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Life Along the Mekong Semester, Spring 2013


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Article 29

(1) Everyone has duties to the community in which alone the free and full development of his personality is possible.

In many this subsection brought a lot of confusion to our group, both from its contrast to the previous 29 articles, but also its own wording. Every other article mentions the rights of each individual, the entitlements of each individual, but this article speaks of the “duties” we have to the “community”. We as a group reflect on our own communities in America and its great affect on our personal growth. We feel as though these communities have helped us grow in a “free” and “full” way. Some of our group fell as though, yes, we have a duty to the community that helped us develop in a “free” and “full” way. However, is helping to maintain community that already helps develop people in a free way more important than helping such a community  that helps people develop in a “free” way without imposing our western values on another part of the world? Is the “community” mentioned in the article in fact the global community? Do we have a duty to this global community and homes in general as we have more means and information than other? What is our responsibility to the rights of others? This UDHR would argue that it’s our “duty” to preserve and protect the rights of others. This leads to more confusion within our group. Does this give us permission to intervene in violent conflicts, to impose our help on others? What does this imply in terms of international peace keeping and aid, specifically our country’s involvement in so many others?

                As we sit here on a quiet Wednesday afternoon, in the most heavily bombed country in history, we think on the local community that exists in front of us. People got to the market daily to meet with friends and to prepare a family meal. Houses are inches away from each other and meals walk through doors. This way of life, so locally focuses, makes it seem like they have a better understanding communities then many Americans do. And their voice is so suppressed, we can’t help but wonder what community means in a greater context. Do people who have more of a global connection live unhappily without the ability to voice their thoughts. Do we as global citizens have a responsibility to protest the rights of those who don’t realize they are lacking them in our view?

 

Throughout our writing of this yak, we were reminded of a poem by Jonne Donne:

 

No man is an island entire of itself; every man

is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;

if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe

is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as

well as any manner of thy friends or of thine

own were; any man's death diminishes me,

because I am involved in mankind.

And therefore never send to know for whom

the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

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Life Along the Mekong Semester, Spring 2013

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No Man is An Island

James Brady, Sara Brodski, Will Mass, Marguerite Wiser,Life Along the Mekong Semester, Spring 2013

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Article 29 (1) Everyone has duties to the community in which alone the free and full development of his personality is possible. In many this subsection brought a lot of confusion to our group, both from its contrast to the previous 29 articles, but also its own wording. Every other article mentions the rights of […]

Posted On

03/27/13

Author

James Brady, Sara Brodski, Will Mass, Marguerite Wiser

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Scraps of tarps and multicolored fabrics cast a colorful light over the vendors. They sit, stand, and nap on tables amongst their produce. Garlic, potatoes, beans, chillies, carrots, cabbage, cilantro, coconut, mangoes, bananas, pears, apples, oranges, pineapple, lime, onion, gourds, and many leafy greens. Things I don't recognize, but that smell of water and earth. The whole market has a smell of fish, raw meat, and warm dirt. An old woman plays cards, a man naps as locals exchange kip for chunks of meat or veggies. A woman bunches herbs, another methodically guts fish, scraping the scales off with a strong hand and a wire brush. I wander amongst them, walking on the cement floor, covered in food scraps, plastic, water and dirt. People smile at me when we make eye contact, some laugh as I greet them with, "Sabidee!" They try to make conversation, offering up their goods, but my Pasa Lao falls short. I smile apologetically and move on. The market is alive and full of energy, but not hectic, people meander through narrow rows, strike up conversations with the vendors. Children play, women grind coconuts, cut slabs of meat. The meat hangs on hooks, or sits in bowls of murky water. Near the edge of the produce section of the market the products slowly start to change. Now most are wrapped in brightly colored plastic and come from far away, many are in English. The light changes and soon the vendors begin to pack up their goods, into trucks, on the backs of motor bikes, and into baskets. They will be back tomorrow for another day of selling. I smile at a woman sorting tomatoes, then I move on.

