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We just arrived back from our trek in Luang Namtah and it was in my opinion the most beautiful of the treks weve done. At times we would be walking on mountain ridges, crossing through banana groves and bamboo forest, with beautiful clouds and BLUE SKY (its been raining lately so the slash and burn ash hasnt been so dang overpowering). It was so beautiful, and our camping ground was amazing too...we did a lot of exploring, bathing in jasmine flower mountain water, making fires, eating bamboo soup, pretty sweet. During our tasty dinner, we were all assigned animals and such based on our essence (ex. my creatureessence is a cat... or a spider)Shortly after,it startedraining and lightening lit up the whole forestand we were all very happy. It was a very special two days. Things are good, we'regoing to China tomorrow, our guide Boughetwasa really amazing person. Mara, if you see thiswe miss you a lot and wish you were here

ps. sky potatoes

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Mekong Semester, Spring 2010

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Lightening and power animals

Paige Montgomery,Mekong Semester, Spring 2010

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We just arrived back from our trek in Luang Namtah and it was in my opinion the most beautiful of the treks weve done. At times we would be walking on mountain ridges, crossing through banana groves and bamboo forest, with beautiful clouds and BLUE SKY (its been raining lately so the slash and burn […]

Posted On

04/19/10

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Paige Montgomery

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Mekong Semester, Spring 2010

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Two step, truffle shuffle.

Robbie "Oliver" Bartels,Mekong Semester, Spring 2010

Description

While at first glimpse the two week homestay in Ban Xieng Men might seem long, it ‘straight up’ flew by. Throughout the experience I kept questioning if my homestay families affection towards me was real, or forced..or probably a combination of both. It sincerely bothered me that I kept coming back to this, and that […]

Posted On

04/19/10

Author

Robbie "Oliver" Bartels

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Mekong Semester, Spring 2010

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I just peed my pants.

Kimberly Kenny,Mekong Semester, Spring 2010

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Posted On

04/17/10

Author

Kimberly Kenny

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How do I describe a place? I want to give an accurate representation of life here, but am not sure where to start. With the geographical location, the people, the food, the average income, cultural traditions, what we do, what we see, how we speak? What defines a village, distinguishes it from other places, gives it an individual entity? Probably all the mentioned factors, but at the same time the sum of its parts do not necessarily equal the whole. I’ll just start with the name.

Ban Xieng Maen is a rural Lao village made up of 318 families, or 1,767 people, across the Mekong from Luang Prabang. According to Lonely Planet, Ban Xieng Maen “itself is worth a wander since, like Luang Prabang, it’s maintained its original urban plan, possibly dating back to the 14th century. Unlike Luang Prabang though, most of the main roads (particularly the river) and byways (leading to the river) haven’t been paved over, so the plan is technically more intact.” Despite its close proximity to the big city that has become a tourist hotspot (especially since its addition to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1995), Ban Xieng Maen feels authentic, separate, and isolated. Last night as my family and I returned from a successful trip to the night market (mom bought me flip-flops), the lights of the city and village, smeared into the darkness by an ever-present fog, seemed at once dueling and complimentary, like a younger sister gazing at her sparkling elder through a wall of glass. A short boat ride can transfer you from world to world.

Ban Xieng Maen’s main attractions are the Wats along the waters edge and along a path leading from the village – Wat Xieng Maen, Wat Tham Xieng Maen, Wat Long Khun, Wat Chom Pet. If you follow a dirt road that curves up and to the left from the village you’ll come to a small pottery village called Ban Chan, and if you keep going on this road for another 14km you’ll come to a beautiful waterfall. The dirt path curving to the right from the village leads you to Ban Natta, which makes many of the vegetables sold at the morning market in Luang Prabang, and further on you’ll come to Ban Nakham, which is best known for making palm sugar. Ban Xieng Maen itself is along a paved path that becomes a dirt path after about 100m (no one is quite sure who built it, but funding for construction ran out before it was finished), and the village is on the immediate right when you are coming up from the main road where shops and stalls are lined up. The houses are mostly cement and stone, with corrugated metal roofs supported by wood planks. The houses range in size from small bamboo shack to two-story abodes that are awkwardly spacious due to the lack of furniture used.

