Wednesday, December 29, 2010

New Years Eve events in Vientiane


I am quite impressed about what is going on in Vientiane between Christmas and New Year. There is a the Tiger Beer Event at Nam Phou Square, which is on of the most professional organized events I have seen in SE Asia so far. What I like is that the music fits the audience, both foreigners and locals, the bands are really good and now there business (means no playback), the sound is awesome (applause to the guy on the mixer, great job). Food is available, not that much, but enough for a small dinner, and of course beer is there for a fair price (11.000 KIP a big bottle). The organizers changed the program every day, from DJ to Guitar player to rock bands. Looking forward to today's and tomorrows program.


There is also an event at the cultural hall, sponsored by Beer Lao and the Government. The stage is bigger, of course, but the band seems to be from one of the hotels: Nice, but nothing special. So expect an atmosphere where people just sitting on tables and listing to a older guy singing Lionel Richie songs. Food is local, but well organized, and you can order your drinks with the beer girls. Again, it is not too bad, but it is not exciting, and this is something that you may expect for the end of the year.

So no wonder that the modern middle and upper class locals are more into the Tiger Beer event, while some of the average citizens are joining Beer Lao. But I believe that the Nam Phou event is more popular and just better done.

Sidenote: even if the Government sponsored events still lack international standards, they are much closer to that that any of the official Vietnamese events I attended.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Mekong Robot Competition 2010



The first Robot Competition has been organized in Laos in 2002 at the Faculty of Engineering, National University of Laos (NUOL) with financial supports from the Embassy of Japan in Laos. Since then the competition has been held every year by the NUOL with all participating teams coming from state-funded Universities/colleges and became very popular among the students nationwide. The Soutsaka College of Management and Technology (SCMT) has been the first and only private college in Laos participating in the National Robot Competition since 2005 and won the competition in 2008. To support the robot development activities in Laos and enhance students’ creativity as well as cooperation among educational institutions in the Mekong Sub-region, SCMT, in cooperation with the Ministry of Education and NUOL, organizes the Mekong Region Robot Competition in Laos, which provides an avenue where students of participating institutions from the Mekong Sub-region can learn from each other. The participating institutions for this event are expected to come from Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam and Yunnan province of China. The Competition will be held on 23 December 2010 in Vientiane capital city.

II. Objectives
Key objectives of this event are:

* To promote robot development activities and enhance students’ creativity in robot designs;
* To create an opportunity for students from Laos and Mekong region to learn latest techniques in robot development from each other;
* To impart the students with capability to work as a team and put lesson learnt from the classes into practices;
* ​To provide an avenue for teachers and management of the participating educational institutions to meet with their counterparts from the region and discuss about possible future cooperation.

III. Participat teams
The participants come from following educational institutions:

* Soutsaka College of Management and Technology;
* Faculty of Mechanical Engineering, the National University of Laos;
* Faculty of Computer Science, the National University of Laos;
* Faculty of Computer Engineering and Information Technology, the National University of Laos;
* Faculty of Electrical Engineering, the National University of Laos;
* Lao-German Technical School;
* Lao-Japan Human Resource Development Center, the National University of Laos;
* Luangprabang Technical School;
* Vientiane-Hanoi Friendship Vocational School;
* Students teams coming from Thailand’s educational institutions;

Riverview Resort Xaythany


IMAG0113
Originally uploaded by thomaswanhoff
A nice weekend retreat place, one hour from downtown Vientiane, on the river. Quads, speedboats and bicycles are available. Quite luxury place

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Mindmapping best practise - Part I


I am addicted to mindmaps. I think that's the best tool ever, in particular since it is available as software. So in this little series I want to introduce you to some best practise of how to use mindmaps.

Mindmaps are basically pictures of your thoughts or notes, in a node-based structure. The advantage is that you can move these nodes around as you like. And you do not have to care about hierarchies when you taking these nodes. But it goes further: You can add links, pictures, due dates für project management, notes and documents to mindmaps. I used it e times for project management With collaboration features you can use it together with co-workers and friends. Mindmaps can be used in a wide range of things, from planning party to managing a project. In the upcoming posts I will show you some public mindmaps I find interesting and worth sharing. Let me know if you are interested in using mindmaps...

Best online collaboration tools (Mindmeister Map) by Robin Good

Nirvana vegan restaurant

Close to Wat Simuang.. delicious lunch buffet for 20.000 KIP

Who CARE's about the money

I just received a job offer from CARE. If anyone wants to know, what happens with all the money NGOs get from their donors, here you can see another example of the answer: It goes to administration and consultants.

CARE International in Lao PDR is seeking for a short-term consultant for End of Project Evaluation Mission - Team Leader.

Terms of References

End of Project Evaluation Mission – Team Leader

Care Australia

Improving Livestock Raising Practices in Remote Upland Areas (Khua District, Phongsaly Province, Lao PDR)


Background

Lao PDR is ranked 133rd by the UNDP Human Development Report in 2009. Approximately half of all rural children are chronically malnourished and significant economic growth within Lao PDR over the last decade has not translated into nutritional gains at the household level. Food and nutritional insecurity in Lao PDR is strongly correlated with ethnicity, and the burden of poverty, including food shortages and insecurity, falls disproportionately on ethnic groups living in remote upland areas.

The northern province of Phongsaly is characterized by its remoteness, poor access to roads and markets, and steeply sloping lands. Rice production per capita, crop diversity, livestock ownership and education are low. Khua district is ranked among the 72 poorest districts in the country with almost 50% of villages classified as ‘poor’. Communities in the project area are predominantly of the Khmu ethnic group. Key challenges to achieving food and nutritional security in the target area are: inefficient production systems and limited income generation (access), poor nutrition practices (utilization), gender relations which limit women’s roles and access to resources, and marginalization of communities, particularly women, in district decision-making and planning processes.

