Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Dog boarding in Vientiane - not available anymore

This content was removed because the place I once recommended isnt recommended anymore.

What is a tourist attraction in Laos?

Vientiane Times todayt writes about a new urban development project calles the That Luang Marsh:
Under the agreement, Wan Feng Shanghai will spend 12,000 billion kip (more than US$1.5 billion) to develop the marsh into a tourist attraction and cultural centre.
So, what does attract tourists? Let"s have a look on the status quo. There are two main tourists sources, Thai and western foreigners. Thai people visit mainly waterfalls and Wat Phou, some Luang Prabang. They are looking for the nature and landscape. Western tourists are looking for the ancient Laos and culture, that's why most of them go to Luang Prabang. So, what kind of tourists can be atracted by a urban development? The article says:
The development will include open spaces, a public park, lagoon, drainage, roads, a sports centre, and trade and service centres that contain five-star hotels, shopping centres and entertainment venues.The project will also include a residential area and facilities that it is hoped will attract tourists to Laos.
Will tourist come for shopping? I don't think so, since there is nothing to buy in Laos that isn't available in other countries and is cheaper there (except wine). Will tourists come for entertainment? I think Singapore, Malaysia and Hongkong are better choices, even Bangkok. There won't be a new Disneyland, instead expect a chinese park for kids, like the current waterpark. Nice for locals, but not a reason to get a plane from Bangkok or even Europe. So, I dont see any tourists coming. I see middle class Lao and expats, in particular Chinese and Korean, moving in there, as it happend in Saigons Phu My Hung area.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Do Lao people don't need to work?

the abyss Yes, this title sounds harsh, but I actually heard it from a Lao friend. We ware talking about the work force problem and that it is hard to find skilled people. Yesterday I read in the Vientiane Times that mining companies are trying their best to hire local people - however, it is still a skill problem. But as you may know from my podcast episode with Titi about career development, there is also a lack of knowledge about what working in a job means at all. For example: I know a girl working in a coffee shop. She is looking for a better job, so I arranged an interview with the owner of a foreign owned restaurant. Guess who did not show up? She said she wasn't feeling well and had headaches. I had this experience many times when I try to help Lao people finding another job. Don't the need to work? Let's have a look into the Lao society. In general, it is build around the family (there is a new trend I will explain later on). Family has a very high value in the Lao (also the Asian) society. The main reason is that family is providing shelter and security. It is kind of a big holding company where some enterprises are more and some other are less successful. At the end, the money is the family's money and you help each other. Also, parents want to get their kids a better life (as in most other cultures as well), so they will pay for nearly everything to make the kids happy and successful. The latter is important as they expect the kids to generate the income in the future. So as long as some of the family make enough money, the others can be a bit more relaxed. Unfortunately this is changing dramatically. Two trends are important: single young males and females moving to the cities and young couples moving into their own house or room. The singles are basically workers and students, exploring new opportunities and experiences a new life style (there is a reason why most movies in Lao covering this topic). They actually need to work hard to survive. But they still struggle with the tradition of living laid back and taking things easy. When they fail, they fall hard. The young couples have a different approach: They are middle class people, with a family that can afford to build them a house or buy an Apartment. Without the family support they rarely can afford their life style. since they are more educated and even studied abroad, they are kind of the ones creating the future of Laos. But as long as there is a huge support from the family, there is not much of an incentive to work hard and build a career. As my friend said: "They don't suffer." For now it is nearly impossible to find senior accounting staff in Laos. Also, it is quite hard to get motivated staff in hospitality. One is a education problem, the latter a mindset. Both has to be changed, if Laos wants to keep pace with other countries. It is not about lazyness, it is a bout adapting to a modern world. And get me right: The world is changing, and the huge majority of Lao people appreciate this. They just have to figure out how to find their place in it.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Japanese investments in Laos

Interesting read about investments in Laos, in particular from Japan. It seems that EU and Japan are the doners, while the business goes to China and Vietnam. Why that? First of all I think that EU and Japanese business are not taking as much risk as VN and China: They look for return on investment rather than market share or to be the first. Also, business procedures are different: Industrialized countries are less likely to pay bribes and follow instead international business standards.
These emerging countries will need to transport their goods through Laos so they can increase trade value and economic cooperation. Laos' land-linked status can provide Japanese investors with investment opportunities in the service sector, including international freight operations.
This sounds nice, but Laos is quite far away from becoming a freight-hub: No streets, and if so they are not maintained and broken in less than a year. The high-speed railway is in fact on hold, since China seems to demanding way to much (a 10km special chinese business zone along the track). Once the government can assure the assure the consistence of infrastructure, this can indeed become a great income source for Laos.
Laos also has a strong workforce as most of its population is of working age.
This is when you look only at numbers. In fact, most of these workforce is unskilled, and the Japanese (and other) government trying to improve the skills. But as long as there is no major change in curriculums in public schools and in business oriented education (more practice, less textbooks), the workforce will be useless.
At present, there are 87 Japanese investment projects in Laos worth about US$540 million, with most in the areas of agriculture, hydropower and construction.
Sounds nice, but actually a lot of them failed. It all comes down to two issues: Governance and Education. This has to be improved, then Laos can have a brighter future.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Nam Phou gets "facelift" aka "We sold the heart"

In case someone wants to know what transparency means:
Work is underway to develop the Nam Phou fountain square in Vientiane after local authorities gave the go ahead for a company to build a restaurant, in a bid to attract more tourists. The development project, which will change the face of one of Vientiane’s most popular spots, will see the building of a restaurant which it is hoped will bring more visitors and business to the area. In recent weeks, people passing the fountain have become concerned about the status of this public space and have become worried that they will no longer be allowed access. Their concerns arose after the construction company erected a fence around the area in order to secure the site. A senior official from the Vientiane Administration Office told Vientiane Times yesterday that public access to the area would be allowed to continue even though some parts will become part of a private business venture. People will still be able to sit in the area to enjoy the environment provided by the fountain and there will still be an open space maintaining the overall impression of a public square.
Beside the fact that there isn't really a lack of restaurants in this area anyway and no tourist will come to Laos because of a new restaurant at Nam Phou: It is interesting that there was no advance notice about the project. It still has a bad taste. Oh, and maybe it is because mainly foreign restaurants are suffering - and who cares about them?

Christmas Blues

One if the MDG for Laos is "Halve, between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of people who suffer from hunger". However, chances to be realized are "Unlikely", according to UNDP. French Queen Marie Antoinette was once quoted "Let them eat cake" when she learned about a shortage of bread. In Laos, I see "All you can eat" and "Mammoth burger" events coming up. For me, it is a quite cynical (as a B52 drink is). I am not complaining about (luxury) expat life in general. It is more about the message and how it may received by those how can't participate in the events. Maybe it's just my Christmas blues.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

What's the future for Laos economic boom? I disagree with this article. First of all Western countries pay a lot for health and rural development. Second, China and Vietnam just buying the country. A lot of property in Vientiane is already in VN hands. Logging takes place in the south, basically unregulated, and in the north China is building ghost towns for future gamblers. None of the Lao phone companies makes profit, and the same goes basically for most SOEs. Beer Lao might be different. The income from dams is nice, but will not be enough. Yes, there is a boom, but it will not take long then Laos is facing the same problems like Vietnam right now: Investors cash in and run away. Regional companies, especially from the neighbors, just have one advantage: They can deal better with corruption. This and the total lack of law enforcement is the reason why Western companies are careful. In Vietnam we saw that investment and return of investments isn't the same process. Just an example: I was told that in Laos local DVDs are not much copied because people are afraid to be sued. But copying foreign movies isn't a problem at all - because a foreign company has basically no tools for getting justice here. I still believe the current boom won't last long. While Vietnam can rely in a export crisis on it's large population and the domestic market, Laos doesn't have this advantage. It is depending on foreign investment, what means giving concessions and creating income based on the fees and taxes. Mining seems already to be on it's peak, logging might decrease following more protests of local farmers suffering from landslides, and most property in Vientiane is sold already. As long as there is no market supervision and regulation, a safe business environment and enforced laws, Laos is still a high risk place for business.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Getting a taste for wine in Vientiane (Laos)

