Wednesday, April 30, 2008


Hard to believe it's the end of April. My Lao friends keep saying that it's the end of the New Year month. And it really has been a month - although Lao New Year is supposed to be the 13th - 15th of April, the celebrations start towards the beginning of the month. And end with 1 May.

We have managed to slip some work in there during this time. We had 9 new patients who were injured by unexploded ordnance - the doctors and nurses at the hospitals where we work know when to quit the horsing around and get to work. All the people received treatment and returned home.

These past two days, we've had project management meetings - because we have worked together for so long, the meetings are very productive. I've been teaching about mental health issues and trauma - so the participants in the meeting took the time to review the people who have been treated this year who have answered the follow-up survey to see who might be having difficulties.

After the meeting, I invited some friends back to my house and we had snacks on my back porch and watched the rain.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Project Green: Some more greens

Very green irrigated fields around Salavan - just starting to turn yellow. Already people are starting to harvest dry season rice in some places, just before the start of the rainy season. As you can see by the picture below, the dry season look - of bleached out browns and grays - still haven't given up easily to the rains. The fields above are surrounded by dust and packed gray dirt.

Look up close at the top of the trees and there are round green-purple globes. Open them up and there's a translucent fruit - which doesn't taste that great by itself but is often mixed with noodles, corn, beans, etc., mixed with ice and covered with sweetened coconut milk.

And finally, a green bus - traveling between Vientiane and Udomxai.

This is my third contribution to Project Green, where everyone posts pictures of their interpretations of the color green.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Back in Xieng Khouang

Phonsavanh, originally uploaded by c_p_lew.

After some frantic work in the morning, one of my staff and I flew to Xieng Khouang. I went to the Indian restaurant in the early evening.

As I read the menu, with the intension of just getting take-away so I could eat it all week, I heard this little voice by my elbow.

"You're hungry, aren't you?"

I tried to ignore the voice and continued to peruse the menu.

"It's going to take a long time before the food is ready and you're going to be soooo hungry. Eat everything here."

I compromised and ordered a cup of masala tea and enjoyed the view from the restaurant of the mist covered hills.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Interesting Sign - CPR for your phone?

The assignment for the week for Photohunter is 'unique or unusual signs. This sign is near my house and so I meditate on it on my way to work when I'm in Vientiane.

Tigo is a cell phone service, where you buy a sim card and then refill time on the card. They are always advertising at all sorts of events and will paint someone's house for free if it's painted with the Tigo colors and advertising. Anyway, I can't figure out what this sign is supposed to be saying - sign on to Tigo and you can do CPR electromagnetically or resuscitate your text messaging?

Green Sunday

Addendum (before everything else):
I just realized that my SWF link led to this post. My two most recent SWF are 16 May and 9 May.


I managed to slide on soapy water while handwashing clothes on Tuesday morning (I don't have a machine!) and my left foot crashed into the wall of the bathroom. It turned all sorts of interesting colors and swelled up in time for our big trip to Ta-Oi District.

Fortunately, the pain has been manageable, and the injury allowed me to rest at the beautiful guest house near the river rather than go to a loud concert that the district town organized for Wednesday night. Even across town (well, it's a small place so that's not saying very much), I could not only hear the music but make out the words.

Yesterday, I finally allowed myself to rest with the foot elevated and wrapped with a proper ace bandage. It's feeling much better and is getting back into foot-appropriate shape and size.

I did finally get my hair cut yesterday, and took myself out to dinner. The city water has been off most of the day and I had heard they planned to cut the water for an entire three days so I decided to treat myself at the Full Moon Cafe.

This morning, I walked around the jungle surrounding my house in Vientiane. And thought of Project Green. At least, green is related to plants and not related to the colors of the bruising of my foot!

The top picture is of the coconut trees and one of the banana trees towards the front of the house, framing the sky. And upper right is focused on the banana trees - no bananas at the moment. And to the left is of a Norfolk Pine that I bought in 1999 for a Christmas party - at the time, it was about a meter high and I loaded it down with Christmas tree lights and candy canes that a friend had sent from the US. Three years ago, it got too big for the pot so I planted it in the jungle - it's now about four meters tall and starting to have an attitude. I'm not sure if it or the coconut tree will win out over the competition for king of the jungle.