CARE has been operational in Phongsaly province since 2005, implementing a portfolio of projects focusing on food security and livelihoods development for poor rural communities.

The present Gifts ‘06 project began its implementation in January 2008 with student scholarships as a continuation of CARE Australia’s Gifts’ Catalogue funding. The present project has been extended until December 2010. The former Gifts ’05 project ended in December 2008, and the remaining budget was rolled into the Gifts ’06 project,

The project worked in 2 districts, Samphan and Khua. In June 2010, resettlement issues forced CARE to close the programme in Samphan district.

The objectives of the GIFT 2006 project are within the scope of the larger project, which is the EC funded Food and Nutritional Security Project, which has the following overall objective:

To improve the food and nutrition security of women and the rural poor and to empower poor local communities to participate in decision making at the local level for the achievement of a sustainable food and nutrition strategy.

In the GIFT project proposal the objective was formulated:

Food security and livelihood of remote upland the villages is improved through higher family income through improved livestock raising.

The project has the purpose, to provide selected upland communities with livestock and extension services for improved livestock raising practices.

The review period for this consultancy focuses on project implementation from July 2009 to December 2010.



Objectives of the evaluation mission

The overall objective of the evaluation mission is to review and assess comprehensively the management, the implementation progress, the quality and impact of the achievements, and the approaches of project activities after two years of project implementation, and to produce recommendations on follow-up steps to be taken by CARE International Laos in order to obtain the impacts of improved livestock raising.



The main objectives of the evaluation are:

1. to engage with all relevant stakeholders to assess the impact of CARE’s Gift’s ‘06 project

2. to identify the strengths and weakness of the various aspects of the current project

3. recommend any changes to the livestock components arising from the evaluation

4. to engage the CARE team and Government counterparts to build their capacity and understanding of the impacts of the project



Main tasks of the evaluation mission

The main tasks of the evaluation mission include but are not limited to the following aspects:

* A ‘Lessons learned/good practices’ workshop focusing on improved livestock raising with special consideration of gender issues organized by the consultant

· Gender-integrated socio-economic, and technical assessment of the achievements by GIFT funding in Phongsaly province since the beginning of this project (July 2009-Janua\ry 2011)

· Assessment of student sponsorship programme

· Recommendations on necessary follow-up activities to sustain livestock raising including the livestock bank schemes, veterinary services, labour saving technologies and gender issues

· The evaluation will cover CARE Laos’ project activities in Khua and Samphan districts and engagements at local and provincial government level.

Questions related to project impact and benefits

General

* What has been accomplished by the project vis-à-vis the project’s logframe?
* How do villagers themselves evaluate the activities (strong and weak points)?
* How appropriate have been the household targeting strategies for the respective schemes?
* What have been the expected and unexpected benefits to women by the project?
* Which are the negative effects from this project?

Goat and Pig Banks

* Achievements of animal banks (productivitiy and income generation)
* Assessment/awareness raising of vulnerable household and gender-balanced targeting mechanisms in the villages of Omthan and Moklom (Samphan district) and Khua district (Houaysing, Kunglith, Mokpek, Na, Nambout, Omdeun, Omthap, Onmok, Phuvieng, Senlath, Viengkham)
* Environmental impacts
* Impact of capacity building activities and further capacity building needs
* Recommended strategies for set up of livestock bank schemes as sustainable mechanism

Labour saving technologies

* Achievements of forage planting and penning
* Capacity building and further needs
* Recommended strategies

Veterinary services

* Achievements of veterinary service system
* Cool chain equipment access and maintenance
* Capacity building and further needs
* Recommended strategies



Expected results

The team leader is liable to submit the following results to CARE International in Lao PDR.

* A comprehensive report that summarizes the findings of the mission, including

a. an executive summary, containing the major results and recommendations

b. Findings and detailed recommendations regarding the benefits and impacts

c. An appendix containing relevant references and contacted persons

The final report is to be sent through email. The consultant accepts that, after review of the report by CARE International in Lao PDR, minor corrections may be necessary.

* A lessons learned/best practice workshop in Muang Khua including a brief documentation of the workshop
* A final presentation of major findings and recommendations to CARE International in Vientiane



Approach

The evaluation will incorporate retrospective and prospective angles. The former will satisfy the requirements for analyzing the results and lessons learned and the latter will inform future policy and management decisions and strategy. The project evaluation is based on project documents and materials provided by CARE International and field trips to district offices and villages.



Methodology

The methodology will include a variety of approaches, including participative review activities in communities (focus group discussions, household interviews, etc.), key stakeholder interviews, especially with Government partners and beneficiaries, and desk study. A gender sensitive approach will be used in all evaluation activities, and issues of diversity will also be captured (ie ethnic diversity and people living with disability) wherever possible.

Time frame, personnel and logistics

* The total duration of the assignment (including traveling, preparation/ briefing with CARE International and report writing) does not exceed 20 days.
o The evaluation expert is expected to carry out his/her fieldwork in Phongsaly from February 3 to 10, 2010
o The final report is to be submitted not later than three weeks after the completion of the assignment.
* During the mission, the expert will be supported by CARE International in transport, logistics and interpretation.
* An evaluation team will consist of representatives of the main stakeholders and should include male and female members. A suggested composition of the review team is:

Consultant (lead)

Provincial programme manager

2 staff members from the Khua team and their respective government counterparts

2 village representatives (possibly Kumban volunteers)



Qualifications of the consultant

The consultant should have experience with livestock development and fisheries, food security and rural development issues and extensive experience of working in Lao PDR. He/she should be able to understand the Lao language and able to lead the team, apply participatory approaches.

