June 2007

I went to a work buffet on the weekend. The older Lao males loaded up their plates with snails. I’m not sure what type of snails they were. I don’t know if they were water or land based. My rough estimate is that they would have eaten about a dozen and a half each. It might be the French influence that accounts for this large consumption of snails. The younger Lao people didn’t touch them and seemed even more adverse to the snails than I was. They told me that it gives them jep thong (stomach ache).

The most commonly eaten food in Lao offices for lunch is probably instant noodles. It’s very cheap and a lot of people eat it for lunch. My work colleagues tell me that they eat so much instant noodles their heads will soon turn into noodles.


I’ve done some reflection on the office in which I work. Compared to my previous work where there were 1000+ people on 12 floors, my current work is a stark contrast.

Staying at my office are 5 Lao staff, 2 Australians, 1 Dutch volunteer (who decided to change out of his bike clothes in front of me this morning, much to my internalised displeasure. This was in the office too, not in some change room), a 10 month baby, 2 yr old todler, maid, nanny and a young school boy from the provinces.


When you visit a bathroom of a classy Lao establishment you may notice a friendly chap manning the pile of hand drying towels. Keep your eye on this fellow. Do not be fooled by his seemingly harmless smile, it is a deceptive veil for his desires to touch you!

Unlike bathroom attendants in America, their Lao counterparts like to provide a more hands on experience for their patrons. When standing at a urinal you may be approached from behind and grappled by them for a shoulder massage. This may even happen while you are… mid-sentence, so to say. They creep up on you silently, so you have to keep your eye on them so you can voice your opposition to their roving hands.

Apparently this tradition comes from Thailand. The few Lao people I’ve spoken to do not like getting the massages and find it creepy to have someone touching you while you’re letting it flow.

Last weekend I participated in the fun run down Vientiane’s main boulevard and under Laos’ answer to Paris’ Arc De Triumph, Patuxay. It’s the big thing in the background of this photo. Rather amusingly, Patuxay has a plaque at its base labelling it as a “concrete monstrosity”, also stating that “it looks worse up close than it does far away”. The concrete was apparently supplied by the Americans (source: Lonely Planet Laos). It was meant to build a new airport, but instead the Lao government used it to building this tribute to France. There is no greater indication for appreciation of your work than plagiarism.


Photo from the Vientiane Times website.

I had to wake up at 5:30 am to get to the fun run on time. The run’s purpose was to raise awareness about the usage of Child Labour in Agriculture.

Some Lao people were a little suspicious behind the reasons of the run. In rural communities, it is very normal for children to be involved in the subsistence farming process of their families. When it is the rice harvesting season, many children do not go to school. At home, children after often responsible for the domestic duties as both their parents spend the day working. When some Lao people hear about this plan to stop child labour in agriculture, they think wonder how these poor rural families will survive. Without their children working to support the family they may not be able to produce enough money or food to survive.

When I look at something like this I always think of the opportunity cost. For example, a lot of people in the West look at sweatshop labour and think of it as an evil that should be banned. The pay is poor, the hours are long, the conditions are inhuman. By this perspective is only relative to the pay, hours and working conditions faced in the West. This is not the viewpoint of sweatshop workers who see the alternative to their factory work as subsistence farming, something with much harder work, lower pay and at the mercy of the weather (ie. drought = nothing to eat).

China’s economic growth has been the biggest contributor to poverty reduction in recent times. It has been foreign investment, and it’s exploitation of cheap labour in China, that has allowed millions of people to claw their way from poverty. The number of persons living in poverty in China was reduced from 250 million in 1978 to 29.27 million in 2001 according to World Bank figures. Working in a sweatshop is pretty terrible, but many have decided that subsistence farming is far worse.

As you can probably tell, I’ve probably been reading too many copies of The Economist. For some reason it is only $1.40 USD here, which is about a fifth of the price of anywhere else in the world.

It’s almost as if my house was designed to play Wii tennis in. It was approaching 40 degrees outside, so indoor activities were a sensible option.

With a projector “borrowed” from the UN and a 4 Wii controllers transported from Australia, we began playing possibly the first ever game of Wii Tennis in Laos.

A main road of Vientiane ripped to threads

Some of the major roads of Vientiane are undergoing significant construction work. To be more blunt, they’re tearing them to sh**.

Apparently the construction vehicles used are so heavy that they cause damage to the existing roads on their way to the construction sites. So begins the vicious circle of creation and destruction.

The road featured in this picture in one of the major roads in Vientiane and from what I’ve been told, has been under construction for over a year. The project should finish at the end of the year, with “should” being the emphasised word.

From what I’ve seen, the usual method of road construction goes like this:

1. A big claw thing comes in and rips out a big hole in the ground.
2. It starts raining, since it is the rainy season, and all construction stops.
3. The hole fills with water, making any further construction impossible.
4. The water in the whole turns green with algae. The progress of the construction becomes as stagnant as the water.

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