It is not that we don't have wine in Laos. Compared to Thailand wine is actually cheap here and we have quite a good selection so far. Thanks to the french community, wine is accepted here, thanks to winemakers around the world good wine is available here as well.
Today started a new aera of wine in Laos. The shop Wine 95 (named after the the years it's owner Vansom Vilivong started his wine business, an import-export company) is located right in the heart of Laos, next to the Jazzy Brick Bar and just a few meters from the Phimphone supermarket. It is a classy wine bar. The concept is new and refreshing. I am one of the kind of wine lovers who don't really care about a label. I drink wine that taste good for me. The problem: Most venues have only a small selection of wine by the glass, so you usually stick with that to avoid the risk of opening a (expensive) bottle you don't like. That's where Wine 95 comes in. First of all they have different wines every week. Seven red wines, 4 white and sometimes sparkling. Then, for 10.000 KIP (a bit more than one Dollar), you get a tasting glass. If you like it, you can have a half glass, a full glass or a bottle. The owners daughter told me that they see the place as a venue for people who love to drink wine and having a new experience sometimes. But a wine bar isn't just good because of the wine selection. Interior is also important, and that is something the Phonesavanh family did just right. It is cosy and classy, but not too High-So. It has style, but it's not the kind of overexposed luxury you will find in Asia too many times. The design has been done by someone who had a vision about this place and just realized it. You feel comfortable and relaxed here, especially upstairs. No Smoking, what just fits well to enjoying wine. Jazz music, sometimes live performances (I heard there will be Mozart in January).
Of course it is not a cheap place, but style and taste have it's price. I rather pay more for something well done and executed than for a trendy place where the owners have no clue what they actually sell. Wine 95 is open Tuesday - Sunday (closed Mondays) from 5pm to midnight. No food, but wine and cocktails.

Looking for a job in Laos ?

My friend Keo launched today the JOB108 magazine and website. While the magazine will be published three times a month with 4000 copies, the website of course provides jobs 24/7 for everyine interested in human resources in Laos.
The magazine in black and white with some color pages provides job ads as well as advice for jobseekers, something that is really important in Laos. Since the basic idea of career isn't developed that much in this country, 108Job wants to fill the gap and being a bridge between employees and employers. So in case you have some job advertising or jou are looking for a job, give it a try. The magazine is just 5000 KIP, less than a Dollar. Advertising isn't that expensive either, just call the editors. More details given on the website

Friday, December 9, 2011

B-52 in Laos - the drink and the background

For all hipsters in Laos, who don't know the background of the B-52 drink. The name refers to the US B-52 Stratofortress long-range bomber. This bomber was used in the Vietnam War for the release of incendiary bombs, which likely inspired today's flaming variant of the cocktail; another hypothesis centers on B-52 combat losses ("Burns like a B-52 over Hanoi"). ( Yes, these bombers were also used in Laos. So please think twice before celebrating with a B-52 drink in Laos.

Monday, December 5, 2011

How to Create Jobs? Ask an Award-Winning Social Enterprise in Cambodia

I just post the press release here. These guy do a pretty good job, I just hope they will get more contracts from the private sector. An American job-creating social enterprise was recognized with the eAsia Award for Best Employment Creation Initiative in Asia. The award was presented to Digital Divide Data at a ceremony in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Digital Divide Data is an innovative social enterprise that delivers high-quality content business process outsourcing services to clients globally. “Digital Divide Data has created hundreds of jobs for youth in Cambodia, Laos and Kenya,” said Michael Chertok, a co-founder and board member. “We accomplish this through a strong recruiting and training program, coupled with a business that provides content digitization services to clients, including eBook creation, newspaper and archive digitization, handwriting transcription, and survey data entry.” For the past 10 years, Digital Divide Data has used a model called “impact sourcing” to consistently grow enterprises that build skills and create jobs. eAsia is an annual international event with the objective of reinforcing technology and knowledge-centric growth and needs of Asia. The eAsia Awards have the aim of acknowledging unique and innovative initiatives in the use of Information and Communication Technology for Development. Nominations for the awards are screened by an eminent jury, which selects award recipients in each category. The Award for Best Employment Creation Initiative is in the category of Driving Economy. eAsia is sponsored Cisco Systems, GPiT, HP, Huawei, Intel, Polycom, Samsung and UNDP. Digital Divide Data (DDD) is an innovative, internationally acclaimed social enterprise. They deliver high-quality data conversion services to global clients to create jobs for talented youth in developing countries. Their clients receive competitively priced, world-class data preservation and content conversion services. This business empowers their staff with the skills and experience they need to lift themselves out of poverty.

Friday, December 2, 2011

short movies in luang prabang

kind a live blogging from the luang prabang film festival. please go to the visitors center at project space and watch the lao short movies. i really like calendar and A Small Dog Life. And The Risk produced by Kino. Every day 10am and 2pm

Monday, November 28, 2011

Of course nobody wants to visit the Plain of Jars

Todays Vietnam Times says:
The Plain of Jars, the major tourist attraction in Xieng Khuang province, will be the focus of a promotional blitz after reports of lower visitor numbers recently.
Not a surprise. First of all the problem with this spot is that you are done in 1 hour. Have seen one jar means you have seem them all. Although there are 3 different spots, the experience is always the same. Then it comes to accessibility: This place is basically not accessible. Not enough flights, and travel by bus or car takes way to long. You are literally trapped there for at least one night. and there is nothing to do. No museu. No restaurants for tourists. No entertainment. Nothing. If the earth would be flat, this is the place were it ends. My concern is that again the Plain Of Jars will be promoted the way local authorities like to see it, not what actually international tourists expect. What is indeed a good development, if real is this:
In the past, tourist numbers averaged almost 3,000 people per month, of whom 80 percent were foreign visitors, but this number has dropped to 2,600 people, most of whom are Lao.
If locals really start travelling, then it is a good sign. I know what I am talking about: German people spend most of their holidays in Germany. Now comes the real bad news:
To ensure all visitors have a great time when they are here, especially in the coming Visit Laos Year, we are preparing some special events and also trying to promote the purchase of local products such as wood carvings and silk..
I haven't seen a single local event that met international tourist standards. The program is usually boring, you see always the same dances and cultural performances, and when it come sto local singers, it is getting worth. Be prepared of high-pitch-singing-but-never-hitting-the-tone-girls, as well as a moderator that shouts so loud as there wasn't a loudspeaker. Again, if this should attract more local vistors, I am fine with it. But the complain is about the decrease of foreigners, and it is time for those spots, to open up to international standards. (Just in case you expected a well balanced, polite and political correct article: That's the wrong place. I want to provoke, and I like to use irony without placing the irony tag every time when I use it)

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Demand and Supply

"Small family producers in Savannakhet and Saravan provinces don't haveto worry about market access under the One District, One Product (ODOP) scheme, but are now struggling to meet overwhelming demand....The project, implemented by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and the Ministry of Industry and Commerce, has helped to expand market access for local producers." (Vientiane Times) Actually, I bought the Beef Jerky, and they had no package date and no expiry date. Wonder what markets they want access. Also, if you can't supply the demand (common problem in Laos), what was the purpose of the project? Most of the products I saw are overpriced, like the honey, compared to other Lao producers.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Get a calendar, man!

If there is something that always bothered me than it is some peoples lack of using a calendar. It is kind of an irony that a short movie with the name "Calendar" just won at the film festival, yet people are not able to use one (including foreigners, by the way). It actually seems that beside company meetings people pretty much live as there is no next day. Deadlines are missed, appointments ignored or postponed in the last minute for not really important reason. Oh, and while I am already ranting, I experienced a surprising lack of communication skills as well. I wonder how people make business here when they never respond to an email (and I am talking about big companies). Is this pure arrogance, shyness or laziness. (Includes foreigners again). Get Google calendar, man!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

How are the dogs and cats doing in Laos?