The consultant should be familiar with the conditions in upland northern Laos and be willing to travel to remote areas. The consultant should have strong report writing skills (in English).


Melinda Gates recently compared Coca Cola with NGO's, and she complained about having no real time data to monitor progress of projects while they are implemented. She quoted someone who said: "NGO projects are like bowling in the dark. You roll the bowl and after it hit the pins we switch on the light and see the result." That's what CARE is doing with this consultancy.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Some advice if you are running a coffeeshop

Coffee art

I am a bit addicted to coffee shops. The reason is that I like coffee and I like to sit in a Cafe. Since many coffee shops are offering Wifi, they became a workplace for me. What sometimes sucks is the management. You seldom see the owner or manager at the front desk, they leave all the work to the mostly untrained stuff. So some advice for coffee shop owners and managers:

1.) Your customers are important, not you and your balance sheets. If there is any trouble, get your ass off your office and assist your staff

2.) You are serving customers, but that doesn't mean you are not allowed to talk to them. Actually, most customers enjoy a little conversation when the come in a coffee shop, in particular if there is not much business.

3.) There NO VIP customers aka friends. Do not treat your friends better in front of other customers. They will understand that as they are not welcomed.

4.) A cafe latte is made of one espresso and milk foam, heated to about 70 degrees. It's is NOT a filtered coffee with some milk.

5.) Explain staff that sleeping or browsing the internet in front of customers is not your understanding of how to to the job.


6.) 20 Degree is the common room temperature all over the world. People do not want to sit in a fridge (and you also save a lot of money if you keep the a/c in that range).

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Group for expats and neighbors in Vientiane

After having good experience with the an Phu Neighbors group in Saigon I founded Phu My Hung Neighbors (a Saigon suburban area where I lived for 2 years), and after moving to Vientiane I think something like this is missing here. A group for private sales, expat questions, local events, information about schools etc. Yes, there is WIG, but you have to be a member and they have their special cause. I wanted to have something
more open. Everyone can join. However, the webmaster (me) has he right to ban people or set the status to moderated, if the abuse the list. This is usually the case with aggressive real estate ads or commercial sales. So let's be just nice and have fun together.

JOIN THE GROUP: http://groups.google.com/group/vientianeneighbors

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Buying furniture in Vientiane


When we arrived in Laos we were quite lucky we took our sofa with us and moved into a complete furnished house. What we discovered so far is that acceptable furniture is either incredible expensive or not available. A few shops sell actually close stuff close to western standards. One is Rossano, next to the Supreme Court on Tadeua Road. They have branches in Phnom Penh and Saigon, the shop in Vientiane is rather small, but has a large selection of sofas, dining tables and a few beds.
Quite new is Winner, a bit far outside town, on Road Number 5 down south. They have good quality matresses, also leather sofas and some accessoires. Worth a visit.
What is supringsingly expensive is rattan furniture. We found a shop with reasonable prices. It is close to Dong Palan road, next to Khiri Travel or the Lao-Singaporean College. The shop also serves food, so don't be confused when you see a restaurant in the front.
Rue Asean has also some furniture shops, one is Phonesavanh furniture close to the airport. They also sell safes.

Do not expect high quality, and no selection like you know from IKEA. It is pretty basic stuff here. Only the wooden tables and beds are quite good. When it comes to chairs, they live for 6 months, then you start repairing and glueing. And be aware of termites.

By the way, if ou have any chance to bring your washing machine, do it. Hot water machnes are arround 1000 USD, what is way to much.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Diapers, Garbage and Dogs

There are actually only two things that annoy me in Laos: One is burning trash and the other thing is placing open baskets full of garbage on the streets. There is NO sense of locking the garbage in a plastic bucket that keeps it safe from dogs. So what happens is that dogs see (or better smell) the trash with all it's eatable contents and distribute it all over the streets. More serious is that since now also diapers are part of the waste, dogs seem to like them the most. The result you can see in the picture below.
I think this may result in a serious public health threat. Open diapers with baby poop in the streets may attract any kind of animals, from rats to viruses.
Oh, and don't blame the dogs. If it's not dogs that pull out that stuff, it will be cats or rats or .... Laos needs a proper waste management. Replace bamboo baskets with lockable plastic boxes and put them only on the street when it is collection day - done. It is easy and not even expensive. It is not a matter of money or culture, it is a matter of will.


IMAG0057

Monday, December 6, 2010

LIFPA Concert at Cultural Hall

LIFPA is a NGO that wants to fight poverty, so they ask for any kind of donation. I havent heard from them, but I learned that the wife of the former president is involved, that might be a reason why they got live TV coverage today. Anyway, the concert was good, the fashion show was quite bad because of the models (learn walking in this shoes, honey), but the bands were quite good, although the Lao singers still lack of expression, presence and the will to connect with the audience. Isn't is that hard?
anyway, some pictures:

Lao is included Debian built now

Anousak just send me this mail:

On *daily built* images (not beta!) which you can get from
http://www.debian.org/devel/debian-installer, you'll find Lao and
listed in the available language.

Please note that, as many packages need to be uploaded with your
translation work, if you happen to try starting an install in one of
your languages (you can on any machine, at least up to the
partitioning stage, without any risk), it will be mostly in English.

Thanks to Debian maintainer, Christian, who have been working with me
to bring Lao into the Debian Installer and etc.

Debian is the main distro other Linux derivatives including Ubuntu.