My own house is near the steep slope that leads to the river, and right next to the village garbage dump – a small ravine filled with plastic bottles, bags, food wrappers, etc. I threw my own bag of trash directly into a dump for the first time in my life the other day, because that’s where all the trash from our woven trash basket is thrown anyway. I’m also able to see the direct effect of my use of shampoos and soaps while bathing and doing laundry, as all the water from the floor of our bathroom flows through a hole in the wall, through our backyard, down the slope, and directly into the Mekong. Needless to say (but I’m still gonna say it), it’s not the same as washing your hands in a sink at home, or watching your conditioner flow down the drain – going to some unknown place out of sight, where someone else will probably worry about it, where someone else will deal with it, when it’s no longer my responsibility after the toilet has been flushed. My house has 4 main rooms – the communal floor room, with the TV as its focal point; and three bedrooms, two of them secluded by doors and one by a floral sheet. The “kitchen,” which is really a space primarily occupied by a small fire, is adjacent to the house. The bathroom is parallel to the kitchen, and carved into the cement floor are the two phrases “I Love You; You Love I.” The layout of the house makes it possible to exit so as to avoid anyone in the house you don’t want to see.

There are six people in my family, seven including our dog “Cow,” but my two cousins are sometimes around the house more often than members of my immediate family. My youngest cousin, Dteep, likes watching what I do and occasionally reporting to my mom; but it doesn’t annoy me, I actually kind of like it about her. She likes to do all the household activities and takes pride in knowing how to do them – refilling the water, doing laundry, washing dishes, sweeping the floor (I once pointed out a long trail of tiny ants marching through the house to her, thinking she’d find it cool like I did, but instead she gasped and ran to the broom and spent the rest of the day periodically checking to see if they’d returned). She doesn’t often return my smiles but I think she likes me, at least approves of my attempts at her coveted skills.

My other cousin, whose name is unknown to me, I see more often passing in the street on her bike. She has longer hair than her sister, a small black mole on her nose just above her right eye, and when she smiles it looks like her face is unaccustomed to the pose. Only recently did I receive a genuine smile from her uninitiated by me, and the moment seemed like a pivotal one in our silent relationship. Both my cousins hang around our house most often at meal times. They eat only small portions of our meals, allotted to them by my mother, or they’re grudgingly given our leftovers, and they look at food with the eyes of children who are faced with chocolate for the first time in their lives. When I slide my potion over invitingly to them, they quickly recoil as if my gesture was offensive, and they stubbornly and guiltily avert their eyes. I think my host mother would rather her nieces be fed by their father instead of her, but she treats the girls affectionately and she must realize it’s difficult for a single father to provide everything his daughters need. My mother’s sister divorced her husband for another man, but my mother doesn’t like to talk about that. She does enjoy talking about Sam, her host son from the past fall semester, who apparently said nothing in Lao other than “I am Lao!” She recalls this phrase of his often and refers to him affectionately as “very playful,” though I’m still not sure exactly what that means. I must seem very different from him &nd ash; reading all the time, usually ignoring the TV, “hot guy”ing (Lao word for exercise) in the morning in my shorts, hiking boots, and long wool socks, and often donning my infamous PJs (when I came out of the bathroom on night one and showcased them for the first time, the reaction of the family as they looked up to me as one was a collective, prolonged “Ohhh…”). But despite the way I dress I think my mom thinks I’m beautiful and I do think she likes me. She applies whitening cream to her face and calves every morning and she burps freely. She sells tickets at the Wat near our house and in her free time she stitches designs for purses sold in the Luang Prabang night market. She strikes me as a strong, quick woman (Allana described her well as “enterprising”), and I think we understand each other well despite language barriers. When we go to the market, she strolls casually past the stalls as if she was on her way to some other destination and the hum-drum surrounding her was of no concern to her. But once we’ve reached the end of a section of the market, she turns around and retraces her steps, this time buying everything she selected on her first pass, but still with a casual air as if none of her purchases were carefully premeditated (as I know they were).

