian region
  • grow a 2-month old beard (I would still have it except food started to get stuck in there and Liz was getting pash-rash)
  • drink bone marrow juice from giant cow bones with my Lao colleagues while at lunch
Bone marrow juice!

Bone marrow juice!

  • work on cool projects, do some interesting engineering
  • live in another communist country
  • time to continue learning to play guitar and learn to play the ukulele
  • work from home
  • work in a remote village and with the villagers themselves
  • time to relax!

That’s a pretty solid list for four months. Can’t wait to see what the rest of my time here brings. To counteract that list and so that you guys back home don’t get too jealous, here is a list of the not so good things that have happened:

  • witnessing a brutal motorbike accident
  • seeing a dead person on the road
  • feeling home-sick and missing the comforts of Sydney life
  • get multiple cases of diarrhea and other stomach related sicknesses

And finally, here is a list of things that I miss from back home:

  • being able to speak to everyone, fluently
  • smooth roads with no potholes
  • tap water
  • cheese
  • chocolate
  • clean air
  • my parents, brother and grandma
  • watching the footy

Now on to what I have been up to here since my last post….

Over the last few weeks, I have been working in Paksan. A small town about 2-3 hours south of Vientiane. This town is definitely NOT touristy. It gets a large number of Vietnamese visitors and so most restaurants sell pho…and only pho. It’s been an eye-opening experience working directly with rural Lao people and seeing what village life is like.

I was quite lucky to have two other volunteers/travelers working with me in my first week in Paksan. Linda and Andre are both fellow engineers and have quit their jobs to do a huge world trip. They are partly funding their trip through their newly established online business which is pretty cool. Having heard that Laos is more a place to live than a place to do touristy things, they found my details and contacted me about volunteering on the project.

It was great to spend a week doing some engineering, surveying and some laboring with the village workers that we have employed to fix up the very first Lao fishway that was built last year. Working in such a small town is both tough and interesting at the same time. Simple things like water, food and toilet paper become things that need to be considered at all times. There’s also a huge array of things to see and learn from.

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Fixing up the previous contractor’s mistakes

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BBQ duck – the rest of the ducks were walking around in mourning. No joke.

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Andre and Linda

Laos (1489)

Getting read for sindat – Lao version of Korean BBQ

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The workers

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I was amazed at how different the lives of people in the small village were not just to my life back home but even to the lives of Lao people in Vientiane. I saw kids washing their clothes by hand straight after school, different animals wandering around and sometimes getting slaughtered for food, people not being able to afford proper medication and treatment for illnesses, the consumption of food and the value placed on every part of an animal and plant so that nothing goes to waste. It’s really crazy to think how much a person’s life can vary depending on where you happen to be born on this planet. The lifestyle of Sydneysiders seems alien-like compared to the simple life on the outskirts of the Pak Peung village.

It’s all a lot to take in and I definitely haven’t got my head around it all yet but I’m trying.

Last weekend was the International Women’s Day long weekend so Liz and I took that chance to go to Vang Vieng. It was the second time there for me so we managed to avoid most of the tacky, touristy aspects of the town (except watching Friends on large flat screens while having dinner) and just see the really cool scenery and a bit of the village life. This included sharing a motorbike for a fun and bumpy day-trip through the dusty back “roads” of the town and then a 35km mountain bike ride that Liz managed to smash despite some reluctance. It was really nice to get away from Vientiane for a few days and see something different. We also stayed at this awesome place called, Laos Haven

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Petong

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Petong

 

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Pig

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Next few weeks for me will be filled with trying to finish off the work in Paksan while also building a scale model of a fishway that will be used as a display at an exhibition that’s coming up. The only catch is that the model will need to work properly as we will be passing small fish through it. Hmmm, I was never that good at art and craft.

Here’s the model so far…

Fishway scale model...in progress

Fishway scale model…in progress

Till next time,

Len

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