If you want to play with Lao Installer, feel free to do so, and
comments are welcome.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

ICT meetings in Vientiane

We had a gathering in Saturday from ICT enthusiasts aka geeks, and agreed to have bi-weekly informal meetings Barcamp style, where we talk about specific ICT topics. We now look for a name and a venue. If you now a place for 20 people, roof, electricity and chairs, let us know. Next meeting will be December 19th. Location to be announced.Everyone can join!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Nutrition databases and Asian food

I am on a diet again, and I really like to monitor what I ear with a application named Nutrimanager. It counts calories, weight, protein intake, fat, etc. It also has a database with a lot of dishes. The reason why I used it was that it measures in Gramm and litres since most apps use lbs and oz. But the real struggle I had with this program and have with another one for my android phone is, that it does not cover Asian food at all, and of course only a few Asian dishes. While all fast food meals like Chucken McNuggets are present, it lacks of Fish Amok, Chicken laab or Banh Xeo.

So I am thinking right now about a Asian food database, with nutrition in formation. the most common dishes from countries like Burma, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Malaysia and Indonesia.

Anyone knows if these databases are already there?

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Barcamp Vientiane 2010: What a huge success

I am organizing Barcamps since three years now, and people always asking me, how to measure the success. I usually answer: "If anyone is happy, it's a success". An I mean it. It is not so much about the numbers of participants (Barcamp Bangkok and Yangon looking now for ways to actually reduce the number), or how many sessions.

Barcamp Vientiane 2010

I would call Barcamp Vientiane a huge success: First of all, we proved that this concept works in Laos. Even if it took a while when the participants started to write the topics on the agenda, finally we had around 36 session. Half of them were in Lao language. Then, from the member of the organizing teams point of view, it went incredible smooth. I can't say what went wrong. People helped cleaning up in the end, Internet connection was working (thanks to TIGO again for the backup line). The food was awesome (thanks to Nin and his family). What surprised me a lot was the enthusiasm and the engagement of our volunteers. They usually have a bad job sitting on the reception desk or pointing directions for newcomers and don't have so much time to listen to the sessions. A big applause and Kudo to the volunteers! It's by the way interesting to see that after Barcamp particpants started to connect each other on Facebook in a large scale. We also had people form Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Singapore and Hongkong - that shows that we are now part of the SE Asia Barcamp community.

What about the quality of sessions?
First of all, I think quality isn't the right term. More important and correct is the learning and sharing level, and this was high. From Business development (thanks to Chris Brown) to Lao translation in Google, Iphone App development, How to setup Android Dev on MAC, win, LINUX , to IT for investment and Finance, BarcampVTE, how BarcampVTE begin?, "My hotel sucks! how to plan travel online THE right way", Mindmap (that's only some of the English sessions). Rooms were crowded and that means people were quite interested. The complete schedule on Barcampvientiane.org
We had some money left for a nice After-Barcamp-Dinner were we invited the organizers, the volunteers and our guests from the neighboring countries.
after Barcamp-Dinner


What's next?
Personally I think we will have a next Barcamp in 2011. People already talking about another Barcamp in Pakse and/or Luang Prabang. Why not?

For Vientiane I would like to establish a ICT-Community gathering, like the tweet ups in Vietnam or the Meeting at T&C-Coffee in Cambodia or Beercamp in Thailand. I think it is important to meet at the same place, something like a coffeeshop or restaurant, that is affordable for Lao people. Casablanca on Rue Asian could be such a place.

This gatherings should enable the community to stay connected in real life, not just through Facebook or Twitter. It is always better to meet face to face. A quick survey with our volunteers showed me that Saturday late afternoon (5pm) might be a good time. We should eye two hours, if someone want's to stay longer, no problem.


If your are interested in participating in these gathering, leave me a message in the comments or on my facebook page!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Lao girl bringing offerings

We watched the procession yesterday in the afternoon at That Luang. People coming from all parts of the country and bringing offerings to the most famous Pagoda in Laos. It was quite interesting to see. Today we will go again for the candle light procession. We were told it might be crowded. Let's see.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

I finally got my number plate and ownership card for my car

Yes, it took 3 months (common in Laos), but finally I got all the legal papers and the numberplate for my car. I just want to point out that it would not have been possible with the help of J&C Laos. These guys are awesome and did a real good job.

My car belonged to a teacher who had a so called No Tax number, which is usually given to NGS and teachers. But since I am neither this or that, I needed a Foreigner number. That was only possible, if the university where the teacher worked before signed a paper - what was the first problem.

At the end J&C solved all problems and I got what i want for a good price as well. Great Job Stefan, Cameron an staff!!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Garbage at That Lunag

It is just so sad. Everything is supposed cleaned up in town, but when you go to That Luang, where the 450 years Vientiane festival will take place soon, or at the riverside, where the new park will be opened, it is covered in trash. Plastic bags, cups, bottles, banana leafs, chicken bones, fish skin and so on. There are soldier with machine guns patrolling (for what?), but NOBODY explains Lao people that they should NOT throw away their garbage. and: No law enforcement of course. (When I tell the kids in my street to pick up that trash, their parents look at me like I am an alien).

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Doing business in Asia

Today I found this in my inbox. A brief description of someone wanted to do business in Asia. It doesn't even matter what country this is about:

I have applied for an investment license at the One Stop Unit in March
2009. I have still got no answer. The process is lengthy, complicated
and completely in-transparent. In reality, investors buy themselves to their licenses. I didn't pay, so I didn't get the license.

After all I have given up to make business here. If you are not
ruthless, you will only burn your fingers.


As someone who believe that business is driving development, this story shows the real problem of developing countries: It's not so much poverty or lack of education (though this is a huge problem, but not the cause). It is a lack of desire from governments. Desire in developing the country. Most governments in SE Asia are just fine with the situation, since their members already made enough money for themselves.

