Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Adventures in Tsunami Free Laos

Ok kids, pictures from my adventures in Laos (get out the Atlas if you don't know where it is, or go to the CIA Factbook for Laos) are up and ready to gawk at.

They are actually not all my pictures, in truth, if they look really good (or are of children) then they are probably not mine. Keep in mind that the "slideshow" option is probably the easiest to use, especially if you have a broadband connection.

Laos was fun, it is by far the poorest country i have been to, made Moldova look pretty well-to-do. It had some minor ups and downs (the main down was trying to get back to Thailand but that was partly our fault) the weather was phenomenal. After being in Bangkok during the dry season (which is supposed to be the coolest season, hate to think what the hot time will be like) i can really appreciate the weather in Laos, during the day it was sunny warm (not hot) shorts type weather and in the evening a long sleeved shirt was more than enough.

The people (excluding many of the ones trying to sell you stuff) were quite nice, and very tolerant of my non-existent Thai/Lao (*very* similar languages). The food was good but wasn't any cheaper than Bangkok to my surprise, same for the internet access (2-3 times as much as Bangkok), and many of the gifts... I am guessing this is due to the rampant (and very fast) commercialization of tourism there. It was kind of hard, seeing all these people jump in head first into the tourism frenzy ripping foreigners off (though mind you meals still only cost $4-8 at even the really nice places [but that could be a weeks wage in many of the villages]), occasionally begging, etc. Its a hard call, be poor or prostrate yourself/culture for mula. I stuck with most of the dirty native restaurants (one of my favorite quotes from high school was from a Thai/Lao friend whose mother owned a Asian grocery that was pretty dirty "We keep it dirty so people feel at home" he said with a grin) but the food at those places was usually anywhere from fairly to *really* good for 1/4-1/8th of the cost (even with my "funny" western habit of tipping [they rarely argued]) of the westernized places. Anywho i have gotten so many shots for Hep etc that i figure (hope) i won't get too sick, though getting the trots sometimes just comes with the territory.

lots of little villages with houses made of woven grasses/palm with cute kids. Some of them (the villages) see $$$ when they see you so they try to sell you something, though mind you they aren't a fraction as aggressive as they are in Morocco/Turkey/Mexico. Sometimes you just want to tip them or give little present of a penny (I brought some pennies from the US, American change is not so easy to get abroad so it is more of a novelty than dollars) but then you see the kids/people that resort to begging because they can make a ton more doing that than they can selling stuff, well thats not totally true but you can make more per given unit of work; this is something that can not be encouraged. We did alittle hiking, rock scrambling, took a river boat ride on the Mekong, a bus ride etc. The bus ride up to Lauprahbang deserves mention. About 3/4 of the trip was in
hilly/mountainous areas with really twisty roads, some people got really sick, a dirty little guy sitting across from me all of a sudden hopped up, jumped over his buddy (who had a window seat) and stuck his head out the window to toss his cookies (apparently a few days worth of cookies at that). Alittle while later the guy helping the bus driver calmly got up, got a bag of little bags out, and started passing them out to all those that felt like they were going to pop,
quite amusing (I can say that since miraculously wasn't one of the afflicted). We took a mini-van back, it was much better (except that our driver was pretty d*mn surly) but we still had a few casualties.

OTHER NEWS, Tsunami.
To those that were wondering, no I wasn't in Thailand when the Tsunami hit. Actually, I didn't even know that it hit until a day or two after when I started getting all these "are you still alive" emails, nice to know I am not forgotten. I started to notice that it was on the news but since it was in Thai & Lao I had ignored it before.

When I got back here (Bangkok) I found that everyday life here (and Laos) are/were surprisingly removed from the tragedy but being in an aid type organization you tend to hear about the worst parts of the tragedy, no not all the deaths but all the agencies competing to try and get as much funding as they can. I love money, i really love it but to see agencies and people try to deceive and cheat their way into more aid money is incredible. No on is totally innocent, the US giving incredibly little (considering the GDP [nay, the powers that be seem to prefer funding pointless Vietnam-like wars]), Japan giving strategic aid (It is almost amusing to hear the story about the land locked African country announce at a UN meeting that whaling was a good idea [after it had received some Japanese aid, and having previously denounced whaling], this time does not seem to be an exception), the French at first giving less than half a million $ aid (until they received criticism), or some local Thais (and surely locals in other countries) saying they lost 50ft 200hp boats when they actually lost a 15ft paddle boats... its disappointing, no one is innocent. The organization i am interning with is trying to form a consortium to pool/evenly allocate funds among the aquaculture related organizations in the affected countries but they are having a hard time getting anyone to join because everyone seems to want more than their fair share... these are aid organizations people!

ok, enough about Laos and enough about the Tsunami, I hope y'all enjoy the pictures.