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Monday, February 18, 2008


No, that's not some perverse Lao-language come-on, it's the capital city of this lovely little country, Laos. So far Laos is quiet and relaxed, lazy slow hours spent in a cafe (with fresh Lao coffee) or on leisurely strolls around the grounds of a wat or two. Tomorrow I guess I'll rent a bike and really see the sights, but for now, it's slow and simple, and that's what I like about it.

Few too many foreigners, though. Like Bangkok, only this city is so damn small ...

Going into the National Museum this afternoon, there was the interesting, predictable stuff on show: exhibits explaining what was up in the land that is now Laos during the stone age, the bronze age, and all that; Laos history as a former vassal to the Khmers (Cambodia) and the Siamese (Thailand); a brief flirtation with the Dutch East India Company and contact with the west, and on until today. But there's also a lot of vivid images of the fight against French colonialism, as well as the "secret" war America undertook against Laos while we were fighting in Vietnam.

You mean you don't know about this "secret" war that has offered Laos the distinction of being the most heavily bombed country, per capita, than any other in the world? "Between 1971 and 1973 the USAF dropped more ordnance on Laos than was dropped worldwide during World War II." And the best part is, the war wasn't even real! Which means the money to drop those bombs didn't appear on any budgets, the Laos body count never appeared on anyone's tally of the war dead, and the Geneva Convention didn't apply, meaning American and Laos pilots could (and did) target schools and hospitals and other civilian targets with those bombs! Hurray for American Imperialism. And people wonder why I don't trust this government in the Middle East.

Anyway, in addition to all of that horrible shit, there was also a sense of a young country proud of it's nearly sixty years of independence. And I mean really proud, because it seemed that nearly every inch of current Laos progress made it into the museum in some form or another: large bundles of illegal drugs on display to show the might of the drug enforcers, pictures of farms and the bountiful Laos produce (read: framed images of cabbage in a museum), a display of what looked like the exact same medicine you'd see in the local pharmacy, only here proudly displayed to show the pharmacological progress of the Lao People's Democratic Republic! It was kind of hokey, but also interesting to see a country whose past is so mired with violence so proud of its progress. They were closing the exam and I didn't get to see a good chunck of it, but I'll probably go back tomorrow, it only costs 10,000 kip (just over a single US dollar) to enter.

So, yes, that's my first impression of Vientiane. Tomorrow should reveal more.

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