Wednesday, December 31, 2008
1. Baghdad Burning by Riverbend
2. The War of the Nerves by Ben Sheppard
3. Brasyl by Ian MacDonald
4. In the Spirit of Crazy Horse by Peter Matthiessen
5. Shriek: an Afterword by Jeff Vandermeer
6. Dark Sun by Richard Rhodes Vte
7. Gate of the Sun by Elias Khoury - currently reading
8. Black Lamb and Grey Falcon by Rebecca West
9. Wandering through Vietnamese Culture by Huu Ngoc Vte
10. Espresso Tales by Alexander McCall Smith
11. Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood
12. Development as Freedom by Amartya Sen
1. Echo House by Ward Just
2. A Long Long Way by Sebastian Barry
3. A Mercy by Toni Morrison
4. Indignation by Philip Roth
5. Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith
6. Physics of the Impossible by Michio Kaku
7. 2666: A Novel by Roberto Bolano
8. The Stuff of Thought by Steven Pinker
9. Sly Mongoose by Tobia Buckell
10. Kirinyaga by Mike Resnick
11. A Case of Exploding Mangoes by Mohammed Hanif
12. A Grand Delusion by Robert Mann
My list of twelve books is:
3. Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott - still carrying it around with me.
9. Brasyl by Ian MacDonald Vte
10. The War of the Nerves by Ben Sheppard SLV
11. Baghdad Burning II by Riverbend SLV
1. In the Spirit of Crazy Horse by Peter Matthiessen
3. Shriek: an Afterword by Jeff Vandermeer - XK
6. Dark Sun by Richard Rhodes Vte
7. Gate of the Sun by Elias Khoury - currently reading
8. Black Lamb and Grey Falcon by Rebecca West XK - starting to read; it's a big book about different times!
11. Wandering through Vietnamese Culture by Huu Ngoc Vte
12. Espresso Tales by Alexander McCall Smith SLV
Tuesday, December 30, 2008
Sunday, December 28, 2008
After the first day of our animal raising/ veterinary workshop, I took a long walk in the hills outside Phonsavanh. The weather has been cold, misty and drizzly but this afternoon, the clouds opened up and let the sky shine through. I followed this path as the sun set, always wanting to go around the next curve to see what's beyond. I turned back just beyond this point, before the next curve, so I could get home before dark.
Saturday, December 27, 2008
Work has been labor intensive the past few months, so I've been neglecting my blogs.
But I'm still taking lots of photos, so here a few highlights from the past month:
Misty morning on the Mekong River on 11 December. It's cool and dry season now, meaning fog in the early mornings and usually clear afternoons.
People playing football the night of the full moon in December.
The Xaisett River on 14 December - we were driving back from Salavan to Vientiane.
Dry rice fields in Phonsavanh, Xieng Khouang Province.
This picture was taken on Christmas Day. It's along a ridge in the mountains in northern Xieng Khouang province. The family who owns the house is very poor - we helped them after two members were injured in a cluster bomb explosion when they were cooking over a fire which ignited a cluster bomb buried in the ground.
We invited the families to attend an animal raising training that we'll be starting tomorrow. After which, we'll give grants so they can buy animals and slowly but surely generate some more funds to improve their lives.
This is my contribution to Skywatch Friday, whose members post pictures of the skies around the world.
Tuesday, December 23, 2008
Salavan is in the southern part of Laos. This time of the year is the cool and dry season, very misty in the mornings but clear skies in the afternoons. I took the picture above while on a walk near my house in the morning.
This is my contribution to My World, with lots of pictures from all over the place.
Sunday, November 23, 2008
I haven't been keeping my blogs up and posting pictures. Well, the picture part has been difficult. After my camera was run over by a car, it still worked well enough. But a couple of weeks again, it got lost. I was walking and a small bag I was carrying got lost. I did have some good pictures on it, which I hadn't transferred to my laptop; otherwise, it was the call to get a new camera.
The picture above was taken in the store in Bangkok.
I walked over to another shopping center and took this picture of floor of the Siam Discovery mall:
I guess it's kinda strange that they'll let scruffy people like me into the place.
