Friday, November 25, 2005

Life Goes On, and on, and on...

Still at it, working away like busy bees. Spent a lot of productive time working with Khampha. The CDEA is his baby, and the tasks he gives us are things we can get our teeth into. Set- tasks, actual pieces of work.

So now we are experts in Renewable Energy and Biomass, as we have had to become. We are working on the Asia Pro Eco Project, funded by the European Commission, and a partnership between Asia and Europe. The CDEA, or at least Khampha scored a big one here. A diagnostic feasibility study of RE potential in the whole of Laos. We have been writing most of the documentation for it, from questionnaires and abstracts to quarterly reports.

Next we are to go out and do field studies. I worked on an NGO presentation yesterday with Joe (Khampha's assistant) while Sam went with Khampha to a test site for energy crops. This is great stuff, and one hell of an opportunity to be so heavily involved in. A steep learning curve as always.

Once again things are looking up and we are stuck as what to do. Realistically we will be leaving mid-December anyway to go to Cambodia, and we can't afford to come back to Laos, unless Lotus come up with the cash for us. So things are pretty much decided on that front. I'm sure we'll change our mind again in a few days when some Thai guy pisses us off, but at the moment things are fine.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Decision Made

After our refreshing night away (see entry below), and knowing that very soom we will be feeling down again, and that we need to move on soon anyway, and that we are planning to be in Cambodia by mid-December, and that we've had problems that will raise their head again at work, and that, and that, and that...

Basically there are a lot of reasons factorin into why we have come to a decsion. We have decided that we are going to finish working for the CDEA after the big international seminar on the 5th to the 7th of December. So that starts 2 weeks on Monday. We will help them work towards that, get through it. Then on the weekend after we will head down to Pakse and Paksong, do the south of Laos. Go to the coffee grwoing region, go to the 4000 islands, and all that.

Then we will head into Cambodia to meet Huw and Brendon on some beach somewhere, around the 20th-ish. I think. We'll stick in the Lotus bid, and if successful then we can always come back to Laos after we have been to Oz. Plus we volunteer work lined up in Oz. We can't spend much more time living above the office, is mainly the reason for needing to get away. We can't afford not to live above the office though. Bit of a Catch 22 situation. So we have set a final date, and if Lotus are willing to pay us to come back then fine. As if they do we could afford to rent a house for a year, have our own space. Not having to share with a middle-aged Thai man Monday to Friday!

We've talked about it and decided that we will tell them next week. Then we all know where we stand, and Sam and I will feel a lot better about things.

Burn The Plastic

Things being a pain as their have been recently, we decided that we needed to get away from the office. We needed space, and not to be sleeping at opposite ends of the room with a partician wall between us, as we have been for the past month.

So we decided to spend last night in a hotel, hence the 'burn the plastic' of the title. You've got to do these things every now and then, just to keep your sanity. And maintain your relationship.

So we looked in Lonely Planet and noticed that THE place to stay in Vientiane was the Settha Palace Hotel, which we pass quite often as we travel around the city. In fact its only 10 minutes wal away from us. An old colonial building with only 29 rooms, its been beautifully restored, this was the place for us. Cheaper than the bigger hotels, and with more character. So we booked in and spent the night pottering around the hote and our room. We even got to have a bath, something we've not done for months. Watched movies on the TV and eat in the al la carte restuarant. Great stuff.

It was still a bit weird though. We put the bill on the visa card, so it didn't dent our budget. However think about it is a bit of a mind twister. We spent the equivilent of 2 weeks budget on 1 night. Each meal cost as much as we'd pay here in 1 night out, however wouldn't have even bought a couple of beers in the UK. At around $10-$15 a meal (5-7 quid), we were really splashing out. In total with taxes, services charges and wine I think the food bill came to about $50 (25 quid). A couple of drinks down the pub in the UK, and the same standard of meal and service in a posh UK hotel would have probably set us back way over a 100 quid, if not nearer 200. In fact the whole experience was less than what we'd pay for an al la carte meal in the UK, never mind the beautiful room, afternoon drinks, all the freebies we loaded into our bag, etc...

