“It was a special time in Vientiane, a city on the verge of major transformation but firmly rooted in the past. One knew that big things were coming, but there was space to breathe before they arrived.” –Brett Dakin, author of “Another Quiet American: Stories of Life in Laos”
I’ve been trying to keep in the loop with what’s happening in Laos. The country has been quite a hot topic in the media lately and for reasons that demand attention from Lao diaspora communities around the world. I’ve never seen Laos on the media’s radar this much even in the last 20 years combined. The daily buzz has given me a mixed feeling that ultimately churns inside my gut and my mind. I’m filled with both a humble hope for the sustainability of local Lao, but the threat of historical exploitation and gentrification that looms over Laos’ head is much more damaging.
From a Chinese-controlled railroad system to Pepsi-sponsored festivals, is this what the people of Laos really want or need? We have to start asking the what, why, how of everything that’s been going on today in Laos. Otherwise, we will continue to stand as another idle bystander seeing our parents’ home country under a desperate spell for development, and by all means necessary. As Lao Americans, we have a stake and responsibility to Laos. History tells us that there’s no difference between the imperial perspectives of past French colonizers and today’s Chinese ‘investors’. We know in any Communist country there is only the richest and the poorest, with the income gap increasing with every step that those in power take. This is not my way to strike negativity and pessimism in the future of Laos and the intentions of the Chinese, but if the Lao are becoming more and more hesitant about their homes, land, and rivers being overly used by the Chinese, then it should be a call that we must answer to. What can we do? What must we do?
First things first before we answer those questions. And that’s to listen to the stories of Lao people in order to understand what is brewing…
October 2010 – Vientiane, Laos
At a fresh fruit stand along the northside of ‘khem khong’ road, my senses were caught by the bright ripeness of what looked like juicy mandarin oranges. A young girl turned to greet me with a handful of them.
Young Girl: Buy it! I’ll give you 5 for 5,000 kip.
Me: They look amazing. How did you grow them to be so ripe and plump?
Young Girl: I didn’t grow them. My dad sold part of his land to a Chinese merchant. He used orange seeds from China. Aren’t they perfect?!
And there continues the mega malls, lit roads, and big bridges that are at a cost that are unknown to our eyes, but can only see unfolding day by day.
Here’s a news clip from 2009 covering the growing development of Laos. Below is also a link to one of the more comprehensive major headlines in Laos. Have you been following the news in Laos? If so, what are your thoughts?