I got aware of a group of people from Ottawa looking for funding to get a Vet to Laos to help dogs and cats.
As a pet lover and dog owner I was wondering what kind of help is needed in Laos?
From my observation there are not many streetdogs, at least in Vientiane. if there are strays, they are often in a good shape, since food is available everywhere. Yes diseases like rabies are there, but I did not hear of a significant outbreak.
In fact, what you see is that more and more people get the idea of a pet instead of a watchdog. I see more and more people walking a dog, and when you see how busy Dr. Kamdeng is these days, you see that there is a significant change in the way dogs are treatet.
For sure there is still more to do. For example, people here still don't spay and neuter there dogs. "Cannot" is what they say if I ask them. However, some give female dogs an injection to prevent them getting pregnant.
It seems that Lao people pretty good learn from each other. Treating a dog well has bacone a fashion, and this akey for success. There are to many organisations trying to educate, instead giving just support and a bit if advice when needed.
When I showed people in my street that my dogs listen to commands, they said uts because they are foreign dogs. When I showed them that it takes me five minutes toteach their dog the command "sit" they started thinking. In particular kids now trying to train their dogs, pet them, hug them and watching them if they want to run on the street.
That is another problem: since people are used to just open the gate and let the dogs out in the morning, they are at great risk getting hit by are car (or stolen by either people who want a dog or dog meat sellers).
So another afford might be to change behavior from open the gate to walk the dog, what is, as i said, already happening, but of course with the Lao pace.
I was thinking about starting dog classes where they learn commands, but where owners also learn about dog behavior, diseases and how to handle dogs well.
Another stereotype is that dogs in laos are afraid if people. they are actually not, they are just careful. If you waita bit, they will come closer, because they want to know who you are. I always show people my patience with dogs and many are surprised that at the end the dogs isn't scared at all.

What's your experience with dogs in Laos?

Monday, November 7, 2011

From Lao Bumkin: Murder Piracy Drugs and Warlords on Sleepy Upper Mekong

Murder Piracy Drugs and Warlords on Sleepy Upper Mekong:
Is that a blatant attention grabbing blog post title, or what?

No doubt they see a lot of strange things come down the river at Chiang Saeng, but the two Chinese cargo boats rudderless, crewless, and turning with the currents of the Mekong no doubt caught the attention of anyone watching the river earlier this month. Chiang Saeng is just downstream from the border of Burma, it is what passes for the beginning civilization in that part of the Wild East known as the Golden Triangle. Competing casinos in Burma and Laos vie for the baht of eager Thai gamblers. Though no longer the center of world opium production the poppy is still widely grown and the lawless Shan State in Burma is a large supplier of methamphetamine (ya ma) for South East Asia.

Above the two unlucky boats tied up at Chaeng Saen

I have a lot of photos of this part of the river because I like to take the fast boat down from Xiengkok to where there are roads at Muang Mom. Despite what it sounds like this portion of Laos is generally pretty quiet. Mostly the river sees few foreigners, there are no roads, no ATMs, no airports, or internet. The wide photo up on the header of this blog is actually looking up the river in the direction of China from Xiengkok.

For a couple hundred or more kilometers above Chaing Saeng the Mekong runs between Laos and Burma on it's way from China to the sea.  Xiengkok half way up has a Lao border patrol man watching the river with a very tired eye. The "port" is simply a place where the rocks jut out into the river giving boats a place to anchor in slack water.

Leaving the slack water in Xienkok early 09

The Chinese blasted a channel in the rapids deep enough to run cargo boats most of the year, and it's a regular roller coster ride between the mountains. Chinese cargo boats for now are more profitable than trucking cargo the long way around from Jihong to Chang Rai vial Mengla, then somehow across the river at Huay Xai. Maybe once the bridge outside of Huay Xai is complete boats will stop running.

Chinese cargo boat exiting the rapids above Muang Mom headed upstream. "rocks as big as houses".

For the unfortunate crewmen on the two cargo boats that ride was their last, a dozen Chinese crew were tied up, executed, and thrown in the river.

Above the same Lao freight boat we saw leaving Xiengkok about to enter the rapids below Xieng Dao (I think)

Newspaper accounts attribute the violence to a warlord not receiving protection money from the Chinese. They sure were quick to add a name to the crime too, but a name with freinds at the highest levels within the Burmese military. Who knows, I sure don't.

From the Irrawaddy:

Over the past two decades, three ethnic armed groups from Burma have attempted to control the Mekong River route through the Golden Triangle. The first group was drug lord Khun Sa’s Mong Tai Army, followed by the UWSA and the Shan State Army (South) led by Yawd Serk.

“All were pushed back by the Burmese army,” Khunsai Jaiyen said. “Unless they had the support of the local Burmese authorities, Naw Kham and his men could not survive in this area.”
I have a hard time keeping all the names and armies straight, all I know is that I've never had an inclination to step foot on that part of Burma. The closest I've come is fueling up on a fast boat.

It used to be that you could catch a ride on the freighters if you wanted a slow, cheap, way to go to Jihnong China that didn't involve airplanes or the long go around to Boten.

Now there is a fast ferry that looks like below.

167km from the border of China 1/09 early morning fog

In that same article a journalist tells of being extorted for money by the same folks.

“At the time, Naw Kham’s men were on three speedboats. They cut off our boat and boarded it,” he said. “They were well armed, and some of them wore masks. They made us kneel with our hands on our heads. Then they took all our money.”
The speed boats are very fast, basically an auto engine with a propeller at the end of a long shaft pushing a very light weight flat bottomed boat.

 The wind in the face is strong.

And lastly a very short video to get an idea of the speed of the things.

The striped bag is some of my new designer luggage.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Posters, posters, posters everywhere

All my life, at least since I am 16 year old, I was organizing events, and part of this was advertising them. We usually did that with posters. But we always followed one rule: Ask before you stick a poster on someones property. When We were not able to ask, because we did'nt know the owner, we built our own stand, and, with permission of the community, placed them next to the street. In Laos, you see more and more posters stickes on fences of constructions site, on phone company boxes, lantern masts, everywhere. I was told police was already complaining. What is really sad, is that foreigners who should know better how dirty a city looks like when everyone uses everything as advertising space, are the ones who pollute a lot. See the picture I took opposite True Coffee. I can't believe there is a lack of legal places to advertise.

Monday, October 31, 2011

When generations talk in Laos

It is a interesting experience when you listen to oversea Lao people who are coming back to Laos. The country as they know it is quite difficult from what it is now. On the other hand, the now young generation has no idea how Laos was when their grand parents left. So both of them now have to adapt to each other. What is not so easy: Sometimes young people are quite bored about the stories of the old Laos. Sometimes the old people don't want to accept the way it is now. But the permanent reality check let them come closer. It can have an interesting effect for the society: Not only young Lao people get a different picture of life abroad (with all advantages and disadvantages), they also get first hand knowledge about the life before the war in Laos. They may recognize that what they learned in school is different from what their family members tell them (and what they see on the internet). Also, returning Lao people face reality when they settle down here, experience bureaucracy and corruption on an extend they may have not expected. As an older Lao mentioned: "You can't get proper tools here. Not even proper chairs. Why my Lao people don't produce stuff instead of importing everything from Thailand."

Take it easy cafe

I really really like coffee shops, you may have noticed that already. There is a new one in town, and I kinda felt in love with it (although it was closed when I came the first time). It was Sunday, I actually met someone in front of it, and the owner (a older Lao who lived in the US for a long time) was sitting with some friends outside. He told me that he has no staff for the Sunday, that's why he can't really open, but offered some water for free. We then were chatting for 3 hours. When I came back, I tried the ham and cheese croissant, and it is really good: They brought ham and cheese from Paris. It is not the most fancy place, it is not as cosy as Cafe Nomad, but it does have some charme. Free Wifi is a huge Plus for me, good coffee even more important. I also like it when the owner actually works there, and when it does have a local touch. Aircondition is available inside (outside it is a bit noisy). Location: The riverside road, pass by Don Chan Palace on the way out of town, then it is on the right side (next to Lobos, the not so good German restaurant). Opening hours 7 am to 8pm.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Umbrellas for what?

