Thursday, July 26, 2012

Fish soup Lao style

Just achieved another goal: Making fish soup Lao style (Sup pa). Lets start with the ingredients:
1 whole fresh fish fresh from the market, killed and cleand, but not cut
Spring onion
cherry tomatoes
Pak nag thu (look a bit like basil)
Mak nam (looks like something between cucumber and green eggplant)
Fish sauce
Fresh chili

Bring 1.5 liter to boil, add seasoning and ginger. Let it boil for 10 minutes.In the meantime cut the fish into 4-5 cm wide slices. Add to the soup, and let it boil. You can also add the roots of the coriander, gives it more taste. Cut Chili and add to the soup. Cut the Mak nam and add as well. Let it boil on medium heat, but do NOT stir. Wait another 10 minutes. Add fish sauce and salt to taste. Add then tomatoes (whole or in quarters), spring onion and Pak Nang Thu. Let is boil some more 5 minutes.
You can add kaffir lime leafs if you like. Can be served with steamed rice on the side.

Thanks to my friend Noy, who showed me how to make it.

Sunday, July 22, 2012


this is more than a pothole, about a meter in diameter. near wat simuang

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Fancy football field and swimming pool just opened

There is hope for soccer players and pool lovers: about 500 meter from the Singapore Embassy (Ban Thadua) opened the new New Arena, a sportsfield with two indoor soccer fields (refering to the size, they are actually outdoor, but protected by a huge roof). There is also a swimming pool available, for 37.000 KIP a day, what is more than reasonable. As the rule is "New is always good" give it a try.

(Pictures soon)

Child labor in Laos

You don't have to go far to see child labor in Laos. It is sometimes right in front of you. Two days ago, suddenly some people showed up in our street and started digging a small rift on both sides of the street. When I asked my Lao neighbors what they do I was told they renew the fresh water pipes. So far so good. A short time after I took a closer look, and saw actually kids digging the dirt up. They were not more the 10 year old. The whole crew seemed to be Hmong people. My neighbors explained to me it is a family business which was contracted by the village chief office.

This opens the question how far a family business can go. It is school break now, so maybe the kids just helping out. But is hard work the right thing to do? How about other family businesses? Where does helping out ends and when does exploiting starts? It is a difficult question to answer. Personally I would say: Hard work isn't for kids unter 16 years, and school always comes first.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

The shame of Laos: Thalat Sao Mall 2

It is hard to avoid all the advertisements these days about the latest projects. The most prominent on the riverside is called the glory of Laos. 

Let's go back a few years. With big news announced was the Thalat Sao Mall 2. It was supposed to host shops, a Big C supermarket, a cinema, a hotel and parking space. Schedule for being opened was the 450 year celebrations. The schedule totally failed. The whole project is a symbol for mismanagement, incompetence, probably corruption and the planning chaos that seems to be the standard for projects in Laos.

There is no hotel, not cinema, no parking space. When you arrive better cover your ears because some idiot high decorated architect decided it might be a good idea to design the exhauster of the air condition in a way it would replicate perfectly the sound of a starting Airbus 380 turbine - and to direct this sound to the shopping mall entrance. Once you enter, you may see signs leading to a Big C supermarket, but there is just a very empty floor. Someone just doesn't like to have Big C in town (what doesn't really bother Big C, since hundreds if not thousands of Laotians carry the money to Udonthani every weekend. Saves Big C to ship the goods to Laos).

The selection of shops clearly shows that there is not concept. In the basement floor it smells like in a shoe factory, and the reason are cheap crappy chinese products. Even most of the sellers are Chinese.
First floor is partly occupied by some banks and wanna-be-brands, and third floor is the gold sellers floor (a magnet for shopping malls, for sure..)

As if this isn't enough, if you use the escalators (actually a surprise they are still working) and made it through the piles of trash and garbage between the floors, you may reach the recently moved food court. It looks a bit like i a zombie apocalypse movie: Concret floor, concrete ceiling, clearly a floor that wasn't build but nobody had any idea for what. It has the charme of a parking lot (wait, was it meant to be one?).

Some dirty food stalls around some equally dirty looking tables, a few fans accelerating the flies, and a very strong smell of something cooked with a lot of fish sauce: Welcome to the shame of Laos.

(For the ones having problems to identify irony: I like local food and eat from food stalls on the street. I actually built one. But in a shopping mall I expect something different, partly because I have to pay more there).

Friday, July 13, 2012

Warranty Lao style

I bought a headset in a Lao shop. He: "O,h good, it still has warranty". Me: "Of course, I just bought it." He: "No, warranty started when I bought it in Thailand".

