Death !!

Last week I started a trip that was meant to take me from San Diego to LAX to Laos to Thailand and then back again. While we never made the entire trip, we did have a lot of fun and saw many different things while we were gone.

It is very interesting to me that it the days of jet travel that it still took us over 24 hours to reach Laos, there where many hours sitting in airports both in the US and in other countries waiting for flights to connect us to the first of many destinations we were to see. The further away we were from the US, the harder it was to communicate with anyone. At one point we wndered around the Bangkock airport for 2 hours trying to find anyone who could help us locate our gate. Thankfull we have a 6 hour layover !!

When we arrived in Laos, I was greeted with a country that was still living in the past. It took me four days to get internet access in our new hotel. Eventually we were able to secure access and 900 e-mails later I was once again a happy man. Those that know me personally know that I am not joking about the number of e-mails that I get daily. It was good to be back in touch with humanity.

Laos is a fasinating place, full of both the new and the old. We are staying in a new hotel on the banks of the Mekong river. The people are wonderful and the way of life here so different that I am still amazed at the things that I see.

Transportation is the first thing that ones finds interesting here. The main method of transport is motorcycles and mopeds. They treat their cycles live we treat SUVs back home. It is not uncommon to see 4 to 6 family members sharing a ride on a moped!! I will be posting pictures soon of this feat – so stay tuned. Many people do not wear helmets as they are not required here and when there is an accident, it is almost always fatal to the driver and riders on the cycle. We were witness to the aftermath of such an accident where a young girl driving a moped ran into a parked trailer killing her. The body was still on the ground and people were atually poking her to see if she was, in fact, dead. As if the fact she was missing a good portion of her head was not evidence enough!

5 People !!
Notice the FIVE People on this motorbike….!!!

The other thing here is the fact there there s no driving or drinking age. Any child of any age can drive or drink here. The youngest driver on a moped I saw could not have been more than 7 or 8 years old and he had a younger sister on the bike with him! A great number of kids around 12 to 14 make up a large portion of early morning drivers as they make their way to school.

The other interesting thing about traffic here is that there does not appear to be many traffic laws in general. It is not uncommon to see traffic flowing both direction down both sides of the street!! Cars, trucks and motorcycles/mopeds travel 2 or 3 abreast, passing whenever they like, many times crossing into on comming traffic to do so. I have sen only sone or two police cars here the entire time we have been here, so I am not really sure how they police the traffic.

School here is not mandatory. It is around 100,000 baht per year to send a child to school here if you want them to go. This is roughly $10 per year per child. School here is very different that at home. Most of the schools are open classrooms with no tables or chairs, with kids sitting on the ground under a roof but open to the elements. Several schools that I saw were so totally run down and in a state of disrepair as they looked like they should be condemed and torn down. Yet others appeared new and included air conditioning! The schedule for school is also quite different and it appears that it varies by the region. For the most part, kids start school around 8am and go until around 1pm, then there is a several hour break where they commute home on mopeds and bikes.

The same happens at dinner and they head back to school for an evening session, heading home in the evening. They do this 5 days per week. Many families choose to send their young boys to a Budda temple for education. There, like a military academy, they live, work and learn. Some will stay, but again like military academys, many are there for the education and move on to a regular life once their school is completed.

All kids at every single school wear the exact same uniform country wide. From the kids in the city to the kids in the jungle hours from anywhere. Its the same uniform everywhere. Light blue shirts with dark blue pants for the boys and dark blue dresses for the girls, regardless of age.

Everyone here was remarkably nice and went out of their way to show kindness and gratitude anytime you do anything nice for them or tip them. Most people that we saw live in abject poverty. The “well to do” crowd works 10 to 12 hours per day, 7 days per week. After 3 to 4 weeks o this, they get 4 or 5 days off and start all over again. The wage for this crowd is around $2000 to $3000 per month. Most of these people are responsible for 8 to 10 woman and children in their homes since children here leave the home only after marriage, and many not until they have been married for some time.

Other people less fortinuate than the “well to do” crowd make anywhere from $5000 to $8000 PER YEAR. So to them, a $1 to $2 tip is worth very much and they are very grateful for the money. Prices here tend to be lower than they are in the states, fuel bing just a little bit higher..maybe $3.50 per gallon. A high end hotel suite brings $50 and a nice meal for 8 people is around $20 including tip.

Well, I am off and running…look for another update soon!