Laos. What can I say? It's quiet. It's rural. Even Vientiane, the capital city, has a sleepy provincial feel. No big buildings. No commercial center, besides the outdoor markets. It's very French-influenced---many signs in Lao/French, instead of English, many French bakeries and cafes, which I love. It's a cute place.
But look around a little more, and you see the story of what's really going on here. Laos has long been poor, underdeveloped and war-torn, most recently when the US bombed continuously basically the whole country during the Vietnam War, trying to route out Viet Cong troops. Now, Laos is governed by the one-party socialist rule of the Lao Peoples' Revolutionary Party. So far, I've been in an autocracy (Singapore), a Muslim state (Malaysia), a constitutional monarchy (Thailand), and now a one-party communist state, which is really what I'll be in the rest of my trip.
What you notice here, though, is not the political system. It's the physical manifestation of the foreign aid we hear so much about in our developed countries. Everywhere you see signs that proclaim one piece of infrastructure or another a joint venture between Laos and some other country. Basically, "This road was sponsored by Japan," or "Lao telecom company, brought to you by Australia." I saw a community hospital built with French aid. The city buses all have "Japan Official Development Agency" on their sides. The main street is lined with offices like the French Agency for Development, and the Asian Development Bank. The state-run English newspaper I read yesterday was full of articles like "EU opens 10 new schools in rural province," "UN implements Climate Change Initiative" and articles celebrating Laos' partnerships with other Asian countries. Walking down the street you see vans emblazened with the UN's, UNICEF's, and other international organizations' and NGOs like Save the Children's logos.
At the bar I went to last night, I talked to a man who was, according to him, one of the two actually qualified electricians in Laos. He's from the UK. The other, who was also in the bar, was French. This man told me, "If a rural village anywhere in Laos wants electricity, I'm the one they call." He wasn't there for any altruistic purpose, though. He was there because he's an electrician, and there's plenty of work here and it's cheap to live. He said to me, "If you travel enough, you'll realize that 90% of the people in the world live the same, they get up, go to work, go to bed. Their political system doesn't matter to them."
I met a few more Westerners, and one man from Uganda, who had all been living here for years, working, filling the gap that exists because very few Lao have higher education or even technical training. Thus the school I saw being built today, a school of health sciences, sponsored by the World Bank's Development Fund. And I did see a USAID (US Agency for International Development) logo, sponsoring the Lao telecom system along with Australia and Japan, both countries that are all over everything. It's nice to see those development dollars at work. It gives a face to all those figures and political arguments you hear. And it reinforces my belief that the money is well worth it. It's fascinating to see a nation being built like this, to see the infrastructure projects and cooperation it takes to develop an economy, step by step, one road, one bus, one hospital at a time.
"Words have no wings, but they can travel a thousand miles" (Korean Proverb)
Welcome to Flying Words, Jon and Aileen's blog of our adventures in South Korea! We will be in South Korea for a year, starting in mid-July, teaching English in a private school. We just graduated from college this past May, and are looking forward to having some adventures before continuing our education.
We started this blog to keep all our family and friends updated and to share our photos and stories. We hope this is entertaining for you! We will miss you all, and are very thankful to have the internet to keep us in touch.