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Life Along the Mekong Semester, Spring 2013

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Vientine Market

Marguerite Wiser ,Life Along the Mekong Semester, Spring 2013

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Scraps of tarps and multicolored fabrics cast a colorful light over the vendors. They sit, stand, and nap on tables amongst their produce. Garlic, potatoes, beans, chillies, carrots, cabbage, cilantro, coconut, mangoes, bananas, pears, apples, oranges, pineapple, lime, onion, gourds, and many leafy greens. Things I don’t recognize, but that smell of water and earth. […]

Posted On

03/24/13

Author

Marguerite Wiser

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Take a moment to close your eyes and focus your breath.  Let the sounds and smells of the waters of our river float around you.  Let the wind cool you as you bring your mind to this place and this moment.

 

Your sages had goals in mind for our life along the Mekong.  We wanted to expose you to all the beautiy we could find, to answer your questions to the best of our abilities, learn as much as we can about the Mekong region, its cultures, and to learn as much as we can about ourselves each other.

 

As we move forward from here I want you to ask yourself "Is my path leading me to greater openness, honesty & a deeper capacity to love?"  There remains so much of this world that remains truly enchanting and we must move with grace so as not to break the spell.  We might blunder our way along, but as blunders go the monks around us chant Om Mani Padmi Hom and the tuning fork of our lives hums in response to all the beauty we encounter.  

 

My favorite Sanskrit word is Sankhara.  The softness of the sound as it rolls off the tongue has a hypnotic effect...Sankhara.  Sankhara refers to the mental imprint left behind as a result of volitional actions--Karma.  I find refuge here though I do not yet know why.  Perhaps it lays bare a simple truth: that my mind-and-body are the only vessels of my life and that each of us are radiance swallowed in light.

 

Every morning as we awake we have 24 brand new hours in which to live.  What a precious gift!  Peace is present in the here and how, in ourselves and everything we see and do.  But are we in touch with it?  We don't have to travel far to see the beauty in a childs smile.  We don't have to travel far to enjoy the pink sunset as another day passes into memory.  We don't have to travel far to see the perfection in a big blue sky.  But we did travel far...Intentionally.  And here we sit, a family still forming.

 

As we move forward, intent on making the rest of our time together exceptional.  I want us to think on this: What matters is how we live and how we love.  This is not one straight path or one emotion but a range of emotions, and a path with switchbacks and sharp turns.  Ask yourself...am I living my path fully?  Do I live with intention so that I may live without regrets?  Do I dare to love well?

 

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Life Along the Mekong Semester, Spring 2013

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A Midcourse Meditation

Hillary Sites,Life Along the Mekong Semester, Spring 2013

Description

Take a moment to close your eyes and focus your breath.  Let the sounds and smells of the waters of our river float around you.  Let the wind cool you as you bring your mind to this place and this moment.   Your sages had goals in mind for our life along the Mekong.  We […]

Posted On

03/24/13

Author

Hillary Sites

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A History of The Blue Lagoon or Kun Gong Lang (Evening Drum Spring) 

 

"How deep is the blue lagoon?" we asked.  It seemed a simple question.

 

"There was a very old monk who was smoking a pipe near the water.  He dropped his pipe.  He had had it for a very long time and so to retreive it he tied 7 silk lenghts around his waist and went to the bottom.  He found his pipe and also a crystal drum."  replied the old man, his face smiling.

 

"Is that why the name means Drum Spring?" we asked.

 

He smiled in reply. 

 

"How long is 7 silk lenghts?  50 meters?  60 meters?" we asked.

 

He squatted down, stood again, smiled even bigger, looked at the sky, then replied  "7 silk lengths is very very long."

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Life Along the Mekong Semester, Spring 2013

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7 Silk Lengths

Sages,Life Along the Mekong Semester, Spring 2013

Description

A History of The Blue Lagoon or Kun Gong Lang (Evening Drum Spring)    "How deep is the blue lagoon?" we asked.  It seemed a simple question.   "There was a very old monk who was smoking a pipe near the water.  He dropped his pipe.  He had had it for a very long time […]

Posted On

03/24/13

Author

Sages

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Hello Yakkers!

