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Our group yak was scheduled for the week we spent at the Nam Kading NPA, but seeing as how a yak about that might be a bit outdated (sorry about that), we thought we'd write about more recent things, like the student lessons and mini-lessons we gave a couple days ago. Half the group split off to see the Plain of Jars, and returned to tell us about it. Taylor was one of them and she learned about silk. I gave my student lesson on dams in China and the health of the Mekong River. I'll try to briefly summarize what I presented to everyone here:

The Mekong River starts in Eastern Tibet and flows through 6 countries - China, Burma, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam, and Cambodia. It's the 12th longest river, and 10th largest in volume. It's about 4,880 km long and supports an estimated 100 million people. The Mekong provides a source of food, source of water, water for irrigation of crops, means of transportation, means of bathing and washing clothes, and is imbedded in the cultures and lives of the people living along it. It's a source of food and jobs for 65 million in the Mekong River Basin, and 8 out of 10 depend on the river for subsistence (in the form of fish and agriculture). Hopefully these few facts give some indication of the immense importance of the Mekong River, and the reasons why its deteriorating health is of great concern. In 2001 the Mekong River Commission (the governing body in SE Asia conerned with issues along the river, made up of Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam, created in 1995) stated: "Should the present rate of damage continue, forest cover, biodiversity, fish stocks and soil quality will be harmed to levels where recovery may not be possible." It was obvious to me that this is a very important issue and worth ivestigating the problems involved.

But first a quick note on the Tonle Sap Lake in Cambodia, which has already been affected by the decreasing water level of the Mekong. The Tonle Sap goes from 13,000 square km of water in the rainy season to 2,700 in the dry season, and during October the lake is emptied so rapidly that fish pour out at a rate of 50,000 per minute! The lake provides a huge source of fish for the local people, who depend on fish for most of their protein. According to the MRC, from 2004-2005 the fish catch from the Tonle Sap dropped by 50%.

Back to the problems with the Mekong. They are, briefly:

- Logging (mostly illegal, it erodes the shoreline and results in disastrous flooding)

- Poaching and commercial fisheries wiping out fish species (of particular interest are the Irrawady River Dolphin and the giant catfish)

- Increased use of chemical fertilizers

- Pollution

- Blasting and dredging for transportation - they destroy rapids and consequently prevent them from aerating the water, which makes it harder for fish to survive. Transportation also results in pollution from diesal-powered vessels.

- and the Whammy: DAMS

Dams alter the level and quality of water. Although China argues that its dams "even out the flow" of the river and provide security against flooding, the opposite may in reality be true, because the dams so drastically alter the natural ebb and flow of the Mekong. This ebb and flow is vital to the cycle of mating and reproduction of many fish species. Flooding also rinses fields of pests and cleans the soil, and carries silt in the river banks down stream, which in the dry season serves as fertile soil for agriculture.

Dams block the natural migration of fish, preventing them from getting further upstream to eat and mate. Many of the fish species in the Mekong are migratory in nature, so this has a huge affect on them. Fish are also highly sensitive to changes in water temperature, and the water released by dams is colder than the fish are accustomed to.

The construction of dams leads to deforestation, because in the construction process many trees need to be cut down for the erection of these massive man-made structures. This deforestation leads to further erosion of the shoreline, silt build-up, and flooding.

The construction of dams results in the displacement of tens of thousands of people, especially the poor, and especially minorities who have few rights and are hardly recognized by the government. Over 100,000 people were displaced in China, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam as a result of dams.

The possibility, though it may seem remote to many, of an earthquake in China I feel must be discussed. The results of a dam breaking from an earthquake and the resultant flood could be distratrous for many along the Mekong. Phnom Penh, for example, could be entirely wiped

[post_title] => Taylor & Kim's belated group yak pt. 1 [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => taylor-kims-belated-group-yak-pt-1 [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2010-04-09 00:00:00 [post_modified_gmt] => 1970-01-01 00:00:00 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://yakyak.chandigarhsoftware.com/?p=48794 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw [categories] => Array ( [0] => WP_Term Object ( [term_id] => 395 [name] => Mekong Semester, Spring 2010 [slug] => mekong-semester-spring-2010 [term_group] => 0 [term_taxonomy_id] => 395 [taxonomy] => category [description] => [parent] => 257 [count] => 152 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 22.1 [cat_ID] => 395 [category_count] => 152 [category_description] => [cat_name] => Mekong Semester, Spring 2010 [category_nicename] => mekong-semester-spring-2010 [category_parent] => 257 [link] => https://my.wheretherebedragons.com/category/spring-2010/mekong-semester-spring-2010/ ) ) [category_links] => Mekong Semester, Spring 2010 )

