Tag Archives: Paksan

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.

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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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