Thursday, January 24, 2008

Vientiane Laos and the dying Mekong by Saigon Charlie

Vientiane – Out and About (Journal notes from mid-May 2007 after a 3-month swing through Indochina to explore infrastructure development.)

In the states we say when it is really raining hard that it is pouring ‘cats and dogs’. Here in SE Asia, watching the rain come down somehow that expression seems rather weak and I think ‘its raining elephants and water buffalo’ might be a better expression for just how hard it is raining at the moment, but life goes on. (Did you know buffalo is both singular and plural..;>)

Today finds me in the capital of Laos, Vientiane. A French colonial city once, that is very quickly loosing its ‘Frenchness’. Actually now, it now appears to be quickly changing into a Chinese colonial outpost (oh joy!), with combinations of Laos and Chinese flags waving everywhere as well as the proverbial Chinese shop houses filled with absolute junk made just north in the mega cities such as Chongging on the Yangtze.

Along with that transition comes the inevitable construction which can be found anywhere and everywhere throughout this part of the world. The sound of saws whirling and hammers banging is constant, from sunup to sundown. Even the Aussie lads are building a new embassy across from the ever present Japanese a bit out of town. The US Embassy looks busy as well, with long queues of locals trying to get to the ‘American Dream’, which is neither American nor a dream anymore.

Even here in Vientiane, on what use to a quiet bank of the Mekong, the water has receded as the Mekong has shrunk to a trickle of its former self. Far in the distance, across a few hundred meters of sand and low vegetation, you can see the ‘channel’ as it hugs the far shore. Why do you need bridges when you can simply walk into Thailand?

As I sit here having some amazing Tom Yum Goon (hot spicy shrimp soup) and a cold Beer Lao, I stare out across this image and feel sick inside from the site. Having lived and traveled along these waters from Chiang Saen to Phnom Penh and many miles between and beyond over many years, I feel ill that this once mighty and beautiful river is dying; if not already dead.

The change is due to the Chinese dams upstream. It is the monsoon season here and these waters should be surging at their banks with currents rushing towards the Mekong Delta
at speeds that only the most powerful barges could once push against. Even locals tell me this however that the above photo is pretty much the norm now.

Now a single man, in a motorless longtail, can easily paddle these waters in any direction. There is however a fancy new building overlooking what once was the Mekong in Vientiane as well as a pathetic little park with a sad looking statue in it with some pretty flowers, all attesting to the wonderful work of the Mekong River Commission!

Ahhhh yes, another international bureaucy which was established to rape the people and their resources and as I predicted 5 years ago, did just that and are in the process of destroying them and their livelihoods. When there was no rules to control the water, there was water. With the rules, the water has ended. Wonder who is making the rules? Combined with the pillage of the lands due to logging, what do these people have left? Chinese shops houses filled with cheap junk to sell to dope smoking backpackers in an environmental disaster? Sounds like a place I want to tell all my friends about….

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