My 18-year-old sister watches TV constantly, sitting in a chair less than 2 feet in front of the screen, so as to more easily change channels. She sings along to all her favorite pop songs, and mimics the movements of the pop stars on the screen. She keeps her phone nearby and at night she sometimes sits with friends at our small table in front of the house. She goes to school all week and wakes up late (“late” in Lao is 7am) on weekends. She does beauty pageants and represents the village when it shows cultural presentations and dances (I was shown pictures). The first few nights we slept together in her room, I awoke in the middle of the night to find her arms wrapped around me or else her cuddling me. In a mysterious role change, I awoke last night to find me doing the same to her. I quickly retreated to my side of the bed, which is much cooler due to its proximity to the fan. (Today the temperature is 102 degrees Fahrenheit. There are children in the street with buckets of water splash most foreign passers-by, and soaking many of those driving in motos, as is a customary part of Lao New Year.) My 23-year-old sister always returns my glances with a smile, and I think she’s beautiful. But I think this is my opinion mostly because of the way she carries herself – gracefully and deliberately – as she does all her tasks. She wakes up at 5:30 to start the sticky rice and she always helps cook and clean. She works for a Frenchman in Luang Prabang, cooking. Her husband lives with us and they’ve been married for two and a half years. He is skinny and wears an army jacket, and at first I distrusted him (maybe no one is good enough for my favorite sister?), but he’s grown on me more and more throughout the week. I’ve exchanged very few words with my younger brother, but he reminds me of my Prek Pdao host brother and I like him for it. He goes to school and likes to play the popular shoe game, which I guess to be a kind of improvised version of botchy ball that the kids in the village like to play on the street. My father is a quiet, skinny man who always tries to speak good-naturedly to me in simple Lao that I can understand. He goes fishing with big nets and night and in the morning I eat the fish (whole – heads and everything) he caught. He’s a boatman and owns a “Lao Children Library Boat,” that takes children and books to schools along the rivers edge.

My brother-in-law is also a boatman, and he’s the one who drives us to Steven Schipani’s house in the morning. Steven Schipani is an overwhelming, humbling, inspiring, electrifying person. We met him briefly at dinner in Vientiane, and during that short time he found a way to relate to all of our home states, passionately describe why his job is so important to him, give us all information on our perspective ISPs, and share interesting facts about Laos, including the surprising ingredients of the paste plastered on temple ceilings in a certain part of Lao (buffalo skin and banana leaves). When he left it was like the electricity had suddenly been extracted from a large, now suddenly spacious room. We bring up a topic and he jumps to provide physical examples and memorable anecdotes, asking us questions and nodding his head vigorously like a true born story-teller. His house is right on the water, constructed mainly with local Lao wood and tiles, and is what Allana called “the perfect mixture of traditional and modern.” He opens a comfortable room on the second floor to us as a space to do our lessons, and occasionally comes up to give lessons of his own. His most recent one was on the possible Takho Hydropower Project that is currently under review. Steven, as a professional in the tourist industry in Laos, is on a Panel of Independent Experts (PIE) that will provide unbiased opinions to the developer and the Lao government. He asked us what factors we thought we should consider in the construction of a dam, and explained to us the specifics of the situation (the dam requires a channel built around the famous Phapheng Falls on the Mekong, which attracts thousands of tourists every year. The channel will not be visible from the tourist viewing site, but the amount of water flowing from the waterfall will be decreased. No one will have to be displaced, but during construction the vendors and guides who benefit from the tourism at the Falls will temporarily be unable to conduct business. The construction will not greatly disadvantage the fish populations, nor harm the Irrawaddy River Dolphin. This project will take up 2.8% of the 1,500 ha square region, which is under no legal protected status, excepting the nearby Khone Phapheng National Heritage Site). He even gave me the rough draft to the paper he’ll submit to the government.

I feel Ban Xieng Maen is an ideal place for a homestay, because it has the resources and exciting activities of a city available to it, yet retains an authentic Lao identity that helps us understand a culture less tainted by tourism. Having Steven’s house available offers another great resource for education, and there has been no decrease in my rate of learning since I’ve come here. I feel independent and immersed in the lives of local people, while I remain part of a supportive Dragons group.