This is my second contribution to Project Green, where everyone posts pictures of their interpretations of the color green. A lot of fun, and for many areas of the world, green means spring is coming. For us, it's starting to be rainy season, where the fields are turning from brown to green.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

ceramic mortars

ceramic mortars, originally uploaded by c_p_lew.

I used to be a potter so I love seeing traditional wood-fired ceramic forms in Asia. Most potters make different kinds of earthenware jars but these pots are high fired mortars.

The sound of a rosewood pestle on the ceramic walls of the mortar while making papaya salad makes everyone's mouth water. There's a picture of a Lao mortar and pestle on Wikipedia!

Friday, April 25, 2008


village, originally uploaded by c_p_lew.

Village along the road to Ta-Oi District.

rice fields by vapi bridge.jpg, originally uploaded by c_p_lew.

This was taken on Thursday during a typical occurrence - a logging truck broke down on the one-lane bridge so while we were waiting, I walked around, taking pictures of the fields along the road. I could see men in the distance carrying fishing nets to the river on their shoulders and people in the fields harvesting rice (this section of the province has a good irrigation system for cultivating dry season rice). This picture was taken in the western part of Vapi District, Salavan Province. The fields, palmyra palms and the lighting remind me of central Cambodia.

There are some other sky pictures from this week, 23 April and 22 April
This is getting to be the season with the most dramatic changes of weather, and clouds. The skies can be so clear after a thunderstorm - but as for getting out to remote districts for work, it's difficult.

This is my contribution to Skywatch Friday which is hosted over at Wiggers World

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Wild roads

The road to Ta-Oi, and onward to Sa-Moi District, is very rough. Although a new road is being constructed, it probably won't be finished until 2010. In the meantime, it's a 5 hour trip to go 80 kms. on a good day. If a truck has broken down or the road is muddy, it can take 12 hours.

This is a smooth section of the road:

the road, originally uploaded by c_p_lew.

Most of the bridges are not usable, so travelers have to ford each creek and river. The last time I went to Ta-Oi, this bridge could be crossed. Something big and heavy got a bad surprise.

old bridge, originally uploaded by c_p_lew.

This is one of the worst sections of the road. Yes, that is a water buffalo taking a long soak in one of the water filled ruts.

road and water buffalo, originally uploaded by c_p_lew.

It seemed to complain at us as we went by

water buffalo in road, originally uploaded by c_p_lew.

The first 15 kms. section of the road has already made travel easier. Not just for us - but also for the people who live in remote villages, who have difficulties getting health care or other services.

While the new road will be convenient, it will definitely create problems. People's cultures will be affected - more information about the outside world will draw young people away from their homes (though that is already happening on a small scale). While there is an opportunity for trade, business, and education, it also means the environment can be exploited more easily - rubber plantations, logging concessions, and mining operations. It's hard to know what is best.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

fiddlerhead and Project Green

fiddlehead, originally uploaded by c_p_lew.

In spite of the rain from the previous night, traveling to Ta-Oi was not too bad. There was not much dust, and the mud puddles were not too big. The leaves sprang out from the trees, and everything was so green. We stopped for a break and I found a baby fern.

This picture is my contribution to Project Green, Take 4

sunset in TaOi, originally uploaded by c_p_lew.

Although the road was comparatively good, the trip to Ta-Oi still took 5 hours. The sunset was a good reward.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008


storm rolling in, originally uploaded by c_p_lew.

big clouds, originally uploaded by c_p_lew.

In spite of despairing about the approaching thunderstorm, the sky was very beautiful. The thunderstorm came rolling in from the NE, but to the west, the clouds were beautiful (as they dumped rain elsewhere). My big concern about the rain was that we were taking a big group of guests to a remote district for an opening ceremony. Rain on top of rutted dirt roads is not a good combination.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Lao New Year continues

I took pictures today - but decided not to post them. Lao New Year is supposed to run from 13 - 15 April, but since it the 13th was on a Sunday, everyone was given the 16th for compensation. However, the holiday has continued to run another week.