I read this article in the Vientiane Times today. No ideas what was the reason they published it, since it shows how projects are failing. Bu read first:

"Bamboo umbrellas made in Xieng Khuang province are finding markets
further afield, and are now on sale in popular tourist spots in Luang
Prabang, Vangvieng and even across the border.

The colourful umbrellas, which are individually crafted by villagers
in Phoukoud district, are proving increasingly popular with tourists,
according to Mr Thanongsone Xaisongkham, who is the marketing officer
for the Rural Income through Sustainable Energy project.

“What I know is that traders from these places come to us to buy the
umbrellas to sell. But because most of the people who make them are
farmers, they don't have enough time to make umbrellas in large
quantities and are unable to keep up with demand,” Mr Thanongsone

The colourful umbrellas with bamboo handles are mostly sold in tourist
destinations because they are more artistic than functional.

They can be used to provide shade but are not sturdy enough to be
waterproof in heavy rain, and might also get damaged.

They are used mainly for decoration and are mostly bought by tourists
as a souvenir of Laos.

Mr Thanongsone said umbrella making is an old tradition in Xieng
Khuang province and the pastime dates back to long before the project

“There are currently about 10 people in the province who make
umbrellas and our project encourages them to find new markets for
their products.”

Mr Thanongsone said the venture has generated a good income for the
umbrella makers and some families can earn up to 20 million kip a

Bamboo is plentiful in the northern provinces, especially in Phoukoud

Umbrella production is supported by the Rural Income through
Sustainable Energy project, which began in 2001, and operates in
Phonesaarth Tai village, Paek district, Xieng Khuang province."

So, 10 people producing umbrellas and cannot even meet the demand. Beside of not mentioning how big this demand is, I ask myself why this is even called a project. How much money was wasted for the programm and the programm officer?

To make it clear: There might be a souvenir market for these umbrellas, bu but for now Luang Prabang is actually lacking tourists. And other destinations have the same problem. So if you really want to sell this umbrellas, make sure the supply change is in place and the market as well.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Chao Anouvon park

Thats how people apparently appeiciate the donation of the Chao Anouvong park. Garbage everywhere.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Open fire and climate change

It is always easy to give general advice or analysis about climate change. But not many people actually follow the "think global, act local" idea. One problem about climate change is not just the CO2 emissions of the western countries, but also the smoke of the third world countries. A study shows:
Total average annual fuelwood production in developing countries increased=approximately 16.5% over the past decade to about 1.55 billion cubic meters. Worldwide, it is estimated that nearly 3 billion people use fuelwood as their primary source of energy. In developing countries, especially in rural areas, 2 billion people rely solely on fuelwood for heating and cooking.
There are actually different threats for climate and health:
Empirical studies have shown that cooking stove smoke can contain hundreds of chemicals components. The most well-studied products include total suspended particulates (TSP), polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), and carbon monoxide (CO).... mConsiderable evidence has been accumulated linking indoor air pollution from biomass cooking stoves to a variety of different diseases. Tobacco research suggests that cooking smoke might also cause peptic ulcer disease, cardio-vascular diseases, otitis media and other ailments.
So if you really want to improve environment, tell people to stop open fire. Don't burn trash or waste from the garden. Use gas or electricity for cooking, not charcoal. It might be a Lao tradition to use open fire, but the consequences are sickness and pollution. So maybe time for a change.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Lao Business Environment worst than Afghanistan

So the Worldbank issued a report about business environments.
Below are select highlights for the data included in the profile. Laos is ranked 171st out of 183 economies in Doing Business 2011. According to the latest Enterprise Surveys (2009), Tax Rates, Access to Finance and Inadequately Educated Workforce constitute the top constraints to firm investment in Laos. Among the firms surveyed, 43% of them identify tax rates as a major constraint to investment. Only 18% of the local firms report having a line of credit or loans from financial institutions, compared to 40% regionally, and 34% for all countries surveyed. Laos’s economic freedom score is 51.3, making its economy the 141st freest out of 183 countries in the 2011 Index. Its overall score is 0.2 point better than last year, with improvements in monetary freedom and property rights offsetting a large drop in labor freedom. Laos is ranked 31st out of 41 countries in the Asia–Pacific region, and its overall score is below the world and regional averages. The economy is growing quickly, in part because of large inflows of Chinese and Vietnamese investment into its mining sector.
Laovoices just quoted and article about spare parts for automobiles.
Minister of Industry and Commerce Dr Nam Vinhaket said last week the government had no intention of resuming the import of used vehicle spare parts for the purpose of reassembly, after finding the business is having a negative impact on consumers and the environment.
I am sure this was not because of the pressure of automakers who want to sell new cars. Oh, and also very important and urgent is the degree, that you cannot say Laos anymore in your company name. It must be Lao. I guess that will cause a huge boom in business.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

The "war" in the telecom market in Laos

Last week the there phone operators Lao Telecom, ETL and Unitel cut their lines with Beeline, the recently rebranded former Tigo. The reason was apparently a Beeline promotion during the boat racing festival for free SMS. Some weeks ago the government urged the providers to stop certain marketing campaigns where they offered free service such as SMS and SIM cards. The 4 operators agreed to stop it. Now Beeline seems to violated it and the competitors too the harsh measures. So what does it mean: First of all, the government said it is concerned about dropped tax revenues. Lao Telecom what is the market leader reported a drop of 19 percent in revenue. But if you take a closer look, then you will see that actually LTC is the most vulnerable company because of it"s poor performance. Some weeks ago shareholder Thaicom announced that they consider to pull out, because of the difficulties they have with their partner in revenue performance. It seems that too much money is lost in certain channels at LTC, as usual. ETL may face the same problem, while Unitel is a Vietnamese company that may loose their money in the homeland (and has a more strategic reason to be in the Lao market then revenue in the first place). So why the alliance against Beeline, if there is not even a government order? Because it is too convenient for them. Competition is not really established in Laos, and if a company find a way to hurt the competitors, they will do it. In a still developing market happens what happend in the bank sector in Vietnam before: Too many players with agressive marketing were first destroying their own market and then themselves. What Laos has to learn is how a market works, and what regulations are neccessary to allow MANY players to be in the market, not just a few. No idea why Beeline committed nearly suicide with the SMS promotion, maybe the big boss was out of the country and the subordinates thought they were smart (happens more often than you might think). For now, nobody except Beeline subscribers can call Beeline. And Beeline itself is very poor in communication. They call it a technical problem. What is a lie.
They risk their business, because nobody will register with them if they don't fix the problem now (and talks are announced for this week, not earlier) In addition, the government announced that from November on all subscribers must be registered. Not sure yet if there will be a limit for SIM cards as well. We will see how the governments measures and involvement in a market, where it is not just the regulator, but also a player, will effect the purely private companies. We know from Vietnam, that there is still a priority: state owned first, then local, then foreign companies. Since Laos is a small country where foreign investment is often more strategic based then in current revenues, it might be a problem to make it even more difficult to invest.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

A desire for milk products in Laos

Koeien melken / Milking a cow When I ask my neighbor if I can bring anything for her from the supermarket, she usually says "Milk". She is a 30 year old Laotion, and the common knowledge tells me that she can not drink milk, since most Asian people are lactose-intolerant. What is true. But does it mean they cannot drink milk? No. Just watch kids - they drink milk and diary products a lot and get fat, but not sick. How ist that possible? First of all: Milk is considered good for health, but also a statement of lifestyle. This is why Asian people want to have it. Although not used to the taste, the demand is so big that some years ago China was buying so much milk from Germany that Germany got a domestic supply problem. What in particular Chinese factories do, is getting the lactose out of the milk. Also, they produce yoghurt what is basically lactose free, ice cream and milk powder. In Vietnam. Vinamilk is one of the biggest companies - it would not be possible if people can't use their products. Also, even if you are lactose intolerant, you probably safe if your daily consumption is less than 100-150 ml. It is usually not life threatening anyway, you just get a intense diarrhea.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

So much changed - of course

I read an article here about someone coming back to Laos and so much changed. I hear this a lot, usually complains, but sometimes surprise. For me, it doesn't really matter how it was before. I first came to Laos 8 years ago travelling through Asia, but in my memory Nam Phou was not much different as today. Although I am a fairly visual person, I can't really recall details of Vientiane. And actually I don't really want. The exciting thing in Asia is to literally watch the development day by day. It is not all good, but no risk no fun. Despite the warnjngs the living standard increased in Laos. For sure many ways lead to Rome, but at least one you have to try. Vientiane will change a lot in the next years and the next years and the next year. I am looking forward what will happen. And what went wrong.

