Thursday, January 23, 2014

4. Vientiane

This morning I went to the Center of Medical Rehabilitation Hospital at the Ministry of Health. 

The hospital also has workshops within it's compound where handicapped workers manufacturer all kinds of prosthetic devices replacing missing arms and legs. Also wheelchairs are produced here. 

The little museum in the hospital is equally impressive and explains the history of this tortured country. Laos is the most bombed country in the world by capita in history. 2 million tons of ordnance were dropped by U.S. planes on the country between 1964*) and 1973, and still 25% of Laotian villages are contaminated with unexploded bombs. 

Numerous people including children still are loosing their lives or limbs.

*) In 1963 the United States signed an international agreement that Laos would remain independent and no military of any country would be based in Laos. One year later the U.S. airbases in northern Laos were constructed. In the same year the bombing raids on Laos were started, called "Operation Steel Tiger" and "Tiger Hound". They lasted until 1973.

Cluster bombs, or how they are called here: "bombies". They consist of steel ball bearings, the effective explosive radius is about 30 meters.

Top left: A "bombie" with trip wires, it acts as a landmine.

Worker in wheelchair workshop.

New wheelchairs

The work of COPE (Cooperative Orthotic and Prosthetic Enterprise NGO) here at the hospital is worth mentioning in the blog. Maybe some of my readers get interested and support the great work and activities of COPE in this country.

Many possibilities to contribute to their efforts to fight the consequences of unexploded ordnance are available on their web site:

Vientiane, the capital of Laos, is a relatively small city. The onslaught of today's car traffic is just to much for this provincial town. Everybody wants to drive a car, and the many used car dealerships remind me of the years directly after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the unification of both Germanys. People who can afford it want to be in a car, and these need to be accommodated. The quaint town struggles with this issue a lot.

The most beautiful Buddhist wat in town is Wat Si Saket, built in 1818 in a Siamese temple style. It is one of the few structures remaining after the destruction of the city by Thai armies that sacked Vientiane in 1827. 
The Thai forces were impressed by the architectural style they were familiar with and left the buildings intact. The French Protectorate government restored the large ensemble twice during their reign.

The temple cloister arcade holds thousands of bronze and silver Buddha statues of all sizes. It is a beautiful site.

Outside of the temple one can buy all kinds of secret roots, lotions and potions. The only root I can identify is ginger, and what the friendly girl explains otherwise I can't understand.

Amulets are also available. I feel so sorry that early on in the trip I lost my little Buddha amulet which I got at Wat Saket ("Golden Mountain") in Bangkok.

Central Post Office Vientiane.

Going on a trip.

At the open air pet shop.

Pet fish store.

The black cat studies the fish in the bottles with great interest.

There are no supermarkets or other grocery stores here in Laos. Everything is purchased in the open air markets distributed across town, or such as in this case, directly from a truck which arrived from the countryside.

Selling from the truck.

Wat Si Saket.

Old lady enters the wat.

I saw this very skinny, limping  cat on the street and had to get her a can of tuna. She truly enjoys the unexpected delicacy. How such a small cat can eat so much tuna.

What is unfortunate is the architectural expression of the newer government or cultural buildings here. In strong contrast to the fine, yet very few remaining buildings of the French Protectorate period they are not only characterized by a lack of scale but are also strikingly ugly.

Below we see the Laos National Culture Hall. It is a gift by the Chinese government and was designed by Chinese state architects in the late 1990s.

But also other newer buildings are of unfortunate in their ugliness, such as the Presidential Palace, designed by local architect Khamphoung Phonekeo, construction began in 1973, completed in 1986. It is closed to the public.

Tomorrow morning I will leave Vientiane on Highway 13 to the south. The route follows loosely the Mekhong river. 

Some 1,300 kilometers later I will be back in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

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