Today, I went to a ceremony, supposedly just for lunch, but it continued into the afternoon with water throwing and dancing. The pictures captured maybe too much of how Lao people like to have fun, so I decided better to share them privately.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

tiger lilies

tiger lilies, originally uploaded by c_p_lew.

I'm always amazed to see flora that I associate with the US being able to grow here.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

flame trees

flame trees, originally uploaded by c_p_lew.

Salavan is so much hotter than Vientiane, so I escaped to the comparative coolness of the office on Saturday afternoon. The flame trees in front of the hospital are really blazing now. These kids were picking the flowers - so I sneaked a picture. It looks like they are carrying bundles of color.

Friday, April 18, 2008

angel trumpets

angel trumpets.jpg, originally uploaded by c_p_lew.

People like to grow these in Laos - in the evenings they had a thick sweet odor that spreads out all over the place. I've known this plant only as Jimson's weed in the US - the seeds are poisonous, causing hallucinations, fever, palpitations just to name a few of its effects.

They are pretty against the evening sky with a thunderstorm moving in. I took this on the 14th up in Xieng Khouang.

This is my contribution to Skywatch Friday which is hosted over at Wiggers World.

fruit stand

fruit stand, originally uploaded by c_p_lew.

Before heading on our trip back to Salavan, we stocked up on fruit at one of the many fruit stands by the turnoff to Route 13. The spiky fruit in the front is Durian - Asians love it but it smells so nasty that I can't even get close enough to eat to try it. The red/ greenish fruit next to it on the front row are Rambutans - they are delicious. The brownish fruit behind them are Longans. Behind them are green mangoes and the fruit in bags are Tamarind seed pods.

In the back, wrapped in Styrofoam are apples and Asian pear/ apples from China.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Dok Khun

dok khun, originally uploaded by c_p_lew.

View of a Dok Khun tree near our office. It seems that the yellow gets brighter as the air gets hotter. After Lao New Year, the flowers on the trees increase because people aren't having so many baci ceremonies and picking the flowers for the water blessings.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Sand Stupas

Sand Stupas, originally uploaded by c_p_lew.

For Lao New Year, many communities organize building of sand stupas. Families and villages will get together to make these mounds, which are representations of Mt. Meru, the center of the Buddhist universe - the slopes of this mythical mound support the various levels of Buddhist heavens.

After I returned from Xieng Khouang, I was walking around and met up with a friend of mine - his family had been there all day working on their mound. He looked a little sunstroked!

bomb craters

bomb craters, originally uploaded by c_p_lew.

After the intensity of the new year in Xieng Khouang, I had to return to Vientiane on Wednesday. Decided to fly back.

This picture illustrates the legacy of the secret war in Laos - craters still scar the land in Xieng Khouang province. This was taken from the airplane as I was traveling back to Vientiane - the air was very hazy so I did a bunch of fiddling in photoshop.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Project: Looking through, Day 1

buddha images.jpg, originally uploaded by c_p_lew.

On the third day of Lao New Year, I went to a friend's village and after a baci ceremony and talk, we walked across the rice fields to her mother's village. Am had spent her first few years in this village; her house was located near the temple. We 'washed' the Buddha in the temple and then went outside to the glass-enclosed shrine where the smaller Buddha images were kept. There is a pipe outside the box where people pour water, then it drips into this container with the images, bathing them. After that, the water is recollected as it drips through holes in the floor. This is special blessing water that people can use to to gently drip on elders to transmit wishes of health and happiness.

For more Project Looking Through photos, check out the Regular Life blog!

Monday, April 14, 2008

banana leaf and sky

banana leaf and sky.jpg, originally uploaded by c_p_lew.

I haven't fallen off the end of the Earth - but enjoyed a nice few days of the Lao New Year in Xieng Khouang. After making merit at the temple on Sunday, I went around to visit friends while other friends came to my house to visit me - sometimes missing each other.

On Monday, I lounged around and read. In the evening I went to a friend's house for dinner. In the late afternoon, a thunderstorm blew up and the edge of the storm made for interesting lighting, especially behind the leaves of my banana trees. Usually younger banana leaves are paddle shaped and solid but Xieng Khouang is very windy so the leaves tend to get tattered like this.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Preparation Day for Lao New Year

mt and temple2, originally uploaded by c_p_lew.

