Tuesday, June 23, 2015

The first Arts camp in Laos

The camp thing follows me since I am in Asia, but I called a bit for it, since I organized quite a few events, Barcamps and a Filmcamp. And I always advocated to use the Camp-Concept for other industries, for example Art. Now the dream came true to have an Arts Camp in Laos. Kelly and "Defago" Air, two good old friends from Laos, organized it.

The event was hold at a software company, mainly because it was available since Air works there. There was basically one room for all the talks, although more meeting rooms were available upstairs. Beside me and Kelly there were no other western foreigners, what is a good thing. All talks  - maybe not Kelly's - were held in Lao.

Because of the language barrier I left during the break, but for me it was more important to see if and how it worked. And the camp did very well: Full house, more tan 60 people showed up, the room was overcrowded. Sessions were about Drawing Hacks, Anime and Comics, How to do digital Art, and Graffiti. The latter was a talk and a workshop later, so people had something to physically do - something I always missed at the Barcamps.

It proved again that people can organize something by their own if you just let them. The Barcamp concept says that as long as infrastructure, in particular a venue, is the secured, the rest will follow. People are eager to learn from each other it is in the human nature. Traditional education systems oppressing it by having teachers who teach instead of sharing their knowledge.

If people from a certain profession come together, everyone has something to share. That is the fundamental principle of Camps, and it works well all over the world, and in Asia as well. Organizers just have to believe in it and step back as much as they can.

Arts Camp in Laos was probably the first one in South-East Asia, and they can be proud of it. They started something, and I can only hope that the big outcome makes it easier for a bigger Arts Camp next year, with more artists joining it.

Well done guys!!

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Restaurant Acqua: Blue is the new terracotta

Gerado Dereviziis is a well known figure in the Vientiane restaurant scene. For quite a while he ran the Aria resturant before deciding to sell his shares and open his own place just next door in 007 Rue Francois Nginn.

A few weeks ago Acqua opened. It is Italian fine dining at it's best. Luxurious interior, on of the best services available in Vientiane and still reasonable prices: Acqua made it to the top right from the start.

Still, there is a lack of high class dining in Vientiane. Le Silapa is on top as well with french cuisine, but that's basically it. The top hotel restaurants are far away down the list.

So let's get back to Acqua. You have an outside area where you can smoke and watch the tourists passing by, but I preferred to sit inside for two reasons: Aircondition and the ambience. The name Acqua is a clever choice: You still get it because its close to the English name, it also symbolises Italay somehow, and it is s synonym for freshness. As most italian restaurant trying to get you the terracotta touscany feeling, Gerado opted for blue and this was a wise decision.

His menu shows what he can dobest: Finest Italian dishes, from basics like spaghetti pomodoro to lobster and oysters. His pasta are all homemade, and so are the desserts, the ice cream and even the bread you get with the bread basket.

All ingredients he can not get at local markets he has to import, but for the sake of quality he doesn't want to make any compromises. 

While the dining area downstairs is spacious but doesn't make you feel lost, there are private rooms for functions upstairs available. 

A good restaurant owner spends a lot of time for details and so did Gerado. The toilets are 5-star-hotel standard, Chairs and tables are finest quality, air-condition is well temperated, powerplugs for energy hungry phones are available everywhere. 

Biggest issue in the Lao hospitaly industry is getting skilled staff. Gerado is facing this problem since he opend his first restaurant and he is certainly not alone. He did his best hiring a Vietnamese restaurant manager, and he made a good choice with her. You get a 5-star greeting when you approach the restaurant and propably the best restaurat service in town.

Having said this, there might be a hickup here and there in service, just due to unexperienced staff. Training in Laos is still a longterm project. 

Usually you don't go for a pizza to a fine dinign place, and Gerados other place Ai Capone just next  door on the left might be a good place for it, you still get the best pizza in town at Acqua.

So, if you want to go out for a special occasion and get best quality in food and service, pay a visit to Acqua. You will not find something better in Vientiane, still.

Reservations: 02028117888

Facebook: www.facebook.com/acqua.laos

Monday, October 13, 2014

New labour law in Laos makes it not much easier for foreigners

Today I just got a copy of the new Lao labour law, that was in discussion for quite a while and is now approved. While the official version is in Laos, an unofficial English version was spread in social media and by international organisations and companies.

In general it protects the rights of workers, even states the right of set working hours and sick leave days, but also has some articles about foreigners. One is that the work of foreigners is limited to 5 years in total, but there is a way to extend for managers and specialists.