 

It is our last afternoon in Vientienne before we take a 12 hour bus ride, yes 12 hours, to Luang Prabang for our month-long homestay. What an overwhelming thought. We are nearing our half-way point on this trip and will be spending our biggest chunk of the trip in homestays in a quiet village across the river from a bustly city. Not only am I really really nervous for living in this village for a month, but I am also incredibly tired from constantly being on the move. Tired in a good way. I am doing everything I could possibly want and learning more than I ever thought I would learn. We have had so many intense discussions about life here along the Mekong and what this region is going through, politically, economically, socially, spiritually, etc. We've molled over issues revolving development, tourism, cultural engagement, environmental pollution, governance of territories, and China's investment in this region. We've spoken to over 5 NGO's in the past 3 days and have been running all over the city in search of the cheapest markets and best foreign food. And now we are leaving all of this fast life behind to form a new bond with families who may never have even seen a city like this in their lives. Instead of having food choices of dishes from anywhere in the world, I will be going back to sticky rice for every meal. I'm nervous about communication with my family, especially since I only know about 4 phrases in Lao. I'm nervous that I'm going to get really lonely and feel very isolated, and that my thoughts will turn to home and I won't be living in the present. I want to be able to cherish every moment and be able to remember the little details of this life. I may never be able to live in a village like this again. But the challenge is daunting. And when I am reminded that we will only have less than 3 weeks after the homestay to travel with the group, I am filled with sadness because it seems too short. Mekong friends, I'm going to miss you all so much. You've filled my heart with so much love and I've smiled a gazillion times because of you. We've got a month and a half to go, let's make these the best weeks of our lives.

 

Elise

 

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Life Along the Mekong Semester, Spring 2013

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Homestay Jitters

Elise Emil ,Life Along the Mekong Semester, Spring 2013

Description

Hello Yakkers!   It is our last afternoon in Vientienne before we take a 12 hour bus ride, yes 12 hours, to Luang Prabang for our month-long homestay. What an overwhelming thought. We are nearing our half-way point on this trip and will be spending our biggest chunk of the trip in homestays in a […]

Posted On

03/23/13

Author

Elise Emil

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Welcome to Don Daeng island, Laos. Everything moves slower here. There is no rushing, no urge to do things all the time, no time constraints forcing productivity and, let me tell you, it is great. The most interesting part of this place in comparison to America is how time effects our society in comparison to theirs. In America, we have places to be, appointments at specific times; being late is consider rude and most people stress about it. It's not so in Laos, and especially not so on Don Daeng. Laos is what's known as a polychronistic society where relationships and interactions are more important than timeliness. If you happen to be having a wonderfully deep conversation then you stay and finish that conversation even if you have some where to be. This is quite an adjustment for me because I am a pretty timely person, from a timely society suddenly dropped into a get-there-when-you-get-there sort of place. This became very apparant during an excercise we did on the island. During this excercise we were supposed to sit, and sit, and sit. No watches, clocks or any way to tell what time it is. We also had to stay in one place, be silent, not interact with anyone else, and wait. So I sat there and I sat there and I sat there. Thinking about how I could be writing in my journal, or memorizing Lao words, or doing anything. It started to bug me. How long has it been? How long has it been now? When was the last time I thought that to myself? AUUUGGHHHH. I WANT TO PULL MY HAIR OUT. And then it was over. I thought we had sat there for 45 mins or maybe a whole hour and it turned out to be an hour and a half. Wait.  That's not so bad. I didn't even think it was that long. I still hated it though. Maybe, just maybe, I'll get used to this whole polychronic society and learn to not worry about being late. I still believe in being a good 5 minutes early though.

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Life Along the Mekong Semester, Spring 2013

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Island Time

Neel "Cornelious" Cole,Life Along the Mekong Semester, Spring 2013

Description

Welcome to Don Daeng island, Laos. Everything moves slower here. There is no rushing, no urge to do things all the time, no time constraints forcing productivity and, let me tell you, it is great. The most interesting part of this place in comparison to America is how time effects our society in comparison to […]

Posted On

03/18/13

Author

Neel "Cornelious" Cole

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A few days ago, during morning check-in, Jordan asked us "If you could live in any movie, which would it be?"   I think that naturally, as humans, we spend an exorbinant amount of time thinking about the worlds that we would like to live in, worlds that have more mystery and excitement and beauty than we care to find in everyday life around us.  Occasionally, though, we are treated to a rare experience; if we stop and look and listen and absorb enough, letting our minds forget thoughts of yesterday and tomorrow and spend just one moment in the now, we find ourselves in a world better than any we could possibly imagine.  
 
