Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Time to say "Good Bye Laos"

Tuktuk When I came to Laos I had no idea about my future home. Although I was here as a tourist about 13 years ago, I lost most memories beside Luang Prabang and Phonesavanh. But since it was the 4th country to live, I wasn't expecting anything. My basic rules to survives as an expat: Don't expect anything, be open and don't look back. Settling down was kind of easy, I started learning Lao by book first, then with my teacher Noot (I was actually her first student): She took me to an acceptable level of Lao - but I was caught by the plateau problem, what means you stay on a certain and mostly low level. Anyway, it was enough to start communications with my Lao neighbours. I cannot thank my puan ban enough: Metu Champa, Kiao, San, Khuan, Joy, Noy, Ung, Jee and Mai are wonderful and kind people. Without them, life wouldn't have been as good as it was here. As a member of the Barcamp movement, I was lucky enough to had John Berns here for his visa run a month after I moved to Laos. He suggested to schedule a Barcamp meeting - three days later we had already an organisation committee. At this event I met my friend Nin, at this time still more into IT than film making, but that changed a lot. He is one of the people I admire the most and I am proud and honoured that he worked with me on my award winning short movie "Forever". I also got in contact with Day, Os, Air, Thip and Manichanh - still people I call friends in Laos. I turned a bit from IT to film, mainly to just try to organize a film camp - and it was successful. It was just once, but my mission is to plant the seed, and maybe water it a bit. This years Barcamp 2013 is organised solely by the Lao team - time to move on. The film camp got me in touch with the film community, and I was pleased to meet people like Anysay Keola, Thon, Thou, Kino, Ding, Hans, Chris and Mattie as well as Bounchao, the director of the Cinema Department and Gabriel Kuperman, Director of the Luang Prabang Film Festival. To fulfil my parents wish I studied economy after I finished my civil service, and although I changed to history and politics later, economy is always a topic of interest for me. I attended the Webwednesdays in Saigon a lot, a gathering for the internet marketing community. Since Vientiane was lacking of informal events like that, I started the Laos Business Meeting. It lasted at least 6 month, but then less participants were attending and I decided to stop it. I still think Vientiane needs it, maybe it was too early for me. So, what will I take with me and what will I leave behind in Laos? I take some language skills I can use in Thailand, a big plus. Also, cultural differences are not that big, Laos prepares me quite good for the move. I have good memories and experiences. I also got insights to the life of average Lao people in the city - something many foreigners rarely get. And I got even more convinced that the international aid business is just a business, but not designed to make a significant change. Laos, as most developing countries, is in this situation because of the way it's ruled. This system proved to be wrong in most countries in the world, and the opening in Vietnam, China and Laos to markets shows I am right. Also, as long as eduction, and it's core, the curriculum, isn't changed radically, Laos will remain a developing country. Teachers need to change their rules and behaviour, and students need to understand how important learning is (not the certificate). Finally, I learned a lot about the so called Lao culture. While it is important for any society to preserve it's heritage, culture is used quite often as an excuse for avoiding change. Unfortunately this is supported by a lot of NGOs as well. Arts never really developed, creativity isn't known here and so is invention. Laos has very few patents, and science is still in it's infancy. Laos doesn't need more farmers nor MBAs, it needs people with skills, with passion and commitment. My advice to the 20 somethings in Laos: Quit school or college, learn and PRACTISE English and/or Chinese, travel around Asia and get experience in foreign companies. I will be just an hour by flight away from Laos, so I am pretty sure I will come back from time to time (and if it is only for the food I like so much). But I am looking forward to Bangkok, to be in a much more developed environment. I don't blame Lao people for the status of the country, but personally, there are not many (intellectual) challenges for me. Since I want to do more in the film business, I think Thailand has more to offer. Laos has become a home country for a certain type of falang we know from Pattaya and the Isaan and we tried to avoid. There is a certain risk that you start lower your standards, sometimes just because you have to (just say: Mahosot). It is also still a playground for too many NGOs (and foreign aid agencies) who want to make change, but only in small projects. As long as you work close with those who are causing the problem, you can't solve it. Last but not least, the decision to move is based on the promotion of my wife Nataly. She got a new job at Diethelm Travel in the head office in Bangkok. So we will leave Laos for good, but with no regrets. Khop Chai Lai Lai, and Sok Dee Lao. Below a video of Anouxay and Sukhan playing Lao and Western guitar. Sukhan was our guard, but he and his family became good friends. I will miss them a lot.

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