Most important are the following articles:

Article 68 (Revised) Acceptance of Foreign Labor
Employers have the duty, when creating a staffing plan within a labor unit, to give priority
to Lao labor. However, if the demand for labor cannot be supplied by Lao nationals, the
employer has the right to request the use of foreign labor.
The ratio of acceptance of foreign labor within a labor unit must be as follows:
  1. 1. Fifteen percent of the total number of Lao laborers within a labor unit for technica experts undertaking physical labor;
  1. 2. Twenty-five percent of the total number of Lao laborers within a labor unit for technical experts undertaking mental labor.
For large projects, priority projects of the government spanning five years or under, the
use of foreign labor will be in accordance with the contract between the project owner and the government.
For foreign employees, according to professions that can be undertaken in participation
with any country, namely countries within Southeast Asia if any, they must comply with specific legislation. 
Foreign labor working in the Lao PDR will be protected and administered in accordance
with this law and other relevant regulations of the Lao PDR.

Article 69 (New) Rights and Obligations of Foreign LaborForeign workers have the following rights:
  1. Legal protection according to the laws of the Lao PDR;
  1. Equal performance to Lao labor when undertaking the same work at the same standard
  1. of labor and under the same work conditions, including salary or wages.
Foreign labor has the following obligations:
1. Respect for the laws and customs of Laos;
2. Plans for capacity building in technical knowledge among Lao workers;
3. Pay income taxes in accordance with the law;
4. Exit the Lao PDR within fifteen days after the expiration of a working contract.

Article 70 (New) Rights and Obligations of Labor Units
In the administration of foreign labor, labor units have the following rights and
  1. Advise foreign labor in complying with the laws and customs of Laos;
  1. Create an appropriate plan for capacity building and submit the plan to the Labor Administration Agency;
  1. Facilitate the exit of foreign labor from the Lao PDR upon the expiration of the employment contract and return the work permit to the Labor Administration Agency 

On of the scary parts is the creation of a capacity building plan. It isn't mention what that means specifically. You will find mentions about minimum wage, numbers of holiday and sick leave, the role of unions and the Labor Fund in the law as well.

Regarding the age of workers, the law states:

Employers may accept employees under the age of eighteen years but not younger than
fourteen years; however, they are prohibited from working overtime.
When necessary, the employer may accept and use youth employees under the age of
fourteen, but not younger than twelve years, and must ensure the work is light work such as:
1. Work that will not negatively impact the body, psychology or mind;
2. Work that will not obstruct attendance of school, professional guidance or vocational
The list of light work is specified separately

While quickly browsing through it it looks pretty straight forward  and I couldn't find any major loopholes for now. In general, laws are one thing in Laos and implementation and enforcement another. As a foreigner generally expect having no rights at all, and usually courts deciding against you. It is still an authoritarian communist country that doesn't have the civilised and developed justice system of western countries, although on paper it sometimes may look like.

You can download the PDF with the English version here.

The Lao version is available here.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

So, Vientianale, you did it again?

When I watched the winning movies from the 1st Vientianale, I was surprised that one of them use music that was for sure not self-made. It was actually from one of the biggest film score companies, and it was used without permission. That can happen, Laos isn't the frontrunner of copyright and intellectual property. So I quietly informed the organisers that there is an issue. What I got in response was not what I was expected. They blamed me as the messenger of bad news, asked me basically to shut up and kind of accused me to do harm to such a wonderful project. Yes, the Vientianale is a wonderful project, so wonderful that I participated in 2013, and even won the second prize. (I created the score by myself, thanks to software that makes it easier these days). So I was eagerly looking for this years participants and was happy to see the winner published on Facebook. Today I watched the second winner "Lost in the shadow" by Nirankoon Singpraseuth and Khampa Phimmachack, a short movie that might be the first in Laos to use CGI in this extend. Although far from Hollywood standards, I like it how they played with it and created a reasonable story. What struck me was the score: This IS Hollywood standard. It is actually made for Hollywood: The credits mention Batman and Snowwhite (not even the composers, just the movie names). The Vientianale organisers know about the problem with music and score. And they must have heard it when they watched the movie. No way this is done in Laos. It seems, they just don't care. And this shows that they understand film making in the wrong way. A movie is not just something you film with your camera. It requires a script, actors, sound and light crew, cameraman and director, producers, etc etc. And someone who takes care of the score. There are enough open sound and music archives, where you can get music and sound for free. What signals sends it when someone who stole the music not only gets away with it but gets awarded? First of all, nobody in Laos will do any efforts to create their own score and music. They cannot compete with what is just downloaded from the internet. Sound is more important than picture, because a bad sound ruins any movie, while people forgive shaky cameras and blurry screens. I expect again complains from the organisers about my criticism, since it is more important that everyone is happy than to follow the rules and educate Lao filmmakers in international standards. Below the first and third prize:

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Lao Airlines Crash in Pakse

It is the morning after the horrific news and I am still shocked. All passengers and crew members of the Lao Airlines flight from Vientiane to Pakse on October 16th died will the plane crashed in what the airline calls bad weather conditions. The teen daughter of a friend of mine was on that plane. She was on the way to Vietnam - she just had received a scholarship to study.

Lao Airlines doesn't have a bad record, and the ATR Turbo prop planes are safe and widely used in regional flights. Australian News quoted an expert who said Lao Airlines did not participate in international safety audits.

 I actually like it to fly with an ATR. The route to Pakse isn't particular difficult and the pilots are used to it. What comes into account this time was the bad weather. Tropical Storm Nari just hit Vietnam and was effecting Laos as well (but storms like this are usual as well).

Again, it isn't per se a reason to postpone all flights. But Lao Airlines cancels actually a lot of flights frequently, for several reasons. Weather is one, in particular in the south. Mining people can tell you how many times they have to use the bus because the flight were cancelled. So the question will remain, why this flight was considered safe.

The competence about flying in Laos declines within the hierarchy. That means pilots, crew and ground staff are the most competent workers, while the top management both within the airline, but also within the ministry of transportation, doesn't have a lot of skills when it comes to flying. A friend with a pilot licence once told me there isn't one person with a flying licence working in the ministry.

It is actually a miracle that Laos has just a clean record, and everyone was actually wondering why there were not accidents. Maybe because of the experienced pilots, maybe because of the limited numbers of flights. The frequency is increasing, and this increases the risk of an accident.

I hope that Laos will follow international regulations regarding the investigation of the crash. Pictures showed that the scene was kind of secured with ropes, but I wouldn't be surprised when the hundreds of spectators took debris and/or valuables they found. There is always something to learn from a crash, and thats why a proper investigation is so important. Not to blame someone in the first place, but to know why. That is also important to know for the families of those who lost their lifes.

There are some rather disturbing news that Lao authorities want to cremate all bodies before the buddhist lent ceremonies start on the weekend. I wonder how foreign families will react to this - but maybe foreigners are excluded.

My thoughts are with the families who lost there loved ones.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

A Science Show on radio in Laos!

Science isn't something that comes into ones mind when thinking about Laos. The countrys number of patents is very low - close to zero - and universities focus more on communist ideas and Lao culture than providing knowledge. The Lao education system isn't encouraging young people to be curious - it's more a shut up and write down what I just told you policy.

But this is going to change. One man seems to have enough of the lack of science news and just took things in his own hands. Virasak Viravong is a IT teacher, who is also quite interested in science himself.
So a few months ago he decided to just set up a facebook page and start posting science news. "I think Science it's very hard for general people to understanding but it's very interesting and fun. so I try to share about info that i read, listen, watch... to Laos people by created a Facebook Page name "ວິທະຍາສາດ" (facebook.com/laosci) for write a short article about Science (short, easy to read and easy to understand)", he told me via Facebook message.

 The success is already there. "I started my facebook page on 14 feb 2013 to now I've 2,800 people like the page", he counts. But it goes even further: "In July Vientiane radio Fm98.8MHz (Butterfly Radio) staff saw my page and contracted me for bring science to a radio program name "Science Talk" with the slogan "science is not something distant".

 "Science Talk" is on air every Mon-Sat, starts from 9pm to 10pm at FM98.8MHz (Vientiane Radio) with various topics such as healthy, biology, physic, Astronomy, technology, scientist biography, etc. For me this is just an amazing thing to see. I always believed (and still do) that people should take education and sharing of knowledge into their own hands. Virasak (nickname Mee) is also part of the Barcamp organizers team, and maybe it was there when he saw that you don't need superiors or much of an institution to share knowledge.

 Of course I asked him if the program is already available as podcast, but he told be the radio station doesn't even record it. But he may think about doing it himself.