People go to the temple to make merit during the Lao New Year holidays. There were maybe about 500 people at this temple. After offering food to the monks, everyone goes around to visit elders to wish them good health and long life in the new year. They also visit other temples to make offerings as well as to pour water on the Buddha images to clean them. People also clean the graves or stupa of relatives - washing off the cobwebs and painting the stupa.

This is considered to be the last day of the old year. Tomorrow is the New Year Day.

Ban Yone temple, originally uploaded by c_p_lew.

Inside the temple. The monks are chanting Buddhist prayers while people outside the temple are offering food.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Just north of Kasi

mt and clouds, originally uploaded by c_p_lew.

On Saturday, I drove up to Xieng Khouang so I could spend the Lao New Year holidays with old friends. The sky was amazingly clear. This is a limestone formation, called "The God's Throne". There aren't words to describe how beautiful it is.

Friday, April 11, 2008


sandbar, originally uploaded by c_p_lew.

April is the hottest month here. I took this picture of the sandbar on the Mekong at 8 am - when the temperature was around 80 degree F and it was still possible for teams to play football and volleyball on the sandbar.

Every year, different events are set up on the sandbar - last year, several groups had set up tents by the edge of the water and created 'sand castles' representing Mt. Meru, the center of the Buddhist universe, where people could make offerings in the sand. I'm sure they'll do the same thing for the Lao New Year during this coming weekend.

And in a month's time, the rains will start, and whatever is built in the sand will all be washed away.

Clouds and temple

cloudsntemple2, originally uploaded by c_p_lew.

Roof lines of Lao temples are so beautiful. The end pieces are stylized Naga heads, which curlicues on the roof line are flames, which symbolize burning away illusion. The roofs are always dramatic against the background of the sunset.

I'm a little late this week. Lao New Year officially runs from 13 - 15 April, but on Friday, I had to make the rounds of some of the offices that our project works with, so I haven't had much time for blogging.

Just realized I had another nice shot from this week - the rickety Ferris wheel by the Mekong waterfront, where the carnival has been set up for the Lao New Year. Since it has been so hazy for the past month, I was happy that a thunderstorm cleaned out dust earlier in the day.

ferris wheel, originally uploaded by c_p_lew.

This is my contribution to Skywatch Friday, which is hosted on Welcome to Wiggers World

Thursday, April 10, 2008

farm next to Mekong

farm next to Mekong, originally uploaded by c_p_lew.

temple in st village

temple in st village, originally uploaded by c_p_lew.

It's been a wild and sad few days. This is the week before Lao New Year but a friend, who has been a colleague for the past eight years, passed away on Tuesday morning. Lao funerals last a few days, to give family members enough time to come from many places. Then there is the vigil, of many people staying with the family, cooking, hanging out, playing cards, watching videos. Yesterday morning, some 200 of us walked the casket to the cremation site near the river. The wood was dry, the fire was hot and the souls of our friend were released. May he have a good rebirth.

Monday, April 07, 2008

bomb awareness day

bomb awareness day, originally uploaded by c_p_lew.

4 April is the "International Land Mine Awareness Day." All the agencies involved with landmine/ UXO action joined together for a program and exhibition about the continuing impact of these munitions, even nearly 40 years after they were dropped.

Laos is one of the most heavily bombed countries in the world, with over two million of ordnance dropped between 1964 through 1973, mostly as air support for ground actions and also to try to cut off the routes of the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Landmines were not used very much in Laos - mostly around old army camps; however, unexploded ordnance continues to injure and kill people every year.

The most common type of ordnance causing these injuries are cluster bombs, which are about the size of a softball. Up to 30% did not explode when they were dropped - and they can explode if they are hit with a hoe or picked up and thrown by a child.

This is a picture of part of the exhibit. The wheelchairs in the foreground are produced by the National Rehabilitation Center, which use a level for power. For my organization, we had stories of people whom we have helped with medical and income generation funds, as well as information about our education program on the danger of UXO. Other organizations provided information on clearance work they've been doing, rehabilitation, and different methods for informing people about how to stay safe.

