Monday, February 25, 2008

In the Laos P.D.R

This place always amazes me on so many levels. The friendliness of the people is surprising considering that it wasn't long ago at all that this country was absolutely devastated by American bombs. The people here seem to not remember that part of their history. The excellent quality of the food is also amazing, and the fact that the country remains so unchanged by globalization and other modernizing forces.

Laos is a fascinating place with a wide variety of curiosities. I personally enjoy little visits to state run stores such as The People's Model Pharmacy #10 and to the little French patisseries that can be found around the capital city of Vientianne. It really is an interesting place where the old Socialist word is mixing with low scale capitalism, large amounts of French and Japanese guilt money and foreign capital from the newly developing tourist industry.

Last time I checked, Vientianne had fewer than 600,000 people but it feels about the size of Saint John, New Brunswick (about 90,000). This is partly due to the fact that many of those living in the city are in scattered outskirts which are only technically in Vientianne. The downtown is much smaller.

Scattered French architecture mixes nicely with optimistic statues dedicated to the revolution. Billboards inform the people that "Good people don't ruin their country by littering", and the newspapers celebrate the economic progress that this little paradise is making.

For anyone who is interested in seeing Southeast Asian Socialism in a far more rural setting than that found in Vietnam would be interested in this place.


Anonymous said...

one of my biggest regrets is that while being a hop, skip and a jump away from countries like camobia, thailand, myanmar (burma), vietnam, and the laos pdr, i failed to experience what i find to be a fascinating and thrilling dichotomy between the remnants of colonialism and the evidence of these countries struggling (and succeeding?) to develop their own identities architecturally.
i've witnessed these simultaneously historical and modern structures existing side by side in other post-colonial countries and for a reason i can not at the moment express i find the contrast hauntingly mesmerizing.
where are you now?

Craig Williamson said...

Cairo, I presume? The most facinating thing in Laos is the dichotomy between the French colonial, Socialist and more historic architecture. This is very different from what we have here in Thailand. Thailand was never occupied by western powers and therefore the architecture here is farm more local in it's flavour. This stretches beyond architecture of course which makes one feel that he or she is very much in an old world kingdom. In Thailand, nearly everyone has the same religion and a variant of the same language, the same writing system, the same monarch (who they greatly respect and admire) and a strong sense of oneness.

Laos is a great contrast in that it has undergone the trauma that goes along with having your country leveled to the ground a few times, and not to mention having almost always been subjugated by one foreign power or another.

I'm in Bangkok. Thanks for the comment...keep reading and commenting :-)