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Mekong Semester, Spring 2010

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Ban Xieng Maen

Kimberly Kenny,Mekong Semester, Spring 2010

Description

How do I describe a place? I want to give an accurate representation of life here, but am not sure where to start. With the geographical location, the people, the food, the average income, cultural traditions, what we do, what we see, how we speak? What defines a village, distinguishes it from other places, gives […]

Posted On

04/10/10

Author

Kimberly Kenny

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Mekong Semester, Spring 2010

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Humble Homestay Hymns

Robin Bartels,Mekong Semester, Spring 2010

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With our homestay getting into full swing, I try to remind myself not to think of my homestay family as just that, but rather as my real family. (Sorry mom and dad! :p) Being in a foreign homestay is very liberating, especially because they go out of their way to spoil you, and lavish you […]

Posted On

04/9/10

Author

Robin Bartels

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Dams and the Mekong contd (hit a wrong button on the keyboard and posted too soon)

Sichuan and Yunnan provinces in China have seen the most earthquakes in the whole country, and this is exactly where the massive dams are being built. On May 12, 2008 the disastrous Sichuan earthquake killed 80,000 people. There has been very little research done on earthquakes in China, and insufficient seismic surveys have been conducted. I think the possibility of an earthquake in China and the resulting collapse of dams is something well worth putting time in to.

There are, however, positives to dam construction. Chief among these is MONEY. Dams produce hydropower and electricity and revenue for governments exporting this energy to neighboring countries. Laos, one of the poorest countries in SE Asia, seeks to be the "Battery of SE Asia" and is currently exporting power to Thailand and Vietnam for the much needed money it provides. China also argues that dams and hydropower and the revenue from both help develop poor countries. But it has been evident in my research (all done out of the Mekong Reader - articles for the NY Times, from Milton Osbourne, Newsweek, the MRC, New Mekong, the NGO International Rivers, The Guardian, and the South China Morning Post) that the money produced from dams very often does NOT go to impoverished peoples, but instead to the ones who are already in power. The Theun-Hinbourn dam built in 1998 in central Laos, which is 2/3 of Laos' power exports, ironically provides no electricity for the local villagers in the area. It is more common that the already poor are even further impoverished by the construction of dams, with their resettlement and lack of compensation.

In my opinion, to put it bluntly, China might just take over SE Asia. And then the world. Maybe not the world, but China's influence is being heavily asserted in Burma, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam, and Cambodia. In April of 2008 China completed the 1,150-mile network of roads linking Kunming to Bangkok, called the "North-South Economic Corridor," a huge acheivement. This means China will have even greater access to trade with and construction in its neighboring countries. And all too often China's construction projects seem clearly aimed at helping assure China's access to natural resources in these countries. Chinese loans, however, are often more attractive to these countries than the Wests, because Chinese money usually comes without conditions - for environmental standards, for community resettlement, and no penalties for corruption.

Chinese exports to Burma, Laos, and Vietnam in the first 8 months of 2007 alone were US$8.3 billion, up 50% from 2006. In Cambodia, China is the biggest investor and donor, and the number 1 recipient of land concessions. It has also been at the top of foreign investing countries for the past 14 years. In Laos China is buying out much of the land, and many Chinese companies are moving in all over SE Asia. Environmentally, Chinese dams may be having the most negative effects on the Mekong. In 2004 the UN stated: "China's extremely ambitious plan to build a massive cascade of eight dams on the upper half of the Mekong River may pose the single greatest threat to the river," and that the dams result in "changes in river flow volume and timing, water quality deterioration, and loss of biodiversity." China has also become a heavy contributor to the ADB (Asian Development Bank), and the VP as of 2004 is Jin Liqun, the former deputy finance minister in Beijing. It can hardly be denied that China has a large say in the manner in which the ADB spends its money and develops SE Asia.

It is, at best, very difficult for the countries under China's thumb to exert any pressure on their gigantic neighbor the the north. And some of them may not want to. Thailand and Cambodia are led by men who are committed to close relationships with China. Indeed, many of those in power are benefitted from China's presence in their region. And, it is my opinion, that at the end of the day a country will do what is in its best interests. I can hardly blame China for developing and pushing trade, when the advantages of doing so seem so great for China. It also seems to me that countries like Laos hardly have a choice but to do so. In 2005 the ADB president Haruhiko Kuroda said of Laos, "The sustainable development of hydropower is one of the few options the country has for long-term growth and for further reducing poverty."