Let's see a developing country as a start-up business. The way they do it now is the way start up operated in the time of the first internet bubble. VC (in our example NGO and IMF and Worldbank) gave money, they burned it and asked for more money. Because there was a steady stream of new money coming in, there was no real reason to focus in the business model. That's the way developing countries operate: The infrastructure of the country is not financed by income from operations like taxes, but from donations and support from international institutions. The lack of taxes used to run the country is caused by a) lack of tax collecting processes and b) corruption.
So why aren't countries collecting taxes? Actually they do, but the system is far from transparent. First of all, foreign companies are due to tax, always. Local family businesses have to pay tax as well, but seldom do. The reason is: They won't get caught, and tax officers always think its too much work for them to collect the few dollars from small businesses. Then of course is a total lack of infrastructure and understandable tax laws. The reason is simply again the missing desire. If you want to get tax, you will establish a system.

The main reason why there is no system is corruption. This is all over Asia, and it's the biggest obstacle for the developing countries. Corruption kills competition and kills development of markets. Only the wealthy elite can afford to pay the bribes, so they run moist of the businesses and get a de facto monopoly. Without competition there is no incentive to grow and improve, so most businesses aren't developing much. Just look at state owned Hotels in Asia, or the quality of local run companies in general. Most use quite old equipment, producing same products since 10 years.

Why its important to have foreign companies?
Because they drive markets faster on a higher level. The know the process of competition and they know also they have to work harder then local companies (not only because of corruption, but also because cultural differences, lack of networks in the country a.s.o.) Successful foreign owned companies are a challenge for local companies, so the they have a quite good reason to improve and get the business.

But as long as the desire of the people in charge is their own bank account and not the countries wealth, there is no change at all.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Incubator for start ups in Laos

In the last days I was talking to several people about start ups and SMEs in Laos. Its clearly not the first thing that comes into mind when you hear Laos. But first of all, there are small conanies trying to start something new. Like Sinouk coffee and Xaoban, a yoghurt maker. I haven't found much for IT, beside Digital Divide Laos, a company I have to talk to soon.
So the idea of a hackerspace combined with what a friend, Marion, suggested, an incubator, could create something cool. It needs to be a physical space aka building. While I think IT would be the easiest business to start with, other entrepreneurs can join as well.
What has to be done first is spread the news. I will have a talk on http://www.barcampvientiane.org on November 27th about this topic. Let's see what we get out of that. Comment here or contact me on facebook or twitter (thomaswanhoff) for further discussions.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Notes from BarcampBKK4 sessions as a Mindmap

These are my notes from the sessions I attended at BarcampBKK4. They include "how to create a successful web startup with only 10$ and 10 hours a week", "how to bootstrap a company", "10 secrets on facebook marketing", "virtual sextourism" and other topics:

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Why NGOs so often fail - and why they should be start-ups

I will never become a fan of the multinational NGOs and also government sponsored agencies working in the developing field. Wht I experienced so far it is a waste of money. They may have a good intention, but they lack of executing, mainly because most of them are either academics or administration officers. for example if there is a project in improving rice quality, they spend a lot of money in research and papers ad studys before actually getting into the field. But it's easy to work like that, since money is just pouring in from donors.

What if NGOs would work like start-ups? Developing a business plan, getting money only from profits, just have a initial funding by VCs who want have a return of investment. If for example organic farming works on markets, then make a business, not a project. Get a 40 percent share and a veto right in a cooperative and start earning money.

As long as NGOs just give advise and waste donations for themselfs, there is no change. I hear many complaing about the Mekong damns, but haven't heard any solution where Laos should get energy from instead.

Western NGOs actually want keep developing countries kind of poor. There is no intention of developing economy, because they will become a competitor. Thats why so many are focusing on health care: No competion from there, and you can sell some pills from your countries pharma companies (as it happend in Cambodia).

Just some thought. Proof me wrong please

Monday, October 25, 2010

Teacher in Asia

When young people traveling to an through Asia, its sometimes happens that they fall in love with the region and don't want to go home. But how to make a living here? The answer is simple: as a teacher. Since local teachers are just bad and English speaking foreigners are good per definition, it's kind of easy to find a job. No qualifications required, at least not for the schools on the lower end of the scale.
These people work some hours a week teaching, and since life is cheap in Asia, they make enough money to pay a guesthouse.

These people are notoriously ignoring the culture and laws of the country. Foreign people I knew who got killed where teachers - driving drunken and/or without helmet. They don't care about one way streets, parking fees, dress codes. Most of these teachers try to be still backpackers. In Laos I am now in trouble because I bought a car from a guy who never updated the number plates and never got the mandatory inspection. When I asked him, he said: "You know, it's Laos, they don't care." This guy also left his job in a public university without giving notice and got hired by an international school. The university is still not amused.

First of all, THEY do care. Not get caught by the police doesn't mean you do right. Then most rules have a meaning, the usually make sense. More important is the fact, that if we foreigners give a shit on local laws, how can we encourage people here to follow. Lack of governance and law enforcement is one of the biggest problems in Asia, that's why projects and developments are delayed or fail and corruption is so successful.

So if teachers, the ones who should be a hero for their students, don't care, what might be the impact for the students?

Friday, October 15, 2010

Nathan Kruse and his friends at Joma Cafe


There are not so many occasions for us to go out in Vientiane if it is not for eating and drinking. So we take whatever the cultural life gives us. Yesterday we attended a concert of a Nathan Kruse at Joma Cafe. It was one of the most disappointing events for me ever, and this was not because of the artist. Nathan is a young boy, playing pretty good guitar and piano. His voice is clear, he hits the tone, and although he still needs some development and confidence, he is a pretty good singer. At least, I guess. Because it wasn't really easy to listen. The crowd, maybe fifty people, did not pay any attention to the artist. Even worst, most of them were apparently friends and family.

