La vie en Vientiane

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Is hot.

It’s a neverending resource. C’est chaud comme un chien. Comme un plat de spaghetti dans le microonde qui va s’exploser.

Il n’y a pas de reste. Il n’y a pas de souffle. Nous sommes deux humaines avec ames qui ont evapore.

Awright, ca suffit. That’s my best French existential noir to describe the steam bath that is Vientiane.

A propos (I’ll stop after this, I promise) because along with all the heat, there’s plenty of French in Laos’ capital from obvious city signs

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to well dressed men wandering around town in pants, dress shirts, fragrant colognes, acting oblivious that they’re soaking wet from 35degreesCelsius + humidity.

It also stands to reason then, that the city is filled with French restaurants and wine:

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Some restaurants’ wine is stewing outdoors in the air’s volcanic convection, which, like the restaurant owner whose shirt is soaked through in sweat but carries on between tables as if all is well, seems a mere detail, as the steady flow of French classics like soufflé, crepes and creme brulee flies uninterrupted out of the kitchen at an 80% discounted price from what you’d pay at a table in France.

Sound like a Franco-wonderland? In part, sure. But there’s more to the story – like these guys:

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Laos has been waving the red flag for 35+ years. But, North Korea they are not. Like most Communist states since the fall of the Soviets, it’s become more of a pastiche of free enterprise with some state control, which makes things like this possible:

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While, at the same time, boasting a national museum with a survey of modern history that includes a section devoted to commissioned oil paintings of Laotians being exploited and physically beaten by the French, with labels underneath saying: “Laotians bravely toil while being savagely beaten by French barbarian, colonials”.

Or another objective homily underneath a photograph of two Laotians standing over an indiscernible fiery wreck: “Mr. Yamphou celebrates shooting down an American Imperialist”. I would have shared the propaganda but, unfortunately, Laos’ single state party hasn’t warmed to social media yet or I would have tweeted that Facebook to YouTube.

And, that bring us to another major superpower in Laos, the U.S. On paper they had no voice there during the war in Vietnam. But as classified documents later revealed, they spoke volumes:

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These are unexploded ordinance (UXO) – cluster bombs- which were part of what’s been dubbed America’s “Secret War” during their fighting in Vietnam. The CIA had set up a base in Northern Laos as a liftoff point to dissuade the Viet Minh from making their way up the border of Laos, and inciting any internal revolutions.

But they didn’t make it a subtle gesture. The Americans dropped 2 million tons of explosives on Laos, making it the most bombed country per capita in the world.

As we learned, the tragedy of the bombing, aside from the obvious people killed and wounded during the the initial drops, are the numbers of Laotians who continue to be accidentally wounded by bombs that are being found 30+ years later.

Some of the stories are brutal.

A woman heating up her dinner pot, unaware that a cluster bomb is under the sand where the flames are quickly heating it up. Young boys imagining themselves archaeologists, start digging up something interesting in the earth.

Awful stuff. The place we visited, which laid out the facts, is a rehabilitation spot making prosthetics for victims of mines – it was an interesting place to see.

And, definitely made us think twice before wandering off on our own into the countryside outside Vientiane.

Regardless, that wasn’t a factor anyway, since we found plenty of things to do in Vientiane to go along with our sweating. Main highlights are definitely the Patuxai (the photo at the very top of the page) – a gesture of grandeur by the then Royal family who, after being given a massive amount of concrete from the Americans in the 1960s to build an airport, decided instead to use it to build this:

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Which, from a distance, looks a lot like the Arc de Triomphe, and up close, probably the best place for shade in the city. It’s funny, because most locals, and people have tossed it off as an ugly piece of concrete when you get near it. And, it’s even alluded to that way in the official blurb on the wall. But, I thought it was neat. Not least of which is for the many intricate designs on the ceiling:

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We also gorged on tons of Lao food – not French food in Lao (though there was a bit of that too, including an amazing cafe for croissants) – but Lao cusine.

We’d alternate between visiting cobbled together shacks serving one dish: noodle soup – where Rose and I would almost dare one another to drink the cups of water given to us, clearly not sure where the source came from (so far, water roulette has worked out okay)

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to night markets where locals bought their nightly meals to take home:

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to sit down meals, occasionally with an extra dinner companion:

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to cafe style eating on the edge of the Mekong on which the city bordered. That’s where a lot of people congregate at night, touring around the outdoor restaurants and night market, while staring at Thailand across the river, which is as close as Ottawa/Hull.

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But above all else, Rose has found a new crush:

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Lao monks. In the city, they roam between temples and other chores, spending days wearing distinct orange robes. Since it’s a special topic, more monk details will come in a separate post.

Till then, hope everyone’s well.

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2 comments

  1. Looks like the humidity is following you around. May the breezes be with you.
    Laos seems to be the country that history forgot.

  2. Great posts! So many vivid descriptions and strong images. The variety of transportation, the food, the surrounding landscapes of ocean vistas and steaming jungle, … and Peter Cetera …

    Both of you continue to have tons of fun, and let us know if you overhear any of the monks humming Boy George or Huey Lewis under their breath.

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