Mekong Semester, Spring 2010

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Taylor & Kim’s belated group yak pt. 1

Kimberly Kenny,Mekong Semester, Spring 2010

Description

Our group yak was scheduled for the week we spent at the Nam Kading NPA, but seeing as how a yak about that might be a bit outdated (sorry about that), we thought we’d write about more recent things, like the student lessons and mini-lessons we gave a couple days ago. Half the group split […]

Posted On

04/9/10

Author

Kimberly Kenny

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About three weeks ago,we arrived inthe group homestay village in Nam Seuan, eager to develop aclearer understanding of the Hmong people and their struggle to preserve their culture and way of life despite the crippling pressure and command from external forces. After four days in the low-land community, weascended the mountain tothe Hmongvillage. As we walked by Hmong farmers as they tended theirvertical agriculturalplots of land that lie(lay?) testament to their long history of forced resettlement,I began to wonder if the community bore symptoms of their oppression.

We reached the villageand weremet with a warm reception,(ridiculously amazing!!) dancing/singing (please notice the slash), and traditional Hmong games. It was a magical place, especially in it's isolation, beautiful sunset, beautifulmoon, it was amazing to soak it all up but I could not help but feel a sadness there, perhaps one can owe that to the fact that there werealmost no children there, they were studying, seeking work, building bridges, and settling into a world abstract to those above.For those people, it seemed that life's procession was on pause, that life was being lived half-heartedly while they awaited answers or more problems from the outside.

Iwas amazed by the strength andperserverance of the Hmong people giventheir history,buton themorning beforeour departure, as village leaders askedus what they should do in their situations, Ifound it hard to feel optimistic about their future well-being, but change is a slow process and there is no one right answer.

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Mekong Semester, Spring 2010

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Hmong Village

Paige Montgomery,Mekong Semester, Spring 2010

Description

About three weeks ago,we arrived inthe group homestay village in Nam Seuan, eager to develop aclearer understanding of the Hmong people and their struggle to preserve their culture and way of life despite the crippling pressure and command from external forces. After four days in the low-land community, weascended the mountain tothe Hmongvillage. As we […]

Posted On

04/9/10

Author

Paige Montgomery

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    [post_content] => Her smile is the open arms that is welcoming to anyone! She sees me, turns to her friend, nudges her with a smirk, and let's loose the goods. With that bright and jovial greeting I knew I had the best homestay mom in Ban Xien Mene. We walked in lingual silence, not lacking the occasional grunt and giggle reasuring eachother of our presence, down the laid brick walk way. "Eeehhhh"...followed by a bob of her head and a pointing finger directing me toward my new home. We walked through the doorway into a large room where one of my brothers welcomed me with ease. Hurried through the room I was escorted to a small cozy room in the corner of the house. I entered and realized the next 12 days this will be my home! Home for the last 8 weeks hasn't been in one place for more than 5 days. Home here for 12 days with a mom and a family who all just seem suave sounds like a pretty good plan to me!
[post_title] => My Brown Sugar Momma [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => my-brown-sugar-momma [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2010-04-09 00:00:00 [post_modified_gmt] => 1970-01-01 00:00:00 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://yakyak.chandigarhsoftware.com/?p=48796 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw [categories] => Array ( [0] => WP_Term Object ( [term_id] => 395 [name] => Mekong Semester, Spring 2010 [slug] => mekong-semester-spring-2010 [term_group] => 0 [term_taxonomy_id] => 395 [taxonomy] => category [description] => [parent] => 257 [count] => 152 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 22.1 [cat_ID] => 395 [category_count] => 152 [category_description] => [cat_name] => Mekong Semester, Spring 2010 [category_nicename] => mekong-semester-spring-2010 [category_parent] => 257 [link] => https://my.wheretherebedragons.com/category/spring-2010/mekong-semester-spring-2010/ ) ) [category_links] => Mekong Semester, Spring 2010 )

Mekong Semester, Spring 2010

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My Brown Sugar Momma

Jonathon "wang" Luckett,Mekong Semester, Spring 2010

Description

Her smile is the open arms that is welcoming to anyone! She sees me, turns to her friend, nudges her with a smirk, and let’s loose the goods. With that bright and jovial greeting I knew I had the best homestay mom in Ban Xien Mene. We walked in lingual silence, not lacking the occasional […]

Posted On

04/9/10

Author

Jonathon "wang" Luckett

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Heather: So, Jonny…we’re communicators this week. What should we do about that yak yak we have to write? I’m blank.