One thing we did decide, is not to tell the CDEA staff what we did. They wouldn't understand. Considering what we spent is double a Project Managers monthly salary, and in Lao terms more than many peoples annual income. We blew in 1 night the average of 6 months income for the average Laos family. Now that's a mind twister.

Anyway, we feel a lot better. Sleeping in a decent bed was amazing. With air-con and everything. You forget how harsh our conditions are here, compared to what we are used to normally.

It's Sunday now. And we have just come home to dump our over-night bag. Next we are heading into town for breakfast, or more brunch by the time we get there. We've got to take back some movies we rented, and will probably pick-up some more. Watching VCDs is a cheap night in, and after the splurge we'll need some cheap nights in.

Check out the hotel we stayed at...

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Oh And Another Thing

We are looking for other volunteer work because of all the stuff that has been going on. But time is not on our side anymore, as we head for Cambodia in about a month. Plus we want to see the south of Laos.

We are putting ourselves out there, emailing some of the NGOs. Seeing what kind of response we get. We can always come back to Laos after we have done the other stuff we want to do. Things like hit a beach (how we want some beach time), just carry on with our travels really, go see Mum and Dad in Oz. Oz! We have some more volunteering opportunities lined-up there, so why we are stressing about all this stuff that has been going on I don't know.

We need to move on. This trip is a once-in-a-lifetime thing, so we don't want it screwed-up by other peoples petty behaviour.

Running Out Of Titles And Patience

I did write a whole rant about Sombat (the Thai Guy). He'd been on our case again about not knowing how to use the English language. It's getting silly now, even down to him saying that we don't know how to spell 'maybe'. Apparently, according to him it should be 'may be'. Which is news to me, I've been wrong all my life. Here am I 36 years old and am now only just learning to use my own native language. Thank you Sombat for such an insight... You pedantic pathetic little man. Well not so little really, he's over-fed and thankfully over-there. However we think he maybe (or should that be 'may be') coming over here at the weekend.

He's probably coming to give us English lessons. Or more likely to kick us out of the office. Seeing how we aren't staying at the CDEA's office, the CDEA doesn't even have an office. The office belongs to FIAM, the other so-called CDEA office is a civil servants office in one of the Prime Minister's Office. Oh and apparently there is another 'CDEA' office we discovered last week. This in fact is the office of CODI, another organisation the Khanthone works, for most of the time it seems. In fact I worked out yesterday that the address on the CDEA headed paper is in fact Khanthone's home address.

There are many other things we are discovering that do not gel together. Although we maybe wrong on some of it, but you know instincts and all that, they count for a lot. In fact I'm very rarely wrong on such matters. Shady dealings definitely. We have read many of the funding bids, and the figures just don't add up. In-kind contributions that don't exist, Dr Khansome is at a loss with much of it, and he's supposed to be the project manager. I don't know, like I say it all seems a bit fishy. It could be perfectly innocent, just bad accounting or poor administration. Or am I just making excuses here?!

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Sombat Is A #@$*!

He's at it again. Another out-of-order email arrived today, telling us we can't do any work. Also ask us to tell him what we have been doing for the last 5 years. He really has it in for us, and we don't know why. This is getting all too much, we are piggies-in-the-middle of this whole political ball-game. It is not good, and we don't know what to do next.

We want to work with the CDEA, but he's doing his best to push us out. So, so, so angry! How dare the twat question our work, when he's been lording it up in Thailand the whole time we have worked here. He doesn't have a clue as to what we have or have not done.

If this goes on then we be forced to leave, and all our NGO mates are going to want to know why?! Not good for the CDEA. Him and his stupid power gamesm the guy needs to grow up and and wake-up to what the needs of the organisation are, not his over-inflated ego. ARSE!!!