Strange but true, Thais love Christmas. All the stores are decorated and people are taking pictures in front of the artificial Christmas trees and all.
This is all set against the backdrop of continued problems in Thailand. The People's Alliance for Democracy, the anti-Taksin group, promised the biggest demonstration ever for Sunday. They have been occupying the grounds of the Government House for over two months now. There have been several outbreaks of violence, where police had thrown tear gas which exploded like bombs, killing and injuring people. The pro-Taksin groups getting together as well - they wear red shirts, while the PAD wear yellow (showing their support for the king). The pro-Taksin group has had several rallies, with Taksin addressing the crowds via video feed. In the meantime, his wife has been convicted of fraud, and Taksin faces charges if he returns to Thailand, which may have to be soon since the UK revoked his visa. Somewhere along the line, he said that he plans to re-enter politics.
The whole story would be unbelievable as a novel - and this is real life.
Sunday, November 02, 2008
A lot of folks are saying that a lot of rice is getting moldy and they won't be able to sell it. Families may keep the moldy rice for their own consumption and sell the rice which hasn't gotten moldy.
Saturday, November 01, 2008
The problem is that this is the harvest season. A morning sprinkle is fine, but the heavy rain makes the rice plants break - the plants knocked down by the rain have to be cut quickly because they can't even dry when when sun comes out. The longer it rains, the more the rice is flattened. And then the rice kernels are wet and the sheaves are full of water so take more labor to carry. They are stacked in sheaves under tarps, or under the houses, with the hope the sun will come out, when people will spread out tarps on the roads and thresh the rice.
Usually, the dried rice stalks are stacked in mounds in the dried fields, with the bottoms of the stalks on the outside and the heads in the center, so they can more fully dried, and any rice kernels that drop off and collected in the middle of the rice haystack. If it rains during the night, it's not a problem; the farmer throws a tarp over the mound - but with this kind of rain, the rice can not be stacked.
What with late rains, rains that rain too much when they rain, floods and now late rains, I think this years rice crops are in trouble. At least around Vientiane.
The life of a rice farmer is not easy.
Thursday, October 30, 2008
Saturday, September 27, 2008
It's getting to the end of the rainy season so the skies are dramatic - gray mornings followed by clear skies. We have some great sunsets like this one:
I took the above picture of the Mekong River from the levee near my house.
The villagers built a wall of sandbags to protect these Buddha images from the floods. The hacked Bodhi tree and the sandbags give the temple a besieged look.
I took this picture in the early morning earlier this week. Rainy season is coming to an end.
This is my contribution to an international group of people who post pictures of skies over at Skywatch Friday
Tuesday, September 23, 2008
The early morning is beautiful. I boiled up some more chicken pho and sat outside, facing east and the sunrise as I ate breakfast. Just as the sky was brightening, the halfmoon and some bright stars light up the east, with the foreground of palm trees, roofs of neighbor's houses, and TV aerials.
Now I'm off on a short walk.
Monday, September 22, 2008
We had our weekly management meeting, which now seems to get the week off to a good start. We're a small organization so the meeting is very relaxed and the dept. heads enjoy getting things off their chests so we can problem solve together.
Finally left office after 6 pm. I thought briefly about going to the gym, but felt too mentally tired. Stopped at the local market and bought fresh pho noodles and vegetables. Went home, played with the kittens, and make a fantastic chicken vegetable soup to combine with the cooked noodles. Drove the cats crazy with the smell of the chicken boiling.
Sunday, September 21, 2008
Going through clothing that I have dumped on the floor and put everything away. Or try to find things. My landlady sometimes gets into the main part of my house and puts things away for me (or maybe the preposition I should use is 'from' me).
And the high point of my day today - two of the kittens stayed out all night and I couldn't find them this morning. When they finally appeared around noon, I tried to lure them back into the house - they escaped under the car, but when I tried to find them on the other side of the car, they had disappeared.
I guess every cat owner should figure out what comes next. I opened the hood of the car, and there they were. The calico was sleeping on the battery and the black kitten was sniffing around the oil dipstick. I didn't think to bring my camera out with me.