Joma Cafe is not build as a concert hall, so the sound is pretty bad and echos are coming from everywhere. The wasn't a huge sound system (necessary). as long as you pay respect to the performance of a young artist. But for any reason most of the attendees preferred to talk to each other, not even giving applause, and if so, just because some others did.

I am not sure if this is a cultural thing since most people were form the US and there you just accept a singers performance as something in the background? But when you are friends and family?

I felt really sorry for Nathan Kruse, and I hope he will get another chance to perform in

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Green rice


Green rice
Originally uploaded by thomaswanhoff
I really like it. Bought it today from an old woman who walks along the streets in the neighborhood selling this and other stuff.

Monday, October 4, 2010

A Day for Compost

Got that from the LaoFab List and since I compost in my graden I would like to share this event:

A Celebration of Compost! *

What is special about compost?

• Making compost helps to recycle waste materials and reduce
pollution
• Composting improves the health of soils and the growth of plants
• Composting is a fun way of learning about ecology and respect for
our planet
• Composting can be an entry point for community development because
anybody can participate… young and old, rich and poor

What is planned for 10:10:10?

• A Celebration of Compost! A practical and informal meeting for
anybody who has experience or interest in composting
• Between 10am and midday on Sunday 10th October
• At the NGO Learning House in Naxay Village, Xaysettha District

What to bring?

• Yourself: your composting ideas and experience
• Copies of any training materials, photos or videos of composting
activities
• Raw materials for starting a compost site!

What will we do?

• Share experience, including composting recipes, problems and
aspirations
• Brainstorm ideas for new or expanded composting activities in
Vientiane
• Start a compost site at the NGO Learning house

Who is organising this event?

• The Celebration of Compost will be coordinated by CLICK – The
Coalition for Lao Information, Communication and Knowledge.
• Partners of CLICK include NAFRI, NAFES, PADECTC, SAEDA, GDG,
Helvetas, SNV, EDC
• Existing services of CLICK include Lao44.org, LaoLink and LaoFA

Friday, October 1, 2010

Creating jobs: Casinos versus organic farming

This article is intended to be controversial, so don't be surprised. When I learned about a new casino in Lao province, the news was accompanied by remarks like "destroying the culture", "not sustainable", "to much chinese influence". I also know that there are many NGOs trying to give farmers more access to markets and promote their goods.

I am not a big fan of international NGOs. In general they waste money for administration and research, without having impact at all. They want to convert developing countries following their rules and ideologies. And: they never create sustainable jobs. Most NGO jobs are project related and limited in time.

When a casino is build in the province, it will easily create up to 200 -300 jobs. in housekeeping, accounting, restaurant, waiteer, maintanace, etc etc. All of these jobs are on a higher level than being a farmer. And casinos are a rising attraction, independent from natural desasters like floods and draughts. You may like a casino or not. But what foreign companies are doing in Laos is creating jobs. And this is what a country needs.

Organic farming is nice, but the market access is limited, the profit as well. It will not move the country out of poverty. As long as NGOs are not starting to develop businesses, it will be the job of chinese and other investors. The Lao government just announced to support companies who want to establish assembling factories. For cars and motobikes these are already here. And creating well paid jobs.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Barcamp Vientiane Meeting


Finally: My first electric motobike in Laos


It took a while, but finally I found a used electric bike. It looks like a Mio Fino, what is just great, because I had this scooter in Cambodia and Vietnam, so my ebike follows the tradition.
It's a no-name brand from China, cheap quality and do not expect and cruiser feeling while driving. But I need it mainly for going to come places where I pay electricity and water bill, supermarket, coffee shop, most of them with in 10 minutes of driving.

If you are looking for a ebike or electric scooter, there is a shop on Boulevard Kamphengmeuang. You pass by That Luang on Singha road, turn left on the roundabout, follow the street to the traffic light, turn right. You pass by a Kaolao shop and then on the right is a small shop selling car batteries. They also have ebikes, a brand called Lefan or Lifan, not sure. The scooters look quite cool, and the price is more than fair: 360 USD is cheaper than a bike.

And listen: If you drive a electric scooter in Laos, you probably reduce your carbon footprint to zero since most electricity here comes from waterpower plants.


View My Places in Vientiane in a larger map

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Where to buy electric bikes (eBike) in Laos

I want to buy an electric bike here in Laos, but haven't found a shop so far. I know that Sunlabob has electric bicycles, but they are quite expensive and the motor actually just supports you. There is also a shop at the morning market, but they sell only cheap Vietnamese electric bicycles. I have seen some electric scooters here. Today we went to the Chinese Market, but haven't found a shop there (instead we were fined 100.000 Kip for turning left where it wasn't allowed). So if anyone know where to buy an electric scooter in Laos, please let me know

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Pimmy


Pimmy
Originally uploaded by thomaswanhoff
Our puppy

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Puppy in Vientiane


Puppy in Vientiane
Originally uploaded by thomaswanhoff
We found this puppy on the street next to our home. It doesn't belong to our neighbors, we asked already. Not sure if we keep him or if we look for a good home.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Poacher killed, Elephant as well

What a sad story:

A shootout between a gang of poachers and elephant handlers in Laos left one man and one pachyderm dead, news reports
said Tuesday.

The gang allegedly attacked the mahouts at midnight on August 9 in Hinheup district, Vientiane province, in an attempt to slaughter four elephants for their ivory and body parts, district governor Chanpaeng Douangphachan told the Vientiane Times.

Chanpaeng said the poachers fired upon the mahouts, sparking a brief shootout before the elephant minders fled and informed authorities. When police arrived at the scene they found one dead poacher and one dismembered pachyderm.