I'm afraid my "abbreviated" version of my student lesson is not so short, but I feel it's necessary to mention the controversial Nam Theun 2 Dam, construction of which was finished this year, before I finish. The Nam Theun 2 was constructed on the Nakai Plateau, creates 1,060 MW of power, displaced 6,800 people, and diverted greater than 75% the previous total water flow. The big controversy with the dam had to do largely with the involvement of the World Bank, which decided to play a major role in the funding of the project. The World Bank had previously spoken negatively about the construction of dams, and many NGOs were unhappy with its new stance, saying that standards of construction were not set high enough and environmental sustainability was not a big enough consideration. However, as professed by the World Bank (and I and many other people agree), if the World Bank didn't fund the project, China would step in in its place, and then the regard for environmental and other stipulations would drastically decrease. Better to build the dam with as many stipulations in consideration of the local people and environment as possible, than a construction with hardly any considerations in these terms at all.

I had other examples of dams, and more statistics, but I think that's plenty for now. My conclusions from research were that things would largely continue as they are now - more dam construction, greater Chinese influence,bad news for the Mekong. Though I had notrouble finding sourcespassionately professing the dangers for the Mekong, NONE of them were able to provide specifics as to exactlywhat the consequenceswould be. AndI think it's partly this vagueness that makes itdifficult for governments to find it in their best interests to change their ways.

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Mekong Semester, Spring 2010

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Taylor & Kim’s belated yak pt. 3

Kimberly Kenny,Mekong Semester, Spring 2010

Description

Dams and the Mekong contd (hit a wrong button on the keyboard and posted too soon) Sichuan and Yunnan provinces in China have seen the most earthquakes in the whole country, and this is exactly where the massive dams are being built. On May 12, 2008 the disastrous Sichuan earthquake killed 80,000 people. There has […]

Posted On

04/9/10

Author

Kimberly Kenny

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    [post_content] => We did our first group split recently with half of our group heading into the homestay early and another half heading out to the Plain of Jars. The Plain of Jars group included Taylor, Robby, Johnny, Michael and myself. After a few good byes we boarded a minivan that would take us on our ride to Phonsavan. It was a fun ride for some and an awful ride for others. There are 558 cutbacks (I made that number up there are probably more) between Luang Prabang and Phonsavan. When you are in the confines of a small minivan you feel all of it and it left quite a few of us with green faces and headaches. After 6 hours on the cutbacks we finally made it out onto the flat plateau of the Plain of Jars. What first struck me was the topography. It was unlike the flat lowlands we had seen when we first entered Laos and also unlike the high mountains we had recently been in. Instead there were rolling hills with flat plains dedicated to rice production (out of season of course). There were no giant jungle trees but bent gnarled pines and sparse woods throughout. It was completely different from anything we had yet seen. On our second day we visited MAG ( Mines Advisory Group) a UK NGO dedicated to helping Laos rid itself of the millions of UXOs left from US bombing and constant fighting during the 60's and 70's. One of our instuctors Michael has written a wonderful yak about this where you can find more information about MAG. Our day ended with a trip up a beautiful hill containing the headstones of the Buddhist, Catholic, Animist and Taoist faiths. Scattered amongst the pines on the barren tops were graves dating from the early 1900s up until the late 1990s. From that vantange point we were able to look out over the city of Phonsavan and take in the views. On our second and final day in Phonsavan we made our trip to the Plain of Jars. The plain of jars is the name given to the area where Large stone jars dating from 500BCE to 500CE are found. No one knows quite the reason for their existence and many theories exist. We think human whack-a-mole... Our trip took us to one of the larger sites, Site 1, with over 330 jars spread over a 25 hectare area. Staying within the demined zone, the plain of jars was the sight of some of the heaviest bombing during the Secret War in Laos, we walked amongst the jars taking pictures and coming up with theories to their existence. Soon afterwards we boarded our tour car and were hearded further out to see a "war scrap village". Many villages throughout Xieng Kuong province use material left over from the heavy fighting in their homes. We have seen bomb casings used as structural support and flower pots. Cluster bombs are used as lamps and decorations. One imaginitive villager managed to turn a hand grenade into a working lighter. Unfortunately many parts of Laos still suffer from remaining UXO and the close proximity that many people have to war scrap jades people to their dangers. Over 50% of casualties caused by UXO happen to children. After leaving the village we continued on to a wood working shop where we saw masters at work. The small group of carvers produced beautiful bowls, cups, instruments...and beds with precision skill and speed. With our final day winding to a close in Phonsavan we headed on back to the guest house(which we unfortunately abused at one moment but bo penyang and the lao say) for a good nights sleep before the soul sucking ride back through the 558 cutbacks to Laung Praband and the rest of the group.
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Mekong Semester, Spring 2010