Friday, September 19, 2008
Life has been too busy on this side of the world, so I'm catching up with some sky shots from the past two weeks.
The first set of pictures are from Salavan. On Monday, the 15th, the day after the full moon, Salavan had it's boat racing festival. More on that on the blog post. It was much nicer looking at the people, the boats, the water and the sky rather than looking at our feet. It thunderstormed the night before and most of the morning, just clearing before the boat racing.
This is the view looking downriver, towards the municipal water system.
Because of the crowds, the heat and the mud, we stayed only for two races. Vapy vs. Pakse is shown here.
And just past the finish:
A good time was shared by all.
September is the rainiest month here - constant rain, some clearing then thunderstorms. Here's the view behind my house one evening:
As soon as I saw the rainbow, I went running outside.
Although the double rainbow did stretch across the sky, by the time I was in a place where I could get a good picture of it, the rain started to come down harder and the rainbow had lost its glint.
This is my contribution to fun group of people who post pictures of the skies from all around the world. For more pix, go to Skywatch Friday
Friday, September 05, 2008
I flew back from Xieng Khouang and saw the flooded areas around the Nam Ngum area. Rains in the mountains flow into the reservoir and it was at a dangerous level in mid-August so they had to release water. Along with the water backing up from the Mekong, the whole area along the Nam Ngum flooded.
The Lao government responded quickly, with negotiations with Thailand for sand and donations of sandbags, as well as providing food, water and lodging for people displaced by the floods. There still is a lot of cleanup and repair to do now, as well as trying to prevent this from happening in the future.
Thursday, September 04, 2008
Tuesday, September 02, 2008
On to my G's -
Garlic is a major cash crop during the dry season. I visited a friend's village for Lao New Year - this is the underside of their house. They gave me a gift of three bunches of this garlic - the cloves are small and a bit difficult to peel but the taste is both sweet and strong.
Garlands for sale next to the Hindu Temple in Bangkok. This whole street has Indian restaurants, Northern and Southern, with booths selling garlands between them.
Also from Xieng Khouang Province - Grazing Water Buffalo. This picture was taken at the beginning of the year. Although Laos is a tropical country, it gets cool between December and February with early morning fog:
Garden in the early morning. This was also taken in Xieng Khouang during the cool season.
A picture from Salavan Province - Goats out for a stroll. People raise many goats here, mainly for the meat. This part of the country is very hot so I imagine it would be difficult to try to milk the goats and make cheese.
For more of ABC Wednesday contributions, go to ABC Wednesday
Monday, September 01, 2008
After a morning meeting, I caught the plane to Xieng Khouang, where I'll spend the week working with staff and attending a quarterly planning meeting. The weather here is just so nice, starting to feel autumn cool, with the rain starting to taper off.
Sunday, August 31, 2008
Well, I was there to buy a frying pan and Chinese toilet paper. In support of globalization...
Saturday, August 30, 2008
Usually that's not quite a trek, but I was walking at noon - and was unhappy to notice that people had cut trees along most of the route. Some friends tell me that the branches and break off and smash houses. I guess so... but there's more.
A few years ago, my former landlady had cut her leg while cutting brush around my house. A few days later, I noticed that a nice little tree in the front of the house was gone. I asked my neighbor about it and she hemmed and hawed and finally told me that kind of tree can have snakes in it, and if you do under the tree the snake can fall on your head. I thought that was strange, as I would have to crawl on hands and knees to go under the tree and since was next to the fence, it was unlikely that anyone would go under it.
The truth was revealed two years ago when I was drinking beer with some friends and I heard them talking about the incident of my landlady cutting her leg, so I asked what the real story was. She had dreamed about the tree and believe that a spirit in the tree had caused the knife to slip. By making an offering elsewhere, and cutting down the tree once the spirit had been lured out of it, she hoped that it wouldn't cause any more problems. I asked them why they hadn't told me this at the time. "We knew that you believed these traditions and were afraid that you might move out." I wished I had known at the time, I would have helped them with whatever ceremonies. And I had to smile to think that something like this would make me move out - I've rented this house in Xieng Khouang for 12 years now.
Beautiful set of portraits of people in Myanmar.