Saturday, November 12, 2005


We nearly walked off the job yesterday! Sombat the Thai advisor sent us an email. Among the totally disrespectful crap he wrote he told us that we couldn't use English, that we didn't have the right 'vocabualties' (sic). Twat! How dare someone verging on illiterate when it comes to a command of the English language tell two native speakers that they don't know how to use their own language. Angry doesn't even come near to how we felt. He'd really over-stepped the mark.

He also over-stepped his position. He told us we couldn't write anything for the CDEA and the we had got it wrong on some points we'd made. Namely that the composting project was not a CDEA project, but a LUSEA project. We checked this. Firstly the great big bloody sign outside the project has the CDEA logo slapped all over it, and secondly we had a copy of the original bid stating it was a CDEA project.

So today when Khanthone came with breakfast, as he usually does on a Saturday morning, we brought this up with him. Showed him the email, told him we had been disrespected, and that if Sombat (the fat twat) was telling people that project that were CDEA, weren't, then he was bringing shame on the CDEA. He told us not to worry, that he was the boss and what he says goes. Sombat had no right to tell us such things.

The reality we think is that Sombat feels that his nose is being pushed out by us being there, and that we are achieving things he hasn't been able to, particularly when it comes to making connections with the NGOs. I mean that's the easy bit. You go in Stickys, as we did last night, and they are all getting slaughtered on the Happy Hour cocktails. Or at least the Brit NGO lot we hang out with are. We sounded off to Jamie from MAG about the whole thing, he put things into perspective for us. It's becoming a regular Friday night thing to do. Go down to Stickys and sound-off about how work is driving you mad.

Anyway it's the weekend now, so time to chill-out. Just got back from town, got some vid's to watch, sorted!

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Japanese Drumming

We went to the Lao Cultural Hall last night to see the Japanese drumming. It was to celebrate 50 years of relations between Lao and Japan. As a free event there were many people there, from diplomats and goverment officials to homeless street kids. The guy who did the show was amazing. The strength and power was outstanding, as he drummed on huge drums bigger than a man, at fantastic speeds. We were glad that we had got to go, as to see something like this back in the UK, would only happen in London and would cost a fortune.

The show had top be seen to be appreciated, and I would suggest to anyone that gets an opportunity to see it should go. The skill fo this guy and his partrner who cam on to do the double drumming was impressive to say the least.

Today, it's back to the daily work with the CDEA. Working as advisors to them is a challenge at times, as I have said before, but we seem at the moment to be getting somewhere. The organisational Mission Statement is all but finished, needed a tweak. We are next to work on the long-term strategy for the organisation. Alongside this we have just finished the 2nd phase project proposal for the expansion of the schools project, and am about to start work on the 2nd phase project proposal for the Organic Composting and Organic Farming project. Oh, and not to forget the Community Resource Centre project proposal we have been working on as well.

Keeping busy, making links with the large NGOs here in Lao also. Lots of meetings with Country Directors, trying to help them to understand the position of the Lao based not-for-profit oragnisations. Our time maybe limited here if we do not get sponsership to stay longer, so we are aware that the clock is ticking. Plus when we finish here and eventually get to Oz, we start again with the support work for the Aboriginal Community in Darwin. So out of the frying pan into the fire, maybe a suitable phrase to use.

Mo from has been working on the Blue International website. Still very much under construction, but considering he is busy as webmaster for thisisull, and we can only communicate sporadically by email, things are coming along well. If anyone is interested in seeing the Under Construction site then visit to have a look.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Office Party!

Every night almost is an office party at work. They have a drink of beer every night, I can't think of a time when they have not. Last night was a bit of a session though. Bounhong started it, by getting in the beers early. It was about 4.00pm that we started. It went on from there.

People stuck around longer than normal, we stuck on some music, and we were off. There was a little bit of dancing, a lot of laughing, and some Karaoke thrown-in for good measure. Mr Saner has loaded this Karaoke program onto our computer. It contains thousands of songs, we want to get a copy, as it's so much fun to be had. Particularly after a few drinks.