Tubing killed another one

It is sad to hear that another twentysomething considered fun more important than common sense and his own life. Riding drunken in a truck tube on a river you don't know in a country you may have never heard about 2 years ago isn't a good idea. Unfortunately he isn't the only one. Although official numbers are not available of how many foreigners die, just my Google alerts give at least one a month. In Thailand, 50 Canadians die every year (source: canadian ambassador).

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Got bread

Thanks to the Tops supermarket in Khon Kaen we got bread. Real bread. Not the white french influenced soft something. Not that I am missing bread that much, but when it is available, I cannot resist. Breakfast time.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Sounds and rythm made in Laos

Did that with the MadPad app on my iphone. I am not really a musician, it rather was done to show how to go further with art in Laos.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Wat Sapanthong Tai

Thats the Wat of our village

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Blogging from iphone

Just want to try the new iphone app that allows me to blog with my phone. expect misspelling :-)

the picture shows the Tonmali Cake cafe, my favorite place

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The best for the country

In recent days I found some postings on Facebook with one topic coming up again and again. It is a kind of Lao nationalism, but not really in a bad way. Someone got a new job and his friends told him that they are happy that he will develop the country, although the job isn't related to developing at all. When I asked a student who just graduated what she wants to do now, she said she wants to find a job where she can support the country and develop society.

While this is in general not bad at all, it sounds a bit familiar. In East Germany you heard that a lot (I am from the western part). So now people looking for a bank job while still believing whatever they do will bring the country forward. I do agree that the more people have good jobs, the better the economy is and this is of course good for the country.

But I think people are in fact looking for a good paid job (as all of us do), and do not really care about what the advantage for society is.

It seems the become just something you have to say.

Vietnam makes it nearly impossible to hire foreigners anymore

So the Vietnamese government issued a degree that makes it basically impossible to hire foreigners anymore.

It is already quite difficult for foreigners to get a work permit there, but now the government makes it even worst.

The decree stipulates that 30 days before recruiting foreign workers for some posts, employers must notify the needs of recruiting Vietnamese workers for the same posts on local and central newspapers. When applying for granting work permits to foreigners, enterprises have to present the documents to prove the job information publishing.

The problem is that degrees like that are actually targeted on the illegal chinese workers in construction and mining. But of course you cannot make a law just for Chinese workers. So the law covers all foreigners. and here starts the problem.

First of all, the reason why you hire a foreigner, who is more expensive than local staff, is because you cannot find a local who can do the job. So you already DID the homework searching desperately for skilled people. There are just not enough of them.

That leads to the VN education system. People with a certificate, diploma or whatever think they are skilled, but usually they are not. It is in many times not worth the paper it is printed on. You have to train people all the time in your company, and often enough once the received proper training, they quit and start their own business, becoming a competitor (not much successful usually, but that is a different story).

While the gov takes no real efforts in lifting the standards of education significantly (for example by reducing the hours teaching socialism and Uncle Ho's history), they now leave it to the private sector to solve the problem.

Meanwhile, the Article No 132 of the Labor Code stipulates that FIEs in Vietnam can recruit foreign workers for the posts that require high qualifications for certain periods, provided that the enterprises have plans on training Vietnamese workers who can replace the foreign workers.

So even if you finally hired a foreigner, you have to train local staff to get this persons knowledge. Do they really believe this works?

It seems that Vietnam do not want openly offend their brothers in Bejing, so they rather offend western companies. They may have forgotten where the money came for the boom. And that this western companies already start to pull the money out since it is becoming more risky and dangerous. State owned companies are either bankrupt already or close to. So what's left then are some Russian and Chinese (also Japanese and Korean) companies. But they will have the same foreigner problem. If they pull out as well, it will be a major bump for the VN economy. There is already not much innovation and market developing going on my local businesses, and VN - as World bank reports and others mentioned many time - will rely on foreign support for more years. They put this on risk now.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

No super train through Laos - Thailand stops project

In the news today:
Thailand's new government unveiled a revised plan for the country's high-speed train network Tuesday, prioritizing domestic rail expansion over an ambitious regional connectivity plan being spearheaded by China.
Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra announced during her inaugural policy speech to parliament that three routes would be constructed linking Bangkok with urban centers in the north, northeast and upper south.

That means also a No for the train through Laos, is my guess, because first of all without access to Thailand it makes no sense for China and second in China are some train projects already on hold.
At least the people living at the proposed track might be happy.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Does Laos need a Big C (or any other) supermarket?

On the Lao FAB list (members only) is an interesting discussion about weather Laos needs a Big C supermarket or not. While some people say it is good because it establish a supply chain management, jobs, taxes and a distribution channel for local producers, others argue that it brings profit for Thai companies, and they will be the ones who supply the markets.

Someone else pointed out that supermarkets will kill the small shops and markets.

First of all, Seven Eleven proves that there is a market for small shops if they are part of a chain that can compete with its purchasing power. Laos is far from developing it's own supermarket chain, for several reasons (mainly lack of investors and no benefits like tax exception). For the suppliers, supermarkets buy usually as close as possible if the price is compatible. If they can save money (and tax) with Lao eggs, they would buy Lao eggs - if the quantity and quality is guaranteed. But this might be an issue.

In general, I think foreigners should be careful to deny Lao people any development. I haven"t seen a better model than regulated capitalism and open markets right know, and as far as I know the system in East Germany failed. So, it is nice dream to have a country of happy people and small shops, but reality is different. Lao people want to participate in consumption, as they do every week when they go to Thailand. Just some cannot afford that. But should they denied having access to local supermarkets then?

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Trailer "At the horizon"

This will be the first thriller movie in Laos, and I think it will be the best movie ever made in Lao P.D.R. Thou, the male character, is hell of a talent. And my friend Nin did an awesome job as cameraman.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Mobile phone operating business seems to be difficult in Laos

Vientiane Times reported today, that ThaiCom, big shareholder in Lao Telecom is considering pulling out of Laos. As reason was given "poor performance". What I was wondering about was the fact that Lao Telecom is the number one in the market. As a state owned company they do have certain advantages.

How is it possible, that the shareholder is not happy about his revenue (if there was any)? My guess: Too much money doesn't go where it belongs too. But if Thaicom really pulls out, it would send a very bad signal for the Lao economy and investment climate. When it is not possible to make profit in the emerging mobile business in Laos what industry then can be a success (beside mining and hydropower, but even the latter so huge delays in new hydropower plants).

Friday, August 12, 2011

Beaten duck

Beaten duck by thomaswanhoff
Beaten duck, a photo by thomaswanhoff on Flickr.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

So Filmcamp Laos here we go

I got exciting news yesterday that Filmcamp Laos is approved by the government and that I have permissison to organize it. I will have a talk with the Department of Cinema next week about details and looking forward to it since Mr. Bounchao is a very kind person to talk to.