We hear about the disaster of Cyclone Nargis and the crackdown by the junta last year and we come away with a sense of grey. These photos show the resilience of every day people. Rolnero's set also has portraits of people in Mexico and Peru.
Friday, August 29, 2008
There's a Chinese mall near my house. Inside the mall, you find curtain, appliances, clothing, and foods, etc. Outside, they sell the heavy machinery. I haven't seen any of these in use and since there's so much grass growing between the tires, I'm not sure how many they sell.
This post is my contribution to Skywatch Friday.
Wednesday, August 27, 2008
This is a Ferris wheel at the Mekong riverfront last October. At the end of the Buddhist Lent, which is marked by the end of the rainy season and the full moon of the 10th lunar month, the main boat racing festival is staged on the river.
A fence by the bank of the river in Ta-Oi District, Salavan province - and beyond it, the forest. I'm looking forward to getting back out there in October. It's difficult to get there during the rainy season - few bridges and the dirt road turns into the worst kind of mud. It takes at least five hours to reach the district capital - and it's only 80 kms (about 50 miles) from Salavan town.
Fish tank in a TV set. Brilliant.
Football match at the sports field in Xieng Khouang, northern Laos. There's a big fair and sports tournament for the Hmong New Year.
So those are some F's for my week. For more of ABC Wednesday contributions, go to ABC Wednesday.
Tuesday, August 26, 2008
I tried to do some of the work on my 'to do' list and remembered I hadn't written someone's letter of reference, which they needed right away. Then other staff came in with problems large and small - my tack is to make them decide what they should do rather than telling them what they should do. Better for capacity development but worse for time management.
So after finally getting the letter written, printed by my secretary, signed and stamped... it's nearly noon. Meeting's at 2 pm, and since it's an official meeting I had to return home to change into a nicer blouse and sinh (the traditional Lao skirt). My landlady was puttering around my kitchen so I started talking to her... lunch hour was up.
The meeting was very sobering - in fact, horrifying to see the flooded areas from the air - animals wandering, lost, in the high water, villages cut off by being surrounded by water, flooded fields. Even as the waters recede, the problems worsen - most people use communal wells, which are now contaminated of river water entering from the top (with 10 meter-deep wells, lined with concrete rings, water is mostly purified by percolating up through the soil). Destroyed crops and grasslands mean livestock will have problems foraging. Roads have been washed away or damaged - a big problem for remote areas. Older schools have been destroyed. The list goes on.
From the Vientiane Times (http://www.vientianetimes.org.la):
Govt lists urgent needs of flood victims
Food, clean water, medicine and household items are urgently needed for more than 178,000 people affected by recent flooding in Laos , Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Dr Thongloun Sisoulith said yesterday.
Deputy PM and Minister of Foreign Affairs Dr Thongloun Sisoulith ( third right ) speaks at the briefing in Vientiane yesterday.
Dr Thongloun was speaking at briefing about the impact of recent flooding in 679 villages of 53 districts in eight provinces of Laos .
The briefing was held to inform diplomatic corps and international organisations about the impact of the flooding in Vientiane capital and the provinces of Huaphan, Bokeo, Xayaboury, Luang Prabang, Borikhamxay, Khammuan and Vientiane .
“Although the water level in the Mekong River and its tributaries is subsiding, the impact of the recent flooding remains widespread and the rainy season is continuing, so we are still under threat of further flooding,” Dr Thongloun said.
Dr Thongloun said the water level in some areas remained at alarming levels and teams were working tirelessly to collect accurate data on the extent and cost of damage, while also assessing communities' medium and long-term needs.
Vientiane Mayor, Dr Sinlavong Khoutphaythoune, said flooding had devastated eight districts in the capital.
He said the cost of damage to agriculture had reached 206 billion kip, with more than 15,000 hectares of rice and 314 ha of fish ponds destroyed. The cost of damage to the communication sector, including roads, had reached 22.2 billion kip and the cost of damage to the electrical network was 1.5 billion kip.
“We need funding to buy rice, clean water and medicine for our victims. We also need 3 billion kip to fix 64 schools for our children,” Dr Sinlavong said.
