Mum and Dad came to visit this week. Here are Mum's observations of her time in Vientiane.
An older woman's point of view:
Whiter than white: Whilst we have been under keen scrutiny as we walk about, mainly I suspect we stand out with our white hair and white skin, I cannot be more impressed with the whiteness of the school kids' white shirts and the men's/boy's white work shirts. And I am in love with the silk skirts carefully folded into a big flat pleat across the front and the fitted blouses also in silk.
Sustainability in practice: Everywhere I look, there is someone or some small enterprise making do in the most resourceful way. I ponder this constantly and wonder is it because of the widespread poverty that abounds here. I observed the evening rubbish sorters going through the daily trash sorting out all kinds of things that must have some value. I was startled to notice a small child asleep amongst Mum or Dad's findings (I could not tell if it was male or female). How does one respond to situations like that? They were not begging, but seriously going about their business in a quiet and efficient way.
Many footpaths outside shops have been adorned with broken tiles pressed into the concrete. No rhyme nor reason to layout, just lots of broken tiles pressed in here or there.
Plastic tablecloths must have been all the rage many years ago. And yet those same ones are still on the tables set up almost anywhere - brittle, torn, food stained, yellowing and held in place by old fashioned bottle tops that have been nailed in place. This is the city where micro-business has a predominant place in the culture of living and surviving.
I think there should be a good market in trade training here as the current crop of tradesmen leave a lot to be desired.
Which leads me into my next heading - SAFETY (or lack of or insufficient knowledge about).
I have been pondering just where we got our knowledge about electricity and associated dangers. Was it passed down to me by my parents or did we learn about it at school? Whatever and wherever I learnt about electrical danger, they sure could do with some of that knowledge here in Laos.
Urge #1 yank the metal tongs out of the breakfast boys hands as he rams them into the toaster each morning to get small bits of bread out.
Urge #2 put safety cones around the worn out metal conduit with exposed wires at the entrance to one of the gardens - well I am yet to see a safety cone here though I have seen a few milk crate things serving a similar purpose
Urge #3 somebody do something about all this wiring just hanging from poles around the city. The weight of the wiring is going to pull them over anyway and they need a plan and strategy to replace and fix at the same time.
These are very, very important. They come complete with caps, braid around the around the shoulder/arm, buttons, epalettes, the works. In terms of rankings I suspect a position as a security guard/officer is a lowly paid position. I say this because many of the "security" officers I have seen have been asleep on the job. Though it was very funny when one got sprung by his superior. There was much blowing of whistles and the startled security officer scrambled to get his shoes on. In the end he didn't bother, and I noticed him asleep sitting up a few minutes later.
See one stall on the roadside, you will see about 15 others selling/doing the same thing. Same at the night market where stall after stall are selling the same clothes, t shirts, belts, bags, CD/DVDs, jewellery and mobile phones gimmicks.
Same in the couple of "shopping centres". I was fascinated to walk around the top floor of one which was totally given over to selling gold and silver jewellery. probably about 40 shops in all. Most had 2 or 3 sales people, except for one which always had a large crowd of shoppers around it and about 24 salespeople who stand shoulder to shoulder busily selling. Not sure why this one is so popular.
Always smiling, respectful, wanting to help, love practicing their English and learning new words. They are committed to constantly improving themselves through education, as they equate learning/education with higher salaries. There does not seem to be a welfare system here. Evryone seems to be working so that their kids get a good education, or the kids are working to provide for Mum and Dad when they are no longer able to work. I think businesses are providing a 'de facto" welfare service by engaging many, many employees, even if they are security guards who sleep on the job.