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Plain of Jars

Gabe "my hearts not really in this one" Maletta,Mekong Semester, Spring 2010

Description

We did our first group split recently with half of our group heading into the homestay early and another half heading out to the Plain of Jars. The Plain of Jars group included Taylor, Robby, Johnny, Michael and myself. After a few good byes we boarded a minivan that would take us on our ride […]

Posted On

04/9/10

Author

Gabe "my hearts not really in this one" Maletta

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So I thought I would post another yak before I left you all feeling dumpy and sad with the last depressing one. So, the homestay is pretty dang amazing right now. seven days has felt like one, so that about sums it up.

My Dad: is amazing, he is the family rock for love, business,and agood time (i had to).When heisn'tcrafting Lao furniture and light fixtures, he is probably cooking delicious food,or giving alms to the monks (every morning!) or trying to teach me the alphabet because he is the biggest sweetheart in the world or climbing trees for fruit and braving red ants because he is a badass, oh, by the way, he is 65.He does love his liquor, and though the other family members don't find his one-man party very amusing Ipersonallydon't mind my poh pui square-rooted. These are the timesthatwe laugh and laugh and laugh and he stamps around on my bed with a towel trying to swat mosquitos but tears down the bamboo support that holds up the bed and all of my sisters clothing instead and his eyes smile like no other.

Bia: legend. This three year old has some pretty ridiculous dance moves, and he'll throw them at you with a straight face too, recently he sliced his finger pretty severely, but i don't imagine this will hinder his trouble-making abilities, he is such a funny kid, I will miss the way he calls for me.. "FALLAAAAAANGG"

Meh: amazing, such a sweetie, though she does put my menthol salve up her nose and double dips, I love her, and she knows it, her shameless requests for backrubs confirm this. Yeah, my sisters are great too, I love my family, i love their food, and i am really sick of thai tv soaps.

i love you all!

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Mekong Semester, Spring 2010

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Not Depressing!

Paige Montgomery,Mekong Semester, Spring 2010

Description

So I thought I would post another yak before I left you all feeling dumpy and sad with the last depressing one. So, the homestay is pretty dang amazing right now. seven days has felt like one, so that about sums it up. My Dad: is amazing, he is the family rock for love, business,and […]

Posted On

04/9/10

Author

Paige Montgomery

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Up until today, I felt a little disconnected from my Ban Xieng Maen family. My mother was incredibly sweet, but distant and nervous; my father was intimidating; my brother hadn’t said a word to me; my sisters were quiet, with hesitant, (seemingly) judgmental eyes. Homestays, I have found, have become my very favorite parts of the trip, and I was afraid that here, I might fail to establish those intense connections that I had found in Prek Pdao or in some of our other village stays. I feared that this homestay was not meant to live up to the high expectations that I had set for it; I had nearly resigned to the prospect of a lonely two weeks filled with lots of reading and many, many journal entries.

But this morning, something happened that knocked my self-pitying mindset around a hair-pin turn and prodded my stay in the direction of success. Just like yesterday, after breakfast my 18-year-old sister, Boboann, grabbed two giant buckets of dirty laundry, soap and a sarong and set out down the steep embankment behind our house towards the mighty Mekong. Today, though, something different happened: as she left, she turned back towards me and, with a southeast asian-style downwards beckoning hand, she tossed a “bpai?” (lets go?) in my direction. Thrilled at the potential for a sisterly bonding moment, I turned tail and rushed into my bed-chamber for my own pile of dirty laundry and soaps and, almost leaving behind the all-important bathing sarong, I ran off behind her like an excited puppy.