Jonny: Let’s talk about the deep and abstract mysteries that we ponder daily on the Dragons trip! (laughs) Or how about the 104-degree weather?

Heather: Blech. Too sticky. But it’s pretty amazing how we are so used to the heat by now. I almost didn’t notice.

Jonny: Neither did I, until I looked down and realized that my shirt was half-drenched.

Heather: Yeah, but is that sweat or were you chosen as a target by one of the gangs of tiny children running around with water guns for Lao New Year? They really like to prey on the falang. Not that I’m complaining.

Jonny: Nope, that’s sweat. But next week, it’ll be water.

Heather: Anyhow…we could yak about our program house, the magnificent and utopian land where we have been going for lessons during the day? I can’t believe how beautiful it is. I am considering staying in Lao and moving in there.

Jonny: The house is bueno, but what’s even nicer is having Stephen around to let loose all of the useful – and out there – info he has stored in that brain of his.

Heather: Yeah, we could write about that, but maybe we should share about that prayer chanting ceremony that we were a part of at the wat yesterday. I mean, we learned a Sanskrit chant and meditated along with the monks. It was pretty darn cool.

Jonny: But you’re forgetting the best part – sweeping the monks’ yard with their jimmy-rigged brooms beforehand while chewing on mini-mangoes from the tree just above!

Heather: That was sweet. But let’s get started. I don’t think the yak yak will write itself.

Jonny: OR…with the 10,000 kip we’re supposed to be using to post the yak, we could treat ourselves to a nice nutella-peanut butter-banana sandwich from Mama the sandwich lady in downtown Luang Prabang...

Heather: Ooh, I like that better. Let’s go.

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Mekong Semester, Spring 2010

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Procrastination is the mother of invention

Jonny and Heather,Mekong Semester, Spring 2010

Description

Heather: So, Jonny…we’re communicators this week. What should we do about that yak yak we have to write? I’m blank. Jonny: Let’s talk about the deep and abstract mysteries that we ponder daily on the Dragons trip! (laughs) Or how about the 104-degree weather? Heather: Blech. Too sticky. But it’s pretty amazing how we are […]

Posted On

04/9/10

Author

Jonny and Heather

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    [post_author] => 39
    [post_date] => 2010-04-09 00:00:00
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Last week the group entered the famous UNESCO world heritage sight, Luang Prabang. Of course we loved it. Doesn't everyone? Each night we would walk down to the main street and grab a nutella baguette or a fruit shake. Later in the night we would explore the deep and wonderful night market. We had a lot of time to explore on our own. Some of us got explored far enough that they saw the outer edges of Luang Prabang and discovered where the locals actually sleep and spend their nights. No, they don't stay at their vending tables forever!

Actually, the beginning of Luang Prabang was our lowpoint. And we climbed out of it with flying colors. Once we realized what was going on, we were quick to take charge. I'm happy to say we are all flying high now.

And of course, we got to see Mara again! Which was a treat for all of us. We missed him so much! So of course we hada picnic near the river and explored the city with him. Also, while half the group went to the plain of jars, the girls that stayed had a girl's day. Which was amazing. I'm sure Gabe will write odes about what he got out of the plain of jars, but our girls day was pretty sweet. Literally. We had the best fruit shakes at the bookstore where we read and sat all day long. And we got to watch a movie their to later that evening. So relaxing. What a wonderful city!