Since the venue and free water is confirmed, I am looking now for sponsors for shirts, lunch and printing the marketing materials (A4 posters, banner, stickers).

It seems that many people like the idea of the Filmcamp, however the challenge will be to actually get them to the Filmcamp in October.

Why I am doing this? I believe in the concept of Bar- and other camps to bring people together in a very casual environment and share knowledge and information. I think Laos needs this open environment in particular in the very small and not much developed film industry. so my goal is to bring together the movers and shakers here and let them spend a day together. What will happen after is up to the participants. If they do projects together, or set up a new filmcompany or whatever, it is fine.

Please visit for more information

Monday, August 1, 2011

Why I like to sit (and work) in coffeeshops

It sounds like the lazy spouse spending a lot of money browsing the internet and chatting with friends back home, but it"s not. I like to work in coffeshops for two reasons: Less distraction and cheap office space. The first seems to be confusing, but it is true. I do not get that much distracted as I get at home, when my dogs want to play with me, my neighbors want to chat or other tasks at home had to be done. In the coffeshop nobody ask me anything (not even the waiters, even if they sometimes should).
So how much i spend there? Since competition brought the price down from ridiculous expensive Joma (21.000 KIP large latte) to 10.000 Kip (Ban Tonmali Cake cafe), it is one dollar a day and free water. Also you have a desktop and free internet. So my spending is about 30 Dollar a month. If I make a coffee at home I am not saving that much. One litre milk is 28.000, that is for 6 cups of coffee, what means 5000 KIP plus coffee and gas.. I may save 3000 KIP at home. Not that much.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Same same, but different? Recent changes in retail shops

When we came to Laos one year ago, most of the retail shop followed the Asian way: Just do (and sell) what your neighbor does. The main way in retail business is to buy stock for like 10.000 dollar and wait until it is sold. To show how much products you have you try to put everything into you little shop. and yes, put it also outside, it does'nt matter if it get's dirty from all the trucks passing by.

One year later, you see more and more change. The boutiques at the Khouvieng road are the most obvious change. They are nicely designed, with shelfs showing a selection of products. Nothing outside, instead they have glas doors and aircondition inside.

Also, some coffeeshops that opened recently follow a more modern way. Friends de Cafe, Benoni, Baan Tonmali Cake, Joma, YoQueen, IceBean, just to name some of them. Look at restaurants like Xayoh, Nos, Pizza Company, Swensens, i-Beam, Loft, Kongkhao - all of them do not follow the old hole-in-the-wall-concept. Or the new Meshop. Yes, some of them may not successful yet, since the market is still developing. But you can see a pattern.

The picture above shows the toilet at the Friends de cafe. It is actually a good symbol of what means paying attention to every detail. Toilets are usually the last place you modernize.

I am predicting more change soon. Innovation drives competition, and if you are the most innovative, you can stay ahead of the competitors, at least for a while.

Some people complained that Laos doesn't need modern shopping malls or international clinics. Actually the people just vote with their feet: They go frequently to Udon for shopping and health care.

So we still have exciting times here. And it sees that businesses are going on a fast pace and settings standards. This is a good development.

Same same, but different? Recent changes in retail shops

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Veterinary services in Vientiane, Laos

When we moved to Asia four years ago, our biggest concern was about the veterinary services. We were happy to find Agrovet in Phnom Penh as well as pur lovely doctors in Vietnam (also Dr. Nghia), so we never had a problem at all. In Laos it is a bit different since we don't know a foreign veterinarian yet (if there is any). So our choice is Dr. Khamdeng on the way to the friendship bridge. He is actually quite skilled, but also limited in time, that's why sometimes family members work there (and yes, they do not have a university degree).
The environment is local, what means in western standards dirty and a bit messy, but our dogs never got sick because of a visit (and we got our Lao do neutered there, means he had a surgery). Yes it could be more clean and the walls need some paint, but in the end it is better than nothing.
It is a surprise how busy the clinic is, mainly with Lao people. That is an indicator of a cultural development, when people start vaccinating their pets or even get them neutered (the latter is a big issue, since people believe it is a sin to do that, because it is against nature. ) The fees are reasonable, for some injection 40.000 KIP and castration was about 200.000 KIP.

The clinic clearly has it's limits since there is not xray or other sophisticated equipment. Therefore I was told I have to go to Thailand.
The picture above shows the room where some dogs are placed when they get an infusion or need to recover from a surgery.

Adress: Dr. Khamdeng's Veterinary clinic,
ThadeuaRd Thaphalansay Vientiane Cap., Vientiane Cap.
+856-20 5551 6782

Some other services you can find here

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Mindsets: Business

Quite interesting to see the mindset of many people when it comes to business. There is always this "What is the benefit for society and culture" thinking. I think there is a lack of understanding that a growing economy IS the benefit for society, while culture is something that usually will develop and transform itself..

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Puna a Lao girl singer

This girl is a huge talent. Please support her and watch and share the video!

What makes a good business environment?

It seems there is a lack of knowledge in some Asian countries about what needs to be done to attract and keep investors. The "keep" part is the most important, since emerging economies always attract in the beginning a type of businesses who are looking for a fast and short term opportunity (and profit). They jump into the market, get the profit and move forward.
For a sustainable development there are some key factors.

1. Transparent laws
Laws need to be enforced equally for everyone. If a law is only applied to a certain type of businesses or a certain group of people, it will be considered unfair and a major obstacle for attracting investments.

2. Tax reduction, not increase
If you want attract businesses and investors, the tax issue is probably the biggest. Companies don't like taxes while governments rely on them as their main income. So there needs to be a balance, but in early economic development stages it is recommended to keep taxes for companies as low as possible.

3. Zero corruption
There is still no proof that corruption does anything good to a economy. It needs to be cleared in all levels of governance and businesses. That also leads then to

4. Market rules
If there is no justice for businesses, they will be scared away. In case of business disputes there needs to be a transparent judicial system to oversee them, based on laws.

5. First come, first serve leads the wrong way
It is not true (if ever told) that the first investor is the best because he is bringing money for sure. As we see in many cases in south east Asia, it is often wrong - they fail in the planning stage. So governments should be carefully analyzing investment proposal for the long term impact for the economy as well as for environment and social impacts.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Laos Business MEetings - how to import to Laos

Peter Evens the mastermind behind Gecko Wines, talked recently about how to import goods to Laos, and what the challenges are. I recorded the talk and published it in my Podcast From Asia With Love...
Enjoy listening

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Career development in Laos (and other countries)

I was at the Vientiane Career Fair recently (listen to my Interview with the organizers here) and it was quite amazing how many people showed up (400 in the first two hours). According to the Vientiane Times most students were looking for an job in accounting. Why that? I think, and some experts in this field told me so as well, that most students have no idea what a job is and means. Accounting sounds like a well paid office job, and this is why so many want to work in this field.

Now here comes something in play my friend Titi mentioned at the recent Laos Business Meetings in her talk about career pathways. Indeed people do not know what companies require, what a career pathway actually is. Students are just not prepared for the business life. They have certificates, but no clue about what is actua happing in the company they applying for a job. She is looking for ways to change this.

Nearly all foreigners were complaining about the lack of professional skills within the young Lao community. This is true, but I also think that this is quite natural since most people are between 20-25 and have of course not much of an experience. While someone mentioned the need of a education were also internships and trainings are supported as well as craftsmanship (like German system, where you are an apprentice for 2 years with school added), what many people do now is job hopping for getting experience.

So how to solve the problem? I think there is still a need for a major change in (public) education, with a radical change in curriculums. Also, there must be a closer relationship between universities and the business community, so the first can be aware of what the latter actually needs. It might be helpful to use the summer break for mandatory internships (I know internships are already required, but what I learned was that they are over-regulated. Just let the people work in a company for a month). Oh and as long as Manadarin is not taking over yet, more important than using Excel is speaking English. It IS the business language, period.

