Jeffrey Miller

A Writer's Life

Tag: Paksong

Help a school in Laos

I am starting a campaign to help a small school in Laos near the house that Aon and I are building in Paksong. It is also the school where Bia attends.

This is a two-room schoolhouse, but as you can see it is overcrowded and has no electricity or running water.  The school is very cold and drafty in the winter and very hot in the summer. The desks are old and decrepit and the benches the children have to sit on are dilapidated and rickety.

If students need to go to the bathroom, they have to go outside the school because there is no bathroom. The students  go either behind the school or in one of the rice paddies that surround the school.

There are just two teachers and it is obvious, at least from this photograph, that the two teachers have their work cut out for them, especially what they have or don’t have to teach with. In Bia’s classroom, the children range in age from  five years old to around six or seven. The other classroom is for older students.

I visited the school one morning this past January–Jeremy Aaron and I walked Bia to school. As a teacher myself, my heart went out to the two teachers who teach at this school.

I would like to start a campaign called “Adopt-a-School” where we can help less fortunate school children around the world who lack a proper school to attend or such things as books and other school needs. Maybe a school can “adopt” another school and have fundraisers to raise money for these schools or instead of monetary donations send pencils, erasers, notebooks, and other school supplies. Teachers can come up with lesson plans to teach students about these countries and have students come up with special projects.

People always talk about how the world has become more of a global community and that it takes a village for this or that. Well, it also takes a school and lots of them. Of course, that goes without saying when it comes to really investing in our future with our schools and teaching our children in them.

Some of the children cannot even afford pencils or paper.

Bia hard at work on one of his lessons.

What can we do? What can you do?

Our Dream House in Laos — Putting on the roof

With all the rooms complete, work has begun on the roof. In the picture above, this is looking in from the outside porch (which will be covered) to the living room.

Here the workers are working on the roof as well as the front porch.

This is the back of the house; the main beams for the roof have been finished.

Morning Offering — Paksong, Laos

Every morning around 6:00, young Buddhist monks from a temple not far from our home in Paksong, would walk down one of the main roads and collect their daily alms from people living along this road.

Aon’s sister Noi gives rice to these young monks.

And then these young monks walk down the street to the next home.

“Combat” on the bus to Vientiane

When you take a VIP bus or similar bus for long distances in Laos (and other Southeast Asian countries) there’s usually a television mounted at the front of the bus where TV programs and videos/DVD’s are shown.

 

If you’re lucky whoever is in charge of entertainment for the bus might play a decent movie (unfortunately it is probably going to be dubbed in Thai); on the other hand, you might get stuck having to endure some Thai Karaoke Pop favorites like the ones playing on the bus On and I took from Vientiane to Paksong that feature scantily-clad models with heaving breasts bouncing up and down while they rode on horses, scooters, and bicycles to the bouncy pop back beat.

 

On the return bus from Paksong to Vientiane this past February, though there would be no bouncing boobs but instead a Charlie Chaplin movie was played. Interestingly, some Thai dialogue had been dubbed into the silent film that was quite surreal. I guess someone must have thought that Charlie’s slapstick antics were lost in translation and needed to have him speaking Thai. Nonetheless, I could at least enjoy the film if I tried to shut out the Thai dialogue.

 

The Chaplin movie was followed by three episodes of that 60’s war drama Combat. I wonder if whoever was in charge of entertainment on this bus tried to choose something that would be interesting to the only foreigner on board. If that were the case, it was kind of cool watching these episodes of Combat even though the dialogue had been dubbed into Thai. If I thought it was weird for Charlie Chaplin to be speaking Thai, it was weirder hearing Vic Morrow speak it.

 

Even more interesting was that they had originally been aired in Japan, judging from all the Japanese language at the beginning of the tape, and more than likely pirated for the Thai market and eventually ending up in Laos.

 

I could follow some of the story with what Thai I do know, but fortunately there was more fighting than talking. Maybe it was all the shooting and explosions in the episodes of Combat that caused the right half of the windshield on the bus to break.

 

About an hour after the bus had left Savannakhet, that part of the windshield just shattered. I can’t remember if the windshield had already been cracked that caused it to shatter the way that it did. Fortunately no one was hurt and fortunately when the windshield did break, not much glass went flying through the air.

 

However, the bus would not stop to have the windshield fixed or even boarded up. And we would not be getting on a different bus either. Instead the bus would keep on driving north to Vientiane with the cold wind rushing in freezing all of us huddling in our seats to keep warm.

What’s a Korean bus doing in Savannakhet?

Korean bus in SavannakhetAt least, what’s a bus that was probably once used by a bus company in Korea now being used by a bus company in Laos? 

That is what I thought last summer when I noticed the Hangul lettering cha-dongmun or main entrance written on the door of the bus that On and I took from Savannakhet to Mukdahan, Thailand.

The only thing that I could think of at the time is that some bus company sold these buses to a bus company in Laos.

It’s the only thing that makes sense with the Korean lettering still visible on the bus door.  

Well, I noticed the same Korean lettering for “main entrance” on the bus On and I took from Vientiane to Paksong this time. Obviously some company in Korea sold a lot of used buses to a bus company in Laos. 

And then, I noticed more Korean lettering on the bus we took from Luang Prabang back to Vientiane as well as other buses at the Nanluang Bus Terminal (in fact, one bus still had the name of the bus company in Hangul written on the outside of the bus).

I am surprised that a lot of the Korean lettering and signs have not been removed inside of the buses or for the lettering on the sides of the buses painted over.

Is that the same bus from Vientiane?

It’s a small world even in Laos. 

After On and I had a bowl of noodles at this small restaurant near the guest house we are staying at, On, her son Bia and myself started walking to her home. 

Coming down the highway toward us was a bus that I thought looked like the bus On and I were on from Vientiane last night. 

“On, that looks like the bus we were on last night.” 

“I think so,” replied On. 

Sure enough it was with the same two guys—who take the tickets and take care of the luggage—riding in front. As soon as they saw On and I, they recognized us from being on the bus the night before and waved. The bus driver honked the horn. 

On and I both started laughing. 

That was pretty cool.

South of Savannakhet

By the time we get to On’s village it is around noon. I am so tired all I want to do is take a shower and crash for a few hours. When I wake up a few hours later, On has prepared me a late lunch—Tom Khaw Gai (spicy chicken soup in a coconut/lemongrass base) Moo Phad Grathiam (fried pork with pepper and garlic) and Moo Phad Pak (fried pork with vegetables). Aroy mak mak (very delicious).

On wants to show me around her village and introduce me to the rest of her family and some of her friends, so after another quick shower we are off down a quiet two-lane blacktop road to the village.

If you were headed south on this highway you would have Cambodia in front of you, Thailand on the right and Vietnam on the left. Tomorrow morning we will be traveling down this same road to Pakxe and then onto Wat Phou.

Lofty, fluffy whitish-gray clouds skirt across the horizon as far as the eye can see. It almost feels as though I could be back home in the Midwest. You just don’t see these kinds of clouds every day in Korea. It is still quite hot, but in the distance the appearance of darker cloud formations moving in from the north portend an evening shower or thunderstorm.

I have only been in Laos for half a day and I have already fallen in love with the country. Yeah, I probably could live here if I had the chance (and the way On and I have been talking about what we would like to do in the future, it is definitely something worth considering).



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