"From our initial investigation, we have learnt how the poachers worked together as a gang. We are quite positive that the details we have about the dead man will lead us to tracking down his friends," Chanpaeng said.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Useful information for Expats in Laos

Ok, I think its time enough to share some information for other people who want to move to Laos.
1. J&C Real estate is strongly recommended. They also offer a welcome package. Rents for a house are between 500 USD and 2000 USD
2. The best medical service is a the french clinic that belongs to the embassy (but is not at the same location).
3. Motobike rent is around 70.000 KIP a day
4. There are some supermarkets with nearly everything you need. Phimphone next to Joma Coffe shop, another Pimphione, the citimart next to the shell gas station, but also have a look on the M-Marts and the supermarket at the ITECC.
5. Walking the dogs: Is best done on the riverside close to the presidential palace and in the That Luang area.
6. Jogging: Join the locals in the morning at Patu Xai.
7. Cinema: There is no cinema with western movies.
8. DVD: You get the everywhere.
9. German food: Luckily no German Restaurant, although Khop Chai Deau has pork leg.
10. Driving a car: You need a driver licence. Driving within the city is quite safe (and slow).
11. English News(papers): Vientiane Times and Laovoices.com

Any more questions? Ask me.

Friday, July 23, 2010

From Beer Lao to Bear Lao


Please read my article on Expat-Advisory about the Laos Bears - Luang Prabang Rescue Centre at Tat Kuang Si

http://www.expat-advisory.com/articles/southeast-asia/laos/luang-prabang/dont-miss-bear-lao

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

We need rain in Laos

Young Rice

It"s not only me sweating like crazy the whole day, it's more seriously about the farmers: They desperately need RAIN!


Rice seedlings in fields all around the country are struggling to grow as rainfall continues to be erratic, a problem which may impact on this wet season's rice production.


Only some are more lucky, if they can afford modern technology:

And while farmers with modern irrigation systems have little cause for
concern, this luxury is limited to a select few.


I am following a discussion on Laofab, about wether it's good or not for farmers to rent their fields to companies and make some extra money.

Getting dangerous in Vientiane?

Read this today:

There are 151 road accidents in Vientiane Capital in this month, decreased by almost 20 per cent as compared to the month before, said Head of the Vientiane Administration Office, Mr. Khamphong Boutdavong.

Meanwhile this month sees a change in number of criminal incidents. Hundred and seventy-five criminal incidents are recorded in this month, increased by 31 per cent from last month.


Hmm. is the World Cup a reason? Or economy? People here easily blaming Vietnamese for burglary, but in Vietnam they blamed the Cambodians and in Cambodia it was always the Vietnamese. So what?

I guess it's just normal that a growing city attracts every kind of people. Like criminals. Thats a price development has to pay.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Best service for new expats in Laos

Before we moved to Laos we were looking for a reliable real estate service to find a new home. We found J & C real estate, and that was the best that happened to us. Stephan and Cameron, who are running the company, are not only real estate agents, they give you a full service.
That starts with a welcome package: They take you around town (Vientiane), show you were the doctors are and the schools, the supermarkets and the best restaurants. In a one day trip you will see the most important things for living (and some sightseeing as well).
We also found a nice house, although moving in May isnt the best time since most expats are leaving in June and July, so the selection of houses was quiet small. Anyway, we (they) found a great place for us.
We also got perfect service regarding the move of our dogs from Vietnam: J&C provided us the necessary documents, like the import permit for the dogs. at immigration, with this documents everything went find and easy.
When I was looking for a insurance for my car, J&C also provided us with a good offer, as well as for our house content. The company always gives you a lot of helpful advice.
Last but not least the give you on hand a bunch of documents, from snakes in Laos to "How to cross the border to Thailand on the friendship bridge".

If you consider moving to Laos, call J&C real estate. You will not regret it.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Burning drugs ceremony in Laos (audio)

Listen!

Lao National Internet Center opened

Just read this article at LaoVoices:

The National Authority of Post and Telecommunications last Friday opened the Lao National Internet Centre (LNIC).
The establishment of the internet centre is in line with the Prime Minister’s decree No. 375/PM, dated October 22, 2007, which stipulates the organization and operation of the National Authority of Post and Telecommunications. (...)
The centre under the National Authority of Post and Telecommunications, is designed to monitor and control all forms of information operated through telephone and internet systems within, to and from the country.
The new internet centre is equipped with over 100 technical officials.


Not sure what "monitor" and "control" means in this case ....

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Level of English in Laos

I am quite surprised about the level of English here in Vientiane. Compared to Saigon, it's a way higher level. Nearly every shop I went has at least one good English speaking staff. I don't know if the many NGO and Backpackers are a reason for this, but I just like it.
But I am also still looking for a Lao teacher.

Guests from Germany

We arrived just a few weeks ago in Laos, but we already have friends from Germany coming to visit us. They are by the way our closest friends and already payed a visit to us in Vietnam. Anyway, we will have a good time during the next days. And we got more Senseo coffee.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Barcamp Vientiane here we go - first Lao Barcamp

Thanks to John Berns and the guys from Meking ICT we managed to have a meeting in Vientiane talking about a Barcamp yesterday. We met at Lao garden, and beside John and me 8 guys (and one girl) from the Lao community showed up. Good news for a possible Barcamp, everyone is excited and interested, Thanks to Instead, we already have a sponsor.

You can follow us on barcampvientiane.org (content will be created in the next days). We are now looking for venues and we have to check government regulations for this kind of events.

Possible date is August or September, we want to check first with our Cambodia friends to avoid any collision with the Barcamp Phnom Penh 3.

Stay tuned for more info.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Geeks on train - join us

Some people - in particular @3105, Jan and me - are tinking about having Geeks on a train in the next weeks or months. Some more information is on 3105.com.