Tonight is the cultural night. It was a different kind of cultural night last night! Tonight is more high-brow, tonight is the Japanese Drumming thing at the Lao Cultural Hall. All meeting at the office at 6.00pm, then grab a drink in town (probably Khop Chai Deu) and then off to the gig. Should be a good crack.

Khanthone at his desk working, notice the glass of beer next to him! Posted by Picasa

Rich with Khampasong and Bounhong. Posted by Picasa

What a double act, Bounhong and Khampasong. Posted by Picasa

Usual Beerlao after work (in the office), Khampasong, Sam and Supong Posted by Picasa

From left to right, Kay, Sam, Rich, Noi and Dr Khansome Posted by Picasa

Monday, November 07, 2005


We had productive meeting today with the Country Director of Concer Worldwide. They have been looking for in-roads to the NPA's. So us presenting ourselves to them was fortuatous. They want to support with training, which is exactly what the CDEA need. Also they have some possible partnership workl that they want to do with the CDEA. So all round a good meeting.

Khampha the Vice President turned up, and dropped some work on us. Great! At last something to get our teeth into. So we are working on a funding bid the Ford Motor Company (spit!), for would you believe it, an environmental project. It must be guilt that their gas guzzlers are destroying the world. Throwing some money at imporverished countries for environmental projects, to ease their minds. So that is the bid we are writing for the CDEA at the moment. We need some photographic evidence to go with it, which is cool. It means we get to visit the school that has started composting, and get some piccys. Always good to get out of the city and into the country for a bit.

He also wants us to write a second phase project proposal for the successful Organic Composting project that is running at the moment. That is a slightly bigger task. We are just about done writing up the proposal for a Community Resource Centre here in Laos. Khanthone has just took away the summary we did to go over, and make any amendments that he wants. We busy little puppies at the moment. It seems to go like that. Twiddling your thumbs one minute, up to your neck in it the next.

Tomorrow we get a bit of your proper culture, like! We're going to the Lao Cultural Hall to see some hardcore Japanese Drumming. We asked Kako (Khanthone's son) and his girlfriend along. Should be a good night. We've wanted to go the Cultural Hall for a while, but not had the opportunity. Apart from that life in Vientiane carries on as usual. We are still putting ourselves out there, doing our best to make a bit of a wave, so that when it comes to applying for work once our travels are over, we'll be remembered. Out of all this madness there maybe a job! That is what we keep telling ourselves. By the time we are finished, we will have a good enough grasp of Lao language, we're already 'culturally sensitive', and everyone will know our name. Or at least remember the two mad Brit's trying to push forward the development of civil society in a still communist engrained country.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

A Novel Enterprise

I've started to write a book. I've been thinking about it for a while, formulating a narrative, characters, sub-plots and alike. Sam and I have even spent nights talking about the twists and turns, what should happen to the main character and the moral that the story should impart.

Now I feel ready to start putting words down. I don't want to give much away at this point. It's about loss in many ways. Inspired by the huge number of lost people I've come across while traveling. It's also about difference, cultural and personal, how being in close proximity to difference for long enough leaves an indelible mark on a person. I'm waffling, I'll just write it and then let people judge.

Another idea is to write about our volunteering experience. There are characters here you couldn't make-up. In fact if we tried to explain the kind of people we have come across, people would say, "Your making it up!" From the failed priest whose an orchid collecting development worker, through to, the ex-doctor to the Prime Minister office, who spent time in prison as a political prisoner and was forced to renounce his faith. Oh, and he'd also been in the army, and is the most mild mannered man I have ever met in my life. He's not sure why he was arrested for being a political activist, it just happened as he was about to leave the country for America. We discover more and more about this man day by day. Fasinating!

Then there's the comedy double act. They are something else in themselves. Particularly when one keeps shouting the other in English all the time. He then will drop into French, back to English and start pointing at everything that isn't tied down trying to explain what everything is in Lao language. He leaves our head in a spin, but always with a smile on our face.