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Mekong Semester, Spring 2010

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Luang Prabang

Robyn Reeder,Mekong Semester, Spring 2010

Description

Last week the group entered the famous UNESCO world heritage sight, Luang Prabang. Of course we loved it. Doesn’t everyone? Each night we would walk down to the main street and grab a nutella baguette or a fruit shake. Later in the night we would explore the deep and wonderful night market. We had a […]

Posted On

04/9/10

Author

Robyn Reeder

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    [post_date] => 2010-04-09 00:00:00
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Mon and Maek, my sisters, are dancers. They perform several times a week at the theatre on the grounds of the National Museum in Luang Prabang. I am fortunate emough to be able to go see the performances each time for free. A reoccurring thought has come to my mind as I sit in the smuggy dim lit theatre. Obviously, the audience can see everything that happens on stage. However, have they ever thought what happens backstage? Do they assume the performers wait and magically appear behind the red curtain at their cue? Or do they not think about what occurs behind the scenes at all? Do they care?

As a former performer myself, I have a good deal of knowledge about the "goings-on" in the backstage of a theatre. Untill I began acting, I never thought about what the actors did when they weren't entertaining me. It turns out, a whole lot! Actors chat, play games, go over lines or dance moves, and change makeup and costumes. It's another world! And it's only covered by a thin red curtain. But the audience never sees these things. They didn't pay the ten dollar admission fee to see real life right? They came to see a show! I feel that is exactly what most tourists end up doing when they travel. They see the show.

Well, now, that's the difference between the audience and myself. I paid to go backstage.

As a tourist and traveler, it's our responsibility to be aware of the places we visit. Imean to say that we must seek out not only the shows, but poke around and peek backstage. It's not easy. There aresecret corridors and "no entrance" signs.I've discovered that these barriers only make theend of the journey that much sweeter.

So how am I poking around backstage? I'm living with the performers!Myheart swells with pride when the foreigners see me leaving with mymeh andmy sisters. "Oh yes, those girls you just saw dancing, they're my sisters" Iwish I could tell them. They're my new family! By living with my family, I'm becoming aware of the lives that every beautiful perfomer leads.

My sisters are so normal. Well, whatever normal means. During the day they attend school, they help meh clean and cook, we all bathe in the Mekong, and at night we are all glued to the latest episode of the Lao soap opera, even though I have no clue what they're saying. I am peeking backstage before the show starts.

I've always wanted that. When seeing a play or show, I always wondered about the personalities of the actors. Were they nice? Did they have other interests? Who are they really! I am so lucky to get to see the faces behind the masks. In reality, they only have the white powder and ruby red lipstick on for an hour. So go up the secret corridor, and pass the no entrance sign travelers! It's worth it!

You can enjoy a people when their mask is on, but you can only begin to love them when the mask is off. When my paw is kind and patient with me while I'm speaking Lao, my mind smiles. When I bathe with Mon and Kaek in the Mekong, my body smiles. And when meh says she loves me like her own daughter, my heart smiles. This is the experience every traveler wants. This is the experience every traveler should get.

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Mekong Semester, Spring 2010

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Behind the Mask

Robyn Reeder,Mekong Semester, Spring 2010

Description

Mon and Maek, my sisters, are dancers. They perform several times a week at the theatre on the grounds of the National Museum in Luang Prabang. I am fortunate emough to be able to go see the performances each time for free. A reoccurring thought has come to my mind as I sit in the […]

Posted On

04/9/10

Author

Robyn Reeder

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    [post_author] => 39
    [post_date] => 2010-04-04 00:00:00
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    [post_content] =>               

Well before dawn, the melancholy hum of a Hmong bamboo flute awakens me. Inside the dark hut I can see the embers of the cooking fire being stirred and awakened by a silhouette. The musician seems to be a novice, content to make sounds rather than song. After some indefinite period of time, the player gives up and replaces the instrument’s music with mp3s played from a mobile phone, again songs of the bamboo flute, but far less sonorous and rich than the instrument’s notes.

I turn on my side, wrap the blanket tighter, and slip back into half-sleep, interrupted only by roosters and earlybird pigs. At daybreak, there is more movement in the hut, though in the slivers of light peeking through the gap between the zinc roof and the wooden walls, it is difficult to distinguish who, or what, is stirring. I rise, pulling the mosquito net over my head, and slip on my flipflops to venture outside.

The whole world is cast in a peculiar yellow swirling light, descending on the morning with a heavy cloud of mist, veiling the near ridge and more distant peaks and bluffs in liquid smoke. The whole view seems two-dimensional somehow, or part of some dream where the only functioning sense is that of sight. Without direction, I move through the dreamworld, taking in the wood huts, animals, and scrub of the village, perched on the undulations of a deforested bluff. A grumble from the yellowgray sky, hanging low just above the rooftops, awakens my other senses and warns of a fast approaching storm. And yet, it still feels surreal and dreamy, as if I have not awoken, as if I am not physically present, but instead lost in some nocturnal imagination that will be forgotten all too soon after opening my eyes.

