Thursday, March 4, 2010
Buildings and Bombs
Well I am now in Phonsavan. The guide-books weren't joking when they said that there isn't to the town. Good thing there is internet - I've managed to download all the photos from my camera's and then going to burn them to a CD so should be uploading some soon fingers crossed. My main reason for being here though is to visit the Plain of Jars which I'm doing tomorrow, and I guess learn a bit more about the UXO and bombings that occurred here.
Today was a pretty uneventful drive from Luang Prabang to Phonsavan. Stopped halfway through and had lunch at a little place on the side of the road selling only feu (noodle soup). It was pretty good too. I added some jaewbong (a very very very strong chilli paste I learnt to make in my cooking class) for flavour and the bus driver thought I wouldn't be able to handle it - showed him!! Speaking of cooking class, I learnt then that the Lao people believe that food only tastes good if it is shared in company, and that food eaten alone tastes bad.. uh oh!
Driving around in buses during the day is good to view the countryside for sure (not so great for sore legs and cramps though). I'm finding the varied architecture here in Laos quite fascinating. No matter where you are - there is always, ALWAYS a satelite dish attached to the house somewhere. Doesn't matter if your in a little village of 5 buildings on the side of a cliff, or a big town, everyone has satelite tv! Quite amusing from my perspective as someone who never watches it! Back to houses though - there is no consistency between the houses, even within the same village/town. For example, one house might be made of bricks, another of wood and others of woven bamboo mats or sticks. Even the woven bamboo houses are all different. Some have a plain criss-cross pattern, others are ona diamond angle and some are like steps. And the wood houses are pretty cool too - many of them are on stilts with big wide verandahs, similar to a QLD house with elaborate woodwork. I think its interesting anyway.... :)
This whole area has been particularly affected by war over the past 100 years with unexploded ordnance (UXO) in many many areas. I visited the Mines Advisory Group and gave a donation there and to the UXO survivors next door. They are a humanitarian NGO www.maginternational.org Did you know, that US$10 can clear 14m3 of UXO? Looking at the maps that they had on display - there are red dots EVERYWHERE indicating the areas that are yet to be cleared of UXO. The impact on the community is extreme because some of the UXO are too small to be seen. Cluster bombs that didn't detonate can be mistaken to be balls by children who play with them - children are the ones most likely affected. The clearing effort is going to take a lot of time still - that is for sure.
One thing that I am finding a bit confusing however, is that this area uses a combination of Vietnamese and Lao in both speaking and writing. I'm just starting to get my head around the basics in Lao (speaking, it would be impossible for me to learn the symbols to write it) eg sabaidee (hello/goodbye), khawp jai lai lai(thank you very much) etc etc. But here in Phonsavan there are signs all around the place for com (rice), pho (noodle soup), ca phe (coffee). Hmm maybe I'll be able to get my coffee fix after all.
Oh! I almost forgot (and I'd even attached some photos). I got up quite early this morning (5.45) so that I could go and see the Tak Bet - procession of monks receiving alms from their followers who provide them with sticky rice (the staple in Laos) and bananas. The monks themselves rely upon this silent procession for at least their first meal of the day. There were signs all over town explaining how to respectfully watch/participate in the procession, but it was interesting to observe how many tourists got in the way, had no respect at all and just got in the monk's faces to take pictures or videos. I did take pictures, but I stayed at a distance and used a zoom lens, and no flash - trying to maintain respect for their culture and religion.