I really like the idea of the Khan Academy, where you learn online (at home) on your own pace and the classroom becomes the place to reflect and discuss what you learned (formally know as homework). There are also TED talks, so no excuse of "we do not have the materials".

And don't even think the above is a Lao problem or in any way linked to "Lao culture". Vietnam, Thailand and Cambodia have exactly the same issues, and I guess it might even similar in Malaysia, Myanmar and Indonesia.

What is your idea?

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Lytro mighty change the way we take pictures

This is kind of magic. The new camera Lytro takes pictures where everything is in focus, and you can decide later what you want to see blurry and what not. Click anywhere in the picture and wait a moment...

Thats how they say it works:
The light field is a core concept in imaging science, representing fundamentally more powerful data than in regular photographs. The light field fully defines how a scene appears. It is the amount of light traveling in every direction through every point in space – it’s all the light rays in a scene. Conventional cameras cannot record the light field. By substituting powerful software for many of the internal parts of regular cameras, light field processing introduces new capabilities that were never before possible. Sophisticated algorithms use the full light field to unleash new ways to make and view pictures.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Slate Magazine about NGOs - worth reading in Laos as well

I am not a fan of NGOS and do-gooders and I will not become one. Yes, there are some projects doing good and really sustainable work, but they are a minority. Most international organizations wasting time and money. (I actually wonder if there is a statistic about the percentage of GDP of NGO projects what could measure the impact)

A very good insight delivered Slate Magazine with an excellent article.

Some quotes I really liked while consistent with my own observations:

WA says on its website that it works with villagers who "once were forced to roam the forest as hunters and loggers, diminishing Cambodia's environmental heritage, [and who] now have legal jobs as guides and operators of sustainable trekking, mountain-biking, and river boat tours."..."The wholesale destruction of Cambodia's environment is an important issue, but hunting and poaching by people eking out an existence in the forest isn't the problem," says a Western expatriate with extensive experience in land issues. "The primary causes are the government issuing massive land concessions to developers and wide-scale logging."

"The NGOs desperately want access and the basic equation is that the government grants it to them in exchange for their silence about corruption or anything else remotely controversial,"

Sunday, June 19, 2011

About public discussions (aka comments on the internets)

I was recently writing a review about an event, and mentioned that I did not like the final ceremony. Not a big deal, just my opinion. A few days later I received an email from the events organizer, a foreigner. This person was complaining that I was complaining in public, aka on the internets. I was told that they spend a lot of efforts and worked for free. So what?

I am doing Barcamps since 4 years for free, and if you tell me the shirts were shit (what happend in Vietnam), then you are right and I appreciate your help. If you can tell me how to improve the wifi-connecton, I propably ask you to take care of it during the next event.

I think there is a divide since the internet allows everyone to publish. The old thinking, coming from the traditional media, but not limited to it, is about control. We have to control what is published, and everyone is a secret in the first place, and we have to decide what piece of our knowledge is intedend to be received by the public. Diskussion have to be internal, and later will be a statement issued.

The new modern way the internet offered us is different. We know can have a public discussion, we invite others to participate, we ask for beiing juged and critized. This discussion is part of the process, even part of the development of a product or events. Call it agile development, since there are cycles of discussion until we find a solution that works. For the barcamps, open source software, but also topics like photography it works really good. The more people are participating the more the quality can improve.

I remember the days in the Germany based Fotocommunity, when you uploaded a picture and others told you not only if they like it or not, but also how to improve. I learned a lot from that.

If you keep discussions private (in particular for events where you need any help you get), then do not wonder about the outcome. And if you can not except and respect that someone just don't like the event, then you may rethink your understanding of opinion and why control is more important than the outcome and improvement.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

The STEPS finals: A contest for young entrepreneurs

STEP finals

When I first saw the World Banks proposal for a Young Entrepreneurship Contest I was quite excited. This is what a country like Laos needs: Young people, motivated to open their own business. Then I read this:

The proposal encourages small size enterprises from various business communities such as handicraft, process foods, agriculture/farming, tourism and other to participate in this exciting event.

So women are good in farming, handicraft, tourism? WTF? Why not engeneering, computer science, investment?

Anyway, at least two teams made it with computer related ideas to the finals, while the others are all related to farming or handicraft. One exception is a wedding service.

So I went to the Culturall Hall this morning an talked to the contestants. Tehy came from Vientiane, Luang Prabang or Champasak. First of all I was surprised about the level of English: Most of them were able to explain me their concept in English. Thumbs up!

Some observations: One business wants to grow mushrooms on large scale. I like it, since I think Laos needs more businesses who think big rather than family business. The same goes for a salad producer, who goes on step further and showed a concept of plastic tubes where he can grow the salad. 350 Kilo a month is the expected production. Another woman wants to make organic fertilizer: She wants to collect wet garbage from the market, feed this to earth worms and they produce the fertilizer then. She had the best marketing concept in my opinion.

There were more than 20 booths, and I did not count the handicraft ones - they were too many.

STEP finals

What my concern is: although the business ideas wasn't bad for most of them, nearly all of them are entering a existing market with partly strong competition (e.g. silk or handicrafts). And most of them are focussing on the Lao market, what is also wrong, since this market is too small. Laos needs to export goods, and therefore it needs middle size businesses who are able to compete in markets of the neighboring countries. Vietnam is better in silk and Thailand is better in handicraft, while China already imports cheap vegetables.

I will update this blogpost with the winner later, but at least it was a good start for entrepreneurs. I hope this spirit last longer than the competition.

Some more pictures here.

Friday, June 17, 2011

This English thing

I am a late English speaker and far from perfect. I learned English in school, but never used until until I started traveling with my wife. Ask my friend Wolfgang about my English speaking skills when we traveled along the East coast. I could not see the need to speak.

Only when I got more in touch with different cultures and languages I never even heard of (like Laotian), I started to realize why English is so important: It establishes a communication. And it is the beginning of learning from each other.

Most people who refuse to learn English say that they do not want to follow the American dictate. They don't have too (although they drink Coke and eat burgers and use mobile phones). First there is a reason why it is called English, and second, we just use the language, we do not adapt to the culture (that's why I am very bad in idioms).

Yes, Lao brings me even more insight. That's why I am trying to learn the language. But English is an easy start for all of us. Instead of complaining that a language is taking over we should see the huge advantage that we are able to communicate, to understand each other and to learn from each other.

Just some thoughts...

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Tiger Beer Battle of the Bands finals: And the winner is Babyrock

It was like the good old days back in Germany when I went with friends to certain rock music contests, but this time it was Laos. The Tiger Beer Battle of the Bands is a highly professional organized and executed event. These guys really know what to do and how. So big applause for the Tiger Beer team please (in particular the guy who was responsible for the sounds: great job, even the acoustics are not that easy in the Budo stadium).

Babyrock performance at Tiger Beer Battle of the Bands

So all bands did a great performance, but some did better. Babyrock was the favorite already, and they brought again a huge fan group, so no wonder they won at the end. But they actually can do better than they did yesterday, and my advice is: don"t stop improving, and figure out why cover songs sound way better than your own.

Rock music has to be loud, but there is a difference between loud and noisy. You could here that clearly yesterday when bands performed cover songs and when they played their own. Whats up and Zombie were performed clearly and good.

When Deep Heart performed, it was actually below their capability: Screaming isn't singing, and if every artist in the band want's to get the same level of volume, it will end up in a messy soup of noise. And Ning Nöng is a good singer, and her band can play well, so it was just not a good arrangement.

Babyrock did well with starting their performance with traditional Lao instrument and song, and also with some drum solo of her singer. Well arranged, well planned, the victory well deserved.

The surprise for me were Dominoes: Great performance, good singing, well played, the bassist was my favorite at the evening; This band should be watched, they have a great future.

So the overall experience: Please do it again!!!