When we reached the banks, after I quite nearly wiped out in my over-loved Cambodian flip-flops (one thong is tied together with string where the rubber bit broke) several times, we came across a group of girls, including fellow falang Paige and her sister, already at work.

Following Boboann’s lead, I quickly caught on to the method. Filling one bucket with Nam Kong water and copious amounts of powdered soap, I hiked up my pants and squatted down next to the other girls for better scrubbing leverage. Once all articles of clothing were sufficiently soap-saturated, scrubbed out and placed in the other, cleaner, bucket, I was told (in pantomime) to put on my bathing sarong and remove all other clothing for washing (I was chastised for trying to leave my undies on underneath.) Then the soap-soaked clothes, along with the soap-soaked launderer, are tossed into the river for rinsing. Clothes are ridden of soap and wrung out; only when everything is neatly laid out in buckets is body-soap allowed, and the app nam (shower) party begins. Laughs are constant; splashing is frequent.

Today this simple, daily female ritual was more than a fun laundry chore for me, but also a way to gain entry into my sister’s heart. She is the kind of person who is hesitant to let just anybody in: she needs some real convincing in order to be sure of someone’s adequacy as a friend. For me, it seems, all it took was some time and a demonstration of my satisfactory laundry skillz and good humor; the moment I squatted down beside her, she smiled at me (for the first time!) and I was in. From that point forward we have been, if not best friends, certainly buds. This seems like bit of a reoccurring theme on this trip for me. As soon as I am willing to toss away the hesitations and pride and just jump in with the locals – whether it be by sitting down to pho in the middle of the local market, trying at a conversation in broken Lao with a shop-owner, or squatting down in the mud with a pile of laundry – I have been so much closer to taking part in the real, authentic experiences, to learning big lessons, to making true connections, to finding a sister in Lao.

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Mekong Semester, Spring 2010

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Letting go of the dirty laundry

Heather Lyon,Mekong Semester, Spring 2010

Description

Up until today, I felt a little disconnected from my Ban Xieng Maen family. My mother was incredibly sweet, but distant and nervous; my father was intimidating; my brother hadn’t said a word to me; my sisters were quiet, with hesitant, (seemingly) judgmental eyes. Homestays, I have found, have become my very favorite parts of […]

Posted On

04/9/10

Author

Heather Lyon

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Has anyone ever stopped to think about where your silk clothes or tablecloths come from? Well we did, and when in Xieng Kuang we expirienced it firsthand at the Mulberry Silk Farm!

When we first arrived, we were givena tour guild and he took us to the mulberry feilds. Walking over to the feilds, all we could thinkabout how hot it wasin the 105+ degre weather, but after reaching the feilds, we didn't care because we were surrounded by mullBERRIES! They were so delicious and the warms concurred.

1.Silk warms eat the leaves of mullberry trees, giving them what they need to produce silk.

2.Once the warms are big enough (10,000 times heavier then what they weighed when they were born) they are placed in a shelf-thingy with cloth over it for 10 days, thus there is a cocoon!

3.Then the cocoon is taken, AND BOILED! killing the poor silk warm, and snatching away it's beautiful silk.

4. The silk is spun around a spindle and a spool of silk is born.

5. The silk is boiled, softing and cleaning it.

6.Then they dye it! (The mullberry farm uses natural dyes ie bark, roots, seeds, flowers, ect) Totally and completely organic.

7. After the dye is ready, they either sell it in spools, or they weave it into something beautiful.

The production of silk is so interesting and so useful if you understand it. I think I'm going to make my own clothes from now on..well, maybe not. The group is taking a group weaving class tomorrow, and we're probably going to do some classic silk dying as well.

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Mekong Semester, Spring 2010

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Taylor and Kims belated yak post part 2

Taylor Boucher,Mekong Semester, Spring 2010

Description

Has anyone ever stopped to think about where your silk clothes or tablecloths come from? Well we did, and when in Xieng Kuang we expirienced it firsthand at the Mulberry Silk Farm! When we first arrived, we were givena tour guild and he took us to the mulberry feilds. Walking over to the feilds, all […]

Posted On

04/9/10

Author

Taylor Boucher

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