Monday, July 9, 2012

Lao written language and it's future

My friend Divon who works for Google has written a - maybe a bit controversial - post about the future of minor written languages: Life and Death of Written Languages

Lao (national language of Laos) - Lao people have highly nationalistic feelings when it comes to their language, in particular in light of the historical animosity with Thailand (Thai and Lao languages are fairly similar, and Thailand's population is 11 times bigger). However, in practice, a large majority of all television programming, music, books and magazines are imported from Thailand. When you sit in a coffeeshop in Vientiane, you notice the young and educated Lao elite, exactly the ones that are supposed to be the content creators, reading Thai websites, and creating Facebook content - in Thai. Lao is still a strong language, and all locally created offline content in Laos is in Lao - but the warning is written on the wall. There is an urgent need to encourage much more content creation by the average Lao Internet user (not only professional journalists) in Lao language - or else as all written content moves online and offline content because negligible - a process bound to happen within the coming five years - Lao risks losing its status as a written language and becoming a verbal language only.

Hillary Clinton visits Laos

Hillary Clinton US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at RA Presidential House © PanARMENIAN Photo/ Davit Hakobyan/CC-BY-SA

So big news in town: US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will visit Laos. Or better: She will make a stop here, since she is on a Asia tour anyway. Why she visits Laos? Beside the official statements (there was a invitation from the Lao government), there are two reasons, one is strategic, one is bilateral. Let's talk about the bilateral aspect first.

Since the Lao government opened the country more to the west, relationships between the former enemies became better and better. The main reason for Laos is that it needs assistance in UXO cleaning and since the Americans dropped the bombs they are the first to ask to clean up the mess (what they actually do, but with certain limits). Laos also needs donors for development, and for the US it is a easy way to pay the guilt. And last but not least for a small developing country is it very important to have any relations with any of the G20 countries - a bit sunshine that blinks into the shadow. So Laos isn't much important for the US, but the US is important for Laos.

But there is also the strategic factor. Chinas influence in Laos is visible everywhere, from construction in the capital to mining in the countryside. In the last 3 years more and more Chinese investors showed up - and more and more state representatives. The US gov is shifting it's interest from the middle east to Asia, actively looking for allies. Vietnam can be one, Thailand is on the wish-list (although there was a setback with the recent NASA disaster), Cambodia is interesting, and Myanmar important. All this is done to prevent too much dominance of China. Southeast Asia has become the strategic most important region in the power struggle between China and USA. So Clintons visit to Laos means basically: "Hey China, we are here too".

 Unfortunately the US foreign politics is still dominated by old thinking generals. Power means military power. China is taking a different path: Instead of soldiers they are sending businessmen (Vietnam copied that). Most of the Chinese investments are actually done by state owned companies, so in fact it is the government of China renting or leasing a lot of prime real estate and having permission for certain mining rights etc.

 For Laos it can be an advantage to be in the middle, once it is balancing the two powers and getting the most out of it. It may boost development, when more US money is flowing in. Also, the strong ties with Vietnam, not a big fan of China, may help to prevent too much Chinese influence.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Planting trees, leaving rubbish

Today the community (not sure from the village or somewhere else) went out to do something good. Saving the planet is always good, and one way is planting trees. Unfortunately they (at least the ones planting legt from the Anouvong statue) couldn't get the whole picture about saving the environment. For example, plastic bags are NOT good for mother earth. Due to this lack of education (no NGO responsible?) they just left it next to the tree. May it grow well!

New signs at Chao Anouvong park

After complaints that the park is full of garbage, the administration acted accordingly. They installed signs. (Not banner, this time) "Keep clean", and "dont walk on the gras". Since there are no benches (maybe the money for them went somewhere else) and Lao people like the experience of nature, everyone was sitting on the gras until now. To much fun, may have someone thought. So, please watch the gras, but don't touch it.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

New Hotel on riverside is growing

it looks like the Hotel project on the Riverside is going faster than I expected. The Chinese companies is really rushing and it seems they may finish it indeed in November.

Leaving your car at Udonthani Airport for some days

So you are planning a trip to Bangkok and decided to book one of the cheap Airasia or Nok Air flights instead the overpriced Lao Airlines? Good decision, because you may even save time with immigration since it works on the Friendship-Bridge still faster than Suvarnabhumi Airport. Going to Udonthani is easiest with your own car. But where to leave it? At the airport. Just pass by the terminal and an the end turn right. You see some parking slots with a plastic roof, there is also a car wash. There you just look for an empty slot, a parking guard will give you a ticket and - surprise - will put a chain with a padlock on the car. It is actually a quite easy and smart way to make sure it won't get stolen too easy. Costs are 3 USD a day, you pay at the limousine counter in the terminal upon arrival, showing the parking ticket.