Well in some way or another all these people will be appearing as characters a book. Whether its the comedic true-story of our time here, or the semi-fictional story that I've just started. It's all too precious not to put down for others to read.

Pros and Cons and What To Do

This week was interesting but also a hard week at work. It ended with a large monthly NGO meeting, that Mr Khanthone was suupposed to be coming to, to give a presentation. He bottled it! He sent Khansome instead, who wasn't prepared, so made us and the oragnisation look like a bunch of muppets. Sam and I were not happy. It wasn't Khansome's fault, he was given all of 2 minutes notice. What annoyed us was that his phone kept going off during the meeting, Khanthone ringing him. Also that Khanthone wasn't too busy to come and pick us up after the meeting, but too busy to attend.

Not happy puppies we declined the offer of the lift and grabbed a tuk-tuk into the old town to see our friends. We went back to TT Guest House and saw Joy. We have not seen him since we left, so it was good to catch-up. He makes us laugh so much. I mentioned before the 'lady-boy but different' quote, whioch was his way of describing a lesbian. Well we have a new one for the Joy list of cracking quotes. We were talking about a bar called Samlo (whose symbol is a BIKE TAXI), which we have been in a couple of times. He mentioned he no longer went there as it had a bad reputation. We said we knew what he meant, as there are a lot of girls hanging off various fat falang. He confirmed this with the line, 'yes a lot of TAXI GIRLS go in there, you know what I mean?' Yes we did, and now taxi-girls goes into the vocabulary as a new term for working-girls, ladies-of-the-night, prostitutes.

After we left Joy we headed down to Sticky's, spending the rest of the night proping up the bar with teh Brit NGO workers, so we could have a damn good moan about the week we had had. Lao Style is starting to wear thin. We feel that we maybe fighting a loosing battle to get these people to anywhere near international working practices. We will keep trying for the next month at least, if we are still getting nowhere, then we will reconsider our options.

Thursday, November 03, 2005


Yesterday we were present a a training session on producing organic fertiliser from fruit and veg matter. The men craeted one with the veg and the women with the fruit. Why it was like this we still not sure, it just was that way. It was really good to see them encouraging farmers to stop using chemical fertilisers and pesticides. The only down side was that the training took place at the site of the CDEA's trail composting project, which happens to be next to the city dump. The flies drove us insane!

Afterwards we went orchid hunting. Illegal all over the world I think, but we were taken down a dirt track to seek these flowers out. The road was more off-road than on-road, with pot-holes that dipped down a good 3-4 feet. It was hard going in the pick-up truck we were in.

Soon we came to a village, words were exchanged and we all got out. What happened next was surreal, and couldn't be written if you tried. We visited house after house, taken all over to meet people who grew orchids. They apparently go into the jungle collect them and then cultivate them. This was an orchid village! The Thai people we were with were going crazy, and ended up buying dozens of different types. In fact the guy who shares our 'dorm' Monday through until Friday has over 200 varieties at home. A hobby that I thought only had a place in eccentric and wealthy British society presented itself to me in the middle of a run-down village in Laos.

Today we went to a lovely farming village, where they are growing everthing organically, using the compst and techniques they have learnt from the CDEA. It was great wandering around seeing the paddy fields, veg patches, mushroom growing shed and all the many animals they grow on these farms. Amazing to see that the rice grown organically not only looked better and was much taller than the chemically treated stuf, it tasted fantastic. The rice had a delicate nutty taste, far better than the usual bland crap that is chemically fed. Anyway, everyone ended up coming back with bags of mushrooms, rice, and veg. Khampasong even bought some rabbits for his kids as pets, which was good, seeing how they would have gone for food. The farmer can sell up to 200 rabbits a month, at around $1.50 a piece. That in itself is a good income for him, aside from the other cash crops he produces, all organic. Strange that they are being re-taught traditional farming methods, that work so much better than modern methods, and are far cheaper in the long run.