Splat! The first pellet of rain hits me square on the nose, and another retching belch overhead opens the sky, firstly in a hard stinging drizzle and soon after in sheets of drenching drops. I duck under the eave of the hut’s grassthatch roof, and watch the gusts of wind push the sheets of rain in all directions. Water buffalo and pigs join me under the eave, with their heads drooped sheepishly low, as if embarrassed for taking shelter.

I reenter the hut to find eight Hmong men gathered round the glowing embers of the fire, sitting on tiny stools or squatting low on their haunches. Most are dressed in their traditional loose-fitting black garb, accented by the bright blue of the cardigans’ cuffs and the color of their t-shirts worn beneath. For an hour I listen to the patter on the roof and the sounds of the language, trying to guess the context of the conversation, but mostly content to join the circle, feel the warmth of the fire, and observe the flow of the dialogue as it pingpongs between speakers. Later, our guide will translate part of what was said, but by then I am too drunk with the experience to care.

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Mekong Semester, Spring 2010

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Waking up, in a dream.

Michael Woodard,Mekong Semester, Spring 2010

Description

Well before dawn, the melancholy hum of a Hmong bamboo flute awakens me. Inside the dark hut I can see the embers of the cooking fire being stirred and awakened by a silhouette. The musician seems to be a novice, content to make sounds rather than song. After some indefinite period of time, the player […]

Posted On

04/4/10

Author

Michael Woodard

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    [post_title] => More recent photos
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Mekong Semester, Spring 2010

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More recent photos

Michael Woodard,Mekong Semester, Spring 2010

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Posted On

04/4/10

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Michael Woodard

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Mekong Semester, Spring 2010

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Michael Woodard,Mekong Semester, Spring 2010

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Posted On

04/4/10

Author

Michael Woodard

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    [post_content] => 

Between 1964 and 1973, the US military dropped 1.3 million metric tons of bombs and submunitions on Laos in what later became known as the Secret War, making Laos one of the heaviest bombed countries in the world. Some 30% of these bombs never exploded, and forty years later, many of the UXO (unexploded ordnance) is still live, posing great danger to villages across Laos.

For the past two days, part of our group had the chance to visit Xieng Kuang province, one of the heaviest bombed areas in Laos. The province is also home to the mysterious Plain of Jars, a collection of sites containing large, carved stone jars, theoried to be 1500-2000 years old and to have contained everything from human remains to vast quantaties of rice whisky.

While our principal reason for visiting Xieng Kuang was to explore the jar sites, our group also had the opportunity to visit MAG (Mines Advisory Group), a British organization that is working to identify, clear, and destroy UXO all across Laos. The leftover munitions are a serious risk to villagers as theyare often found in farmers' fields, paddies, and irrigation canals, as well as near schools and homes. Children are especially vulnerable, as the "bombies" often look like something to play with. Many subistence farmers also search for scrap metal to sell to dealers in order to augment their meagre livelihood. Unfortunately, some of the scrap metal they find is UXO, and many have suffered accidents. Since the bombing began in 1964, it is estimated that there have been more than 50,000 casualties due to UXO, amounting to 3 per day for more than 40 years.

At the MAG office we learned more about what the organization is doing to clear heavily bombed areas, and make villages safe again. As April 4 is International Mines Awareness Day, we wanted to mention our visit and strongly recommend to our faithful readers to visit MAG's website. To learn more about MAG's work in Laos and around the world or make a contribution to their efforts to clear UXO, please visit www.maginternational.org.

All the best from Xieng Kuang,

Michael, Gabe, Robbie, Jonny, and Taylor

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Mekong Semester, Spring 2010

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International Mines Awareness Day

Michael Woodard,Mekong Semester, Spring 2010

Description

Between 1964 and 1973, the US military dropped 1.3 million metric tons of bombs and submunitions on Laos in what later became known as the Secret War, making Laos one of the heaviest bombed countries in the world. Some 30% of these bombs never exploded, and forty years later, many of the UXO (unexploded ordnance) […]

Posted On

04/3/10

Author

Michael Woodard

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