Minister of Agriculture and Forestry, Mr Sitaheng Latsaphon, said at least 40,000ha of rice had been destroyed, but this figure was expected to increase because some areas remained under water.
“We need 3 billion kip to buy seeds and medicine to treat animal diseases,” he said.
“Our most urgent task is to encourage people to keep supplying vegetables to markets in Vientiane . We also need 80 billion kip to repair 528 irrigation systems.”
Minister of Public Works and Transport, Mr Sommath Pholsena, said his ministry needed 144 billion kip to repair highways, especially Road Number 13 and needed billions more to repair roads linking districts and villages.
Minister of Health, Dr Ponmek Dalaloy, highlighted the urgent need for flood victims to have access to adequate sanitation systems and toilet facilities.
This year's flooding is considered the worst in history. Up until now, the worst flooding had occurred in 1966 when the Mekong River in Vientiane rose to just above 12m. Flood levels this year reached 13.8m in Vientiane .
Speaking at yesterday's briefing, Dr Thongloun listed the assistance offered by friendly countries and international organisations and expressed his thanks on behalf of the government for their assistance.
Thailand has given emergency relief assistance totalling 15.3 million baht (US$464,000), Japan has given 12 million yen (US$111,000), America through the Lao Red Cross has provided US$50,000 and World Vision has informed the government of its intention to donate 1,145 tonnes of rice worth US$700,000.
By Somsack Pongkhao
(Latest Update August 26, 2008)
Sunday, August 24, 2008
The builders are making progress on the temple, and at the same time, the Buddha images are being prepared. This is the original Buddha image, which has not been moved during all the construction, but it's being repainted and other Buddha images are being moved into the building.
It's been raining on and off over the past weeks. I woke up this morning to the rumble of thunderstorms. I see people looking nervously at the sky, wondering how hard it's going to rain here.
Saturday, August 23, 2008
People are just getting used to living around the sandbags and have been rearranging them so they can get in and out of their businesses easily.
This family's house is on the other side of the levee and I guess their kitchen got flooded out, so once the sandbags were in place, they rebuilt their kitchen.
This section looks very nice in the early morning light:
Friday, August 22, 2008
Along the southern parts of the river, the river rose up and over the Route 13. Many of these villages get flooded every year - people are accustomed to the bottom floors of their houses getting flood and most people build houses on stilts. However, this year, the waters rose up over the road and wiped out large areas of rice fields. This is the main rice growing areas of the country so the impact on many people's lives will be great. One indicator of poverty is how long people can survive on the rice they farm - the most poor don't have the land to grow enough to last them through the year, and many people sell rice if they have a problem with health or other immediate money need. People can make up the short fall by going to Thailand and working as unskilled and exploited labor, or migrate within Laos for other forms of work.
We started off early in the morning, under gray and threatening skies.
By the way, this village has the best coconut trees in the district. People sell coconuts by the road and you can sit in a bamboo hut and drink fresh coconut juice while taking a break. We had to pass on this trip.
View along the road (above). We decided to try to get to Vientiane on Sunday because we heard there would be more rain, and we worried about more flooding. The skies stayed like this for some time.
Around Tha Khaek, the sun came out. The waters on either side of the road lapped gently at the edges. A lot of people from the city had gone to the road for picnicking and fishing. One of the basic principles in Lao life - if you can't do something immediate about the situation, at least have fun. Once things were either cleared from the houses or left as lost, just get on with life!
But the floods still were not good.
When we drove along this section of the road, just the week before, these rice fields were healthy. If the head of the rice plant is underwater for more than 48 hours, it's dead.
This was the worst stretch of the road - the depth of the water was about 2.5 feet and the width was 4 kms. We still had 121 kms. to go.
Other sections weren't too bad, for cars and trucks at least:
Meanwhile, back in Vientiane, people had been sandbagging the length of the levee from west to east Vientiane. Hatxaifong District, the agricultural area of the capital, was entirely underwater and I'm sure most of the crops from there will be lost.
This is the levee in my village:
Anyway, this long winded entry is my contribution to Skywatch Friday. It's been getting bigger and better every week - this week, my number is 375. That means that there are 374 entries before mine. Impressive!