Friday, June 10, 2011

Baan Tonmali Cake Cafe

What I really really liked in Vietnam were the many tiny cute coffee shops. I am not talking about the street stalls with a small plastic chair. I mean the fancy hidden ones, in small streets nobody knows, like Yeu, where a popular singer was performing regularly. These coffee shops were visited by young Vietnamese people, many of them couples try to get out of their homes to get a bit of intimacy.

Now we have something similar in Vientiane. Yesterday opened the Baan Tonmali Cake Cafe, a small cute shop near the Lao Top College. They are targeting "Filmmakers and photographers" so you can imagine who the customers are. Expect a creative community, an well decorated place, good coffee an nice talks.

Maybe a new podcast from Asia

Just hear what I recorded today (a new coffee shop in town and another idea)

The intro is from The Cells, a popular band in Laos..

Monday, May 30, 2011

Cross cultural issues

Some things I found quite interesting about this topic: In Laos people eat noodle for breakfast, in Germany bread or cereals. Both will ever change this habit. (Thanks to Gunnar Lindh for this!)

German people have the wedding ring in the right hand, will most other countries have on the left hand.

In Laos people always ask you where you coming from (or where have you been - Jao pai sai maa). This is not just pure curiosity. In former times, before big cities were established, every traveller was also provider of news. So it was always interesting to know where they come from and then ask for news. By the way, How is it going or the GEran "Wie geht es" is close to it as well.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

At The Horizon - Laos hope for a new film wave

When I was talking with the crew of the movie "At the Horizon", a Lao film to be shoot in June, it took a while when I recognized, that actually the story about the movie is as good as the movies script.

But first things first: At the Horizon is a feature action movie about two different worlds in Laos colliding: The wealthy influential people on the one hand and the poor and honest on the other hand. There is a death, anger, pain and kind of vendetta included. So far, it is something that happens in Laos (and other Southeast-Asian countries) quite often.

The plot is described as the following:

"Sin, a wealthy boy in his early twenties who was born with a good fortune, had been spoiled by his parents that he had never realized the importance of self-dependence and had become an irresponsible man. The boy lived his useless life relying on his parents wealth and power,
making him even more arrogant and pompous.

Lud, a mute middle-aged man, he came from a rural area to be a motorcycle mechanic in Vientiane. His wife worked as a market woman and had a six-year-old daughter with him. Though, Luds life was not gaudy, his family was warm and sufficient. However, one day, Lud unexpectedly faced the greatest loss of his life caused by Sin"

"We don't just tell the story. We want to create a different Lao movie. That's why we call us Lao New Wave Cinema Production", Xaisongkham, one of the team members, says. New things, in particular when it comes to media, are not that much to be welcomed in Laos. When they submitted the script, the government wasn't really excited and refused approval. After some discussons they now have the permission to shoot the movie, but no permission to screen it. Xaisongkham is still opptimistic: "We are sure the movie will be good, and they will like it once it is finished."

Most Lao movies like "Sabeidee Luang Prabang" or "Only Love" are melodramas. At the horizonn wants to go into another direction. There will be a lot of action, but, as director Anysay Keola mentions, this isn't the focus of the movie. "I want to go close to the characters" he says. But with the actions scenes will will also try a new approach in Lao movies.

The schedule is tight. at present the team of 10 people is preparing everything for the shooting that shall take place in June. In the recent days Anysay Keola and his co-workers invited actors for the casting. Since there is not a tradtion of movie actors, it is not that easy to find the right ones. "We deal with what we have and improve from there" Fabiola says. She is responsible for the actors training and wants to support the project with her skills in theater play.

The whole team isn't working for money. "We recently found a sponsor, but this will be mainly for food and expenses for the actors." Producing a movie isn't easy in Laos, since everyone has a dayjob. "That's why we cancelled shooting in the provinces, becaus eit is to far to go there. We would waste to much time we need for shooting." In October, that is the schedule, At The Horizon should be finished. "We hope to screen it at the Vientianale", Ansay says. Until then, so the team's hope, they will received the approval of the government.

If you want to follow the project, "like" it on Facebook. The group posts regulary updates about the progress.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

What services for Expats in Laos are the best when it comes to relocation and real estate?

As someone who is living in Laos for one year now, it is amazing how fast we settled down. We found a house and friends. But how did we get there? Actually we are not fans of the expat group for women but of some expat and relocation services. We like the ads at the Simuang Supermarket and at the Phimpone Supermarket. and, even more important, talk to your neighbors. They know better what to do when a heater is broken or the water is leaking. Also look for groups on google or Facebook. Best for events is Paisai on Facebook, and starting from there you can get connected very well.
For real estate there is a huge competiton right now. Look for Laohomes or for, they know the market for houses and apartments quite good.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Shangri Lao: Enjoy the nature in Luang Prabang

Shangri Lao Tour

I really enjoy trips into the nature, and while doing the usual temple tour during my last stay in Luang Prabang, it was now time for going wild. We had the nice offer to try the Shangri Lao Expedition, what is a one day excursion on an elephant, but also trekking and a boat trip.

The elephant ride goes through the river, but you won't get wet. The expedition begins with an 1.5 hours long elephant ride across the river through the Huay Sae Valley. Along the way you can stop to see the amazing scenery of the Nam Khan River Valley. After we had quite delicious lunch at a jungle Sala - they served even wine. Depending on the water level you can refresh and swim in the natural pools. Then it is time to get up and walk through the forest for about 1.5 hours. Here and there you will signs on the trees giving you botanical explanations.

Shangri Lao Tour

Down at the Nam Khan River, a luxury bamboo raft is waiting to take you back. Have a coffee break, relax and watch the traditional village life of farmers and fishermen along the river. Slowly floating down the river, the relaxing 1.5 hour journey, plus an optional 30 min stop at the Tad Sae Waterfall, will bring you back to the camp.

You can book the tour in Vientiane with Diethelm Travel. Email them or just pass by the office at Nam Phou Square. Telefon (+856-21) 213 833 and 215 920.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Monday, May 9, 2011

Lao Short Movies

I saw today some of the short movies from the last Vientianale. Frankly, I was disappointed. Only the animation movie is something you show at a film festival. All other movies are nice, but not for international festivals. This is exactly my concerns with festivals. You take what you get, then you give awards, because that's what the festival is about.
But does it help to give an awards to a movie that is just not good? How does this help?
There will be workshops at the Vientianale, I hope they will take Lao film making further up the road.
I think the biggest problem is creativity and story writing. I hope Filmcamp Laos will be helpful with this.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Cross cultural understanding promotion in Laos

My Lao teacher came to me and told me about writing an essay with the topic above. We went into a chat about what Cross cultural understanding means.
For me, it is the respect of others cultural background. It also means, that if you live in different country, you have to be a bit open about different cultural behavior.

After one year, I can speak Lao on a very basic level, but at least I can, I know how to cook sticky rice and laap as well as Bamboo soup, I went to a Lao wedding, to my neighbors birthday, a Lao friends birthday and celebrated Pi Mai with our Lao neighborhood. I don't say I am an expert in Lao culture, but I try to adapt a bit and to learn. That does not mean that I will forget where I am coming from.

So what about the other culture? Are my Lao friends enjoying foreigner parties and food? Unfortunately not that much. It seems that especially food is an issue. I am not talking about German food, even Vietnamse food seems to be an obstacle. My friends stay with their food. And with their Lao music. And with their language. It seems still hard to get closer as a foreigner.

I still don't give up.

Momordic cochinchinnensis or Wonder fruit or Gac

From Wikipedia: Momordica cochinchinensis is a Southeast Asian fruit found throughout the region from Southern China to Northeastern Australia.It is commonly known as gac, from the Vietnamese gấc (pronounced [ʒə́k]) or quả gấc (quả meaning "fruit"). It is known as mùbiēguǒ (木鳖果) in Chinese, and variously as Baby Jackfruit, Spiny Bitter Gourd, Sweet Gourd, or Cochinchin Gourd in English. The fruit contains by far the highest content of beta-carotene of any known fruit or vegetable.