The basic idea is to book a coach from BKK to Vientiane in Laos (or at least to Nong Khai). We set up our own network there and then lets hack or what ever.

If you like the idea, send commenst, emails or tweet. Hastag is #geeksontrain.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Baci Ceremony in Laos

When my wife Nataly started her new job, a baci ceremony was held. It's one of the most important ceremonies in the life of Lao people, I learned. It celebrates any transition, like a new job, a mother giving birth, a new business. There are some rules, and of course they differ from where it's held. In our case in Vientiane, the village chief or eldest will celebrate it. In the middle of all is the Pha Kwan. It's an arrangement made of a silver bowl containing banana leaves, flowers, eggs. White cotton threads are cut at the length long enough to wrap around the adult wrists. These are attached to a bamboo stalk and give the impression of a banner.
The fruits are for the Khwan. Kwan are components of the soul, but have a more abstract meaning than this. The kwan have been variously described by Westerners as: “vital forces, giving harmony and balance to the body.
Preparing for the ceremony is the first steps, others are following, like youngers paying respect to the older ones, touching the Pha Kwan. In our case Nataly and Esther had to hold the white threat, a flower and also a bowl containing eggs and sweet cake. During the ceremony the village eldest is chanting. When he speak to you you have to hold one hand at the ear, as you try to understand him better. I guess its a sign that you actually listen. Later everybody is touching people next to him or her, then holding the cotton threads again. At the end, we received white and orange collar threads on our armwrists. In Laos, white is the color of peace, good fortune, honesty and warmth. The white cotton thread is a lasting symbol of continuity and brotherhood in the community and permanence. The baci threads should be worn for at least three days subsequently and should be untied rather than cut off. Usually it is preferred that they are kept until they fall off by themselves.



More about the ceremony here

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Group for Expats and people living and working in Vientiane Laos

It was (and is) successful in Vietnam, so I decided to start a Yahoo Group for Expats and people living and/or working in Vientiane, Laos. Anyone can join, just go to http://groups.yahoo.com/group/vientianeneighbors/ and Join the group. It's free, of course.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

workplace 3.0


workplace 3.0
Originally uploaded by thomaswanhoff
What I like so much in Laos is the sense for beautiful decoration and set up. Its a perfect mix between colonial style and traditional furniture, colors and patterns. and yes, it"s banana from my tree and the picture is made in my living room :-)

Thursday, June 3, 2010

my new car. a 1973 renault r4

its old simple and sooooo cute

breakfast and al jazeera on my ipad

Connection is not too bad to watch sometime Al Jazeera via internet on my iPad

What a service

Ok, it's only a week since I arrived in Laos, but I am surprised about the service here. You feel welcomed at the airport, immigration officers are smiling and helping you, there is a easy-to-understand-system with numbers for any step. When we went dining in town, the waitresses were not only dressed properly (for a waitress I mean), but also very attentive, with paying attention to every single detail. They ask you for more, but not every minute. They take your empty plate when you are finished, but not at the same moment you put the last bean in your mouth. They speak english.
The common dress is a so called sinh skirt, and its worn by many women, and it looks just great. It seems that I just like the culture and people of Laos so far.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

My first bananas


My first bananas
Originally uploaded by thomaswanhoff
We have some banana trees in the garden.. just have to wait until they turn more yellow

Breakfast at home


breakfast at home
Originally uploaded by thomaswanhoff
We moved in, but still wait for our stuff from Saigon..

Sunday, May 30, 2010

So it is Laos now: Life of an expat in Vientiane

breakfast at home
I just arrived in Vientiane, the capital of Laos, and probably one of the smallest capitals in the world. Ha, I should not say small, it's actually cute. Coming from a hometown with 17.000 population, the 200.000 of Vientiane is much closer to than 8 million in Ho Chi Minh City.
So, yes, I feel good here. The weather is not too bad, it's cool in the morning and in the evening, we don't need a/c during the day cause the fan is enough. Saves money.
Tomorrow I will try to get Internet at home, since the coffeeshop provide free, but quite slow connections here. Especially Gmail is sometimes difficult to access.
People here are quite friendly, as expected. I will not compare Laos to Vietnam here, it's another country and of course different What I can say so far is that live seems kind of easy here, laid back, slows you down. Having breakfast on our terrace is something I was always dreaming of, now we have it.
I see a lot of young backpackers here, always funny to watch them being so authentic and having no idea that everyone is laughing at them or art least trying to get the most money out of them. Actually they are not backpackers anymore since they use trolleys. I would call them waterbottlers, because they always carry a bottle of water (because it was mentioned in the Loney Planet).

That's for now, I have to go home and ask my french neighbor to help me picking the bananas from our tree.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Ho Chi Minh song contest launched in Laos

Vietnam’s Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism and the Lao Culture and Information Ministry on April 2 jointly launched a contest on composing songs about Vietnamese President Ho Chi Minh in Laos.
The contest was held in celebration of the 120th anniversary of the late Vietnamese leader’s birthday (May 19).

All amateur and professional composers holding Lao nationality can send in works in the Vietnamese or Lao language from April 2 through the end of May.
The winners will be announced in early June.

According to the organising board, the contest is a good opportunity for Lao artists to express their sentiments toward President Ho Chi Minh, the symbol of Vietnamese heroism and someone who made great contributions to fostering the special friendship between Vietnam and Laos.

http://english.vovnews.vn/Home/Ho-Chi-Minh-song-contest-launched-in-Laos/20104/114254.vov

Saturday, March 27, 2010

More coming soon; Living in Laos

This blog will be more alive when I am moving to Laos, whcih might happen in June 2010. Until, enjoy reading my Vietnam Blog and my Blog about Thomas Wanhoff in Cambodia