There's now a world-wide movement to ban the production, use and stockpiling of cluster bombs, similar to the movement to ban landmines. More information

Sunday, April 06, 2008


hibiscus, originally uploaded by c_p_lew.

Went out for a long walk today and found the bushes which had been full of hibiscus flowers. Only a few now - I wonder if people have been picking them to use for the flower arrangements for bouns and other parties for the Lao New Year.

Also used the color accent feature of my camera - the pink against the gray really worked out this time.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Flowers for offerings

flowers3, originally uploaded by c_p_lew.

Dear Flower Lady,

Flowers so clean and pure,
gathered for offerings,
good luck in traveling,
welcoming a birth or
sending someone on the path
after death.

Flowers so rich in color and fresh
clean smell.
The aroma pushes back the scents of the market,
the colors relieve the sights of
brown dripping liquid from bruised fruit,
corn husks attracting flies in the gutter.

The breath of the garden
makes me forget the slippery mud under my feet,
and the cries of chickens in the cages.
The flowers are good income -
I know, I hear you telling your friends.

I know this, and when I smell in the flowers
with the incense in the temple or at the shrines,
I meditate on how these
roots, loosened from clinging to the soil
remind us all
of life, fragile as the petal.

Yours truly,
A Satisfied Customer

Bodhi tree on 4 April

Bodhi tree on 4 April, originally uploaded by c_p_lew.

As a follow-up on the picture I posted last week of the naked Bodhi tree, here it is on Thursday, just blooming away! Another picture from Tuesday with the sky.

The monks built a cement platform around the base of the tree, and painted it blue and white last week. Now, they are scraping off the paint. Don't ask me why.

This picture is my contribution to Skywatch Friday, hosted on Welcome to Wiggers World

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Letter #4: letter to a wild animal in her environment

Dear Zetta,

The world's a mysterious place,
especially for you and your stubby legs
which give you a view of the underside.
Plants are umbrellas and the banana leaf
a broad tent, filtering green light on to
the forest floor.
Watch out for grandmother's chickens
and Wii-do, the manic dog.
The scraps of paper are not snakes,
and the plastic bag caught on the fence is not
an eagle, coming to swoop down on you.

Don't go too far,
and yes, I will bring the cat food tonight.

Yours truly,
That big human who lives for you

Letter #3: Dear Rain

Dear Rain,

It was nice that you visited today, but seeing your beady eyes
was a surprise.
I had no idea that you were even thinking of us,
the season of heat has captured the sky.
I can feel the forces tugging this way and that.

But I'd like to say...
next time, please announce your travel plans.
I'd like to have a party,
run through the puddles
or dance naked under the drain pipe,
a plastic bag over my head and the straps over my ears.

Or on more formal occasions,
I could carry an umbrella.
Not to put you off, but to listen to the patter of your laughter above me.

Your friend,

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Letter #2: Dear Tree

bodhi tree4.jpg, originally uploaded by c_p_lew.

Dear Tree,

I know the difficulty
of breaking through concrete
to soar into the sky.

I know the frustration
of holding rage inside.
How nice it would feel to drop a branch on that
man carving sentiments into your bark.

I know you get sad,
and every year, you cry your leaves down, leaving
you naked and vulnerable.

What I can never know
the mystery of how you can bear to send out
new leaves.
Light green, whisper thin, shimmering in the wind.

Yours truly,
An admirer at your roots.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Letter #1: To the sky

This month's challenge on NaBloPoMo is 'letters' - however you want to interpret them.

Dear Sky,

Thanks for the rain yesterday. It was quite a surprise, since the weather has been doing its usual thing of parading through March and April, getting hotter drier and dustier.

This morning I was greeted by the sunrise - pinks and reds over the mountains. It was an impressive sight after such a long time of merely see the gray hazy sky lighten until it reached the color white. The color blue is very nice.

I just have one little request. Next time, could you tone down the thunder and lightening a little bit? It knocked out the power, telephones and internet.

Yours truly,
One person under the sky