I surface through crystal clear waters, gasping for air as my lungs reach their breaking point.  I've never wished more than this moment that I could hold my breath indefinitely.  Here I swim in a lagoon bluer than any water I've ever seen, even in film.  I am surrounded by limestone cliffs rivaling the landscape of Middle Earth.  I am alone, aware that there are undiscovered species of fish 75 meters below my treading legs and no matter what I do, I can't get to them.  If I could, I would live in this moment.  The rest of the group is already eating lunch 100 meters away and I am suddenly just one small part of an environment that doesn't care one way or another if I'm there.  I worship its beauty and, in turn, it allows me access to a small part of itself. 
 
I lean my head back and float, revelling in how I can possibly be where I am.  A year ago today, I was on spring break in Lake Forest, Illinois, living my routine, the life that I have known for 18 years.  Now, though, I am here, in the jungles of Lao, on the other side of the world.  How did I get here?  What would my life be like if I wasn't here?  How will my life be different upon my return?  I catch myself daydreaming of the future as I drag my feet slowly through the water from my perch on a branch.  Be HERE, Katherine.  Forget the past, forget the future.  You are in a moment unlike anything you've ever experienced, and unlike anything you will ever experience.  You only get one chance to live today.  Don't waste these valuable moments.  How often in your life can you say that the world around you is more beautiful than a fantasy?  I hold my breath, open my eyes and dive back into the present.  
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Life Along the Mekong Semester, Spring 2013

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In the Moments

Katherine Krey,Life Along the Mekong Semester, Spring 2013

Description

A few days ago, during morning check-in, Jordan asked us "If you could live in any movie, which would it be?"   I think that naturally, as humans, we spend an exorbinant amount of time thinking about the worlds that we would like to live in, worlds that have more mystery and excitement and beauty […]

Posted On

03/18/13

Author

Katherine Krey

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Sabaidee! 
We finally arrived in the capital city of Vientiane, Laos at 4 AM this morning after a bumpy and speedy night bus from Takek. Greeting the day with some fresh fruit and a creamy iced coffee defnitely brought me back to the city life reminicent of Phnom Penh, and made me eager to soak up the most of these next few days in this nation's capital.
I can't help but realize, however, the regression back into what Jacky described as "Monochronic time", the western interpretation of time and our reliance on it in our every day life. While on the beautiful island of Don Daeng, he educatied us on the beauty of Polychronic time, where time is not dictated by appointments or the ticking of a watch on our wrist; rather, the passing of time is marked by the interactions and human connections we make throughout the day, as well as our natural intuition with the world around us. 
This morning, I couldn't help but look down at my watch, mentally recognize the numbers blinking dully back at me, and frantically plan out my entire day around the heavy hand of each hour mark. It's so convenient for us, to just rely on a structured system of time increments to rule our day, instead of working in harmony with ourselves and the people around us to dictate how each day passes. 
Thinking about the challenges of adopting Polychronic time, I'm nervous in anticipation for our few week-long homestay in northern Laos. I know that, in the peaceful, rural village we will be residing in, Monochronic time will cease to have such an overpowering authority in my life. I know it will be one of the hardest obsticals I face here in Southeast Asia -- abandoning something so deeply engrained in me from home, something that has served as such a reliable and steady guide in accomplishing my daily tasks. It's easy to leave behind something that you saw as an impediment, like an IPhone or a TV in the corner of every room you sit in. It is harder to leave behind a system, set in your bones and familiar, like an old friend, that you always saw as something beneficial or helpful in the fast paced western world we call home. 
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Life Along the Mekong Semester, Spring 2013

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Ticky Tock

Louisa Kane,Life Along the Mekong Semester, Spring 2013

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Sabaidee!  We finally arrived in the capital city of Vientiane, Laos at 4 AM this morning after a bumpy and speedy night bus from Takek. Greeting the day with some fresh fruit and a creamy iced coffee defnitely brought me back to the city life reminicent of Phnom Penh, and made me eager to soak […]

Posted On

03/18/13

Author

Louisa Kane

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Writing is hard in such an over stimulating place with the people, the stray animals, and the smells theres no time (and little to no desire) to sit down at a computer. Pardon my lack of communication, im just soaking in world.

