Tag Archives: government

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)

IMG_4220

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.

Land of a Million Crazy Dogs and Sticky Rice – An Unknown Adventure

8 Feb

It’s been a little while since my last post as I’ve been really busy over the past few weeks with work, field trips and Elizabeth arriving in Vientiane!

The past month has been such an eclectic mix of emotions, experiences and weather that I’m going to struggle to put it all into words. But I shall try!

My last post generated a bit of concern from concerned individuals about my working conditions and the type of work that I am doing over here. I guess specifically the killing of fish. The whole point of this blog was for me to document this adventure and for anyone interested in seeing what I’m up to or maybe doing something similar themselves to be able to follow along the journey with me. I’m going to tell it like it is. No point covering up some aspects of life and work here. Anyway, that’s the end of my rant.

I’ve now been in Laos for just over 3 months and it’s the longest I have spent overseas at any one time. It’s usually around the 2/3 month mark that I start feeling homesick (based on my previous adventures overseas) and realise how awesome a country Australia is and that I really miss the lifestyle and food back home. I haven’t felt as homesick this time around (partly because I actually like living here and have a sweet house, dog and now my girlfriend here with me) but have had thoughts of home a bit more often than before. I miss the beach, watching sport, my family and Sydney in general. But I know that my time here is finite and I want to try to make the most of it instead of reminiscing about home too much. I know that in the last 3 months not much has changed back there and upon my return things will feel like nothing had changed at all. Except for maybe my brother’s broken voice and the fact I will need to find a new place to live.

Before I left Sydney and while living here, a lot of my friends and family have asked me why I left a secure job, comfortable lifestyle and those that love me to pursue an unknown adventure in a foreign land. Well at this point into my journey the answer is a little clearer than before. 

I’ve given different reasons to different people as my perspective has shifted. I was quite uncertain about taking this placement on at first, not really sure if it would turn out to be a positive or a negative. I believe in taking opportunities when they present themselves and embracing change. That’s what I’ve done with this it’s paid dividends so far.

Laos is an interesting place to live. In some ways, polar opposites to Australia and in some ways quite similar. They love beer here. It’s just that they only have 1 kind of it and they drink it with ice (both of which I now like doing). Australia is girt by sea, Laos is girt by land. The Laos government is communist, taking directions from China and letting them raid the land here. The government in Australia is fucked up, taking directions from the US and letting China raid the land there.

It’s become much clearer in my mind what my professional interests are and what I want to be doing once I get back home. I’m also set on buying a block of land somewhere in Australia and living a much more sustainable and less consumerist lifestyle. I’m gonna be at least a part-time farmer. This idea will develop further over the next few months and I will start putting it into practice once I get back home. 

But enough on that stuff, I recently came across a really cool quote by Bill Bryson which summarises my reason for taking this adventure on. Here it is…

“But that’s the glory of foreign travel, as far as I am concerned. I don’t want to know what people are talking about. I can’t think of anything that excites a greater sense of childlike wonder than to be in a country where you are ignorant of almost everything. Suddenly you are five years old again. You can’t read anything, you have only the most rudimentary sense of how things work, you can’t even reliably cross a street without endangering your life. Your whole existence becomes a series of interesting guesses.”

A quick update on work stuff:

I’ve been travelling around the country with the working group here, looking at different weirs, dams and other barriers to assess their suitability for a fish passage to be installed. It’s been great to be able to see some of the more rural parts of Laos as well as the beautiful city of Luang Prabang. A real eye-opener seeing the very poor conditions that the locals live in here. As much as you see the rich locals in Vientiane driving around in their giant SUVs, it’s in the villages that you see what it’s like for the majority of Laotians.

Work is going to be really busy for me in the coming months. A construction supervision job, design of a few fish passages, design of a pond and a fish hatchery as well as teaching at the university to both the students and lecturers. Exciting times ahead!

From my home-office,

Love Len

Oh and here are some photos of the recent adventures here:

Duck blood soup

Duck blood soup

Dried fish

Dried fish

Luang Prabang markets

Luang Prabang markets

A weir that we'll be building a fishway for

A weir that we’ll be building a fishway for

Yummy - not

Yummy – not

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