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Life Along the Mekong Semester, Spring 2013

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Laos

Sarah Brodsky,Life Along the Mekong Semester, Spring 2013

Description

Writing is hard in such an over stimulating place with the people, the stray animals, and the smells theres no time (and little to no desire) to sit down at a computer. Pardon my lack of communication, im just soaking in world.

Posted On

03/18/13

Author

Sarah Brodsky

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Today we visited a dam that was built along a tributary of the Mekong River. It is the largest dam in SE Asia in one of the least developed countries in the world. 95% of its power gets sent to Thailand, while only 5% goes to Laos. It was built with the intent to be the "battery of SE Asia" in an ecologically sound and economically effecient manner. We learned that in building the dam, thousands of villagers had to be displaced from their homes and resettled into communities down the road. In exchange for basically kicking the families out of their homes, the dam builders promised each family a stipend, better access to farmland, electricty, and water, better roads and infrastructure, education, healthcare, and agricultural assistance. We learned a lot about the dam project by watching a documentary about it, being able to ask a tour guide questions, and walking through an exhibit about the construction. For lunch, we stopped by a restaurant in one of the new resettlement towns and had a delicious meal of vegetables and sticky rice. Kind of typical but still very tasty! We then had a discussion about our thoughts on the project. We talked about the positive and negative implications of the dam on the local people, environment, and country's economy, and dove into questions regarding whether development projects such as dam building really have all that good of an effect on the quality of life for citizens in developing countries. It was a great discussion and it was then that we decided to visit a town of people who had been displaced. 

 

Our instructors dropped us off in this resettled community and gave us 30 minutes to explore. I was a little nervous that we would seem intrusive and that we wouldn't reach out enough to the people who live there. I started walking by the houses and noticed distinct differences between this village built by the dam builders and the villages we'd stayed at all along this trip. The gardens and agricultural systems here were much more complex, with running water, drainage systems, netted greenhouses, sheds, and tools. Each house had a water tank and pump, unlike the villages we've visited in other parts of the region. Even the school I visited had diagrams about efficient irrigation techniques and fish types. They even had pictures on the walls of what an active landmine in the area would look like, and how to avoid setting one off. Unexpectedly, I was really impressed by the village that the dam builders had constructed for the families that were displaced by the project. 

 

I suddenly heard childrens' laughter and peered behind the school building to see a group of about 20 kids playing soccer. And among them was Sarah England, blonde and tall and cheerfully running in between them. I filled with joy to see how naturally my friend had engaged herself with these children. I was so inspired by her outreach and realized that this really was what our trip was all about. Involving ourselves instead of watching from the sidelines. Her face and all the children's faces lifted me up and encouraged me to go join them. We played soccer for a few more minutes until it was time to meet up with the group. We walked back to the truck and on the way saw a bunch of Dragons students sitting in a semi circle around a middle-aged woman with smiling eyes speaking in Laotian. She had been relocated to that village 17 years ago and was telling us stories about her life. Our guide, Somsanid, translated that she made about $2.50 a day selling small items at the closest thing in that village to a CVS. After speaking with her, I couldn't help feel a little bit silly at my initial fears of entering that village and not involving ourselves. One thing that is so special about the people in our group is that we are not typical tourists who stand on the sidelines and watch the culture. We engage with the people who live here and try to be as respectful and culturally aware as possible.

 

The day reminded me of this quote by Benjamin Franklin. "Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I may remember. Involve me and I will learn." I'm happy to say that our group is one that involves itself.

 

Peace,

Elise 

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Life Along the Mekong Semester, Spring 2013

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Involving Oneself

Elise Emil,Life Along the Mekong Semester, Spring 2013

Description

Today we visited a dam that was built along a tributary of the Mekong River. It is the largest dam in SE Asia in one of the least developed countries in the world. 95% of its power gets sent to Thailand, while only 5% goes to Laos. It was built with the intent to be […]

Posted On

03/17/13

Author

Elise Emil

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