Sunday, August 21, 2011

Week 11 pt. 1 - Vientiane: Prosthethics and Plan-changes

Vientiane is the Capital city of Laos. There is a lot of French architecture still remaining but mostly it is a modern communist city with concrete buildings and wide boulevards. The communist group, the Pathet Lao, took control of the country and made it communist in 1975 – around the same time that the Communist Northern Vietnamese took control of Southern Vietnam.

The pleasant views, alleys, smells and cuisine of Luang Prabang are pretty much non-existent in Vientiane. This was disappointing at first, but we were excited to discover the city’s hidden gems. At first we planned to give ourselves two days to get a taste for Vientiane... this soon turned into 5.

Dan, being the planner and worrier that he is, decided that Vientiane would be a good place to start applying for jobs back in the USA! To his defense, we were at a crossroads. 

Option #1: head east out of Vientiane to visit South Eastern Laos, the Mekong Delta in Southern Vietnam, and then cycle all the way across Cambodia passing through Phnom Penh and Siem Reap (home of the famous Angkor Wat temples) before heading on to Bangkok and then south to Bali.
  • Pros: Travel the road less travelled; visit places we may never see again; make the trip last as long as possible; end the trip with a bang on the beach!
  • Cons: Potentially spend all our money; potentially drag the trip on longer than it needs.

Option #2: head south out of Vientiane into North Eastern Thailand and head straight to Bangkok. If we have time an money left over, potentially stop in Siem Reap, Cambodia along the way and/or head to Bali for a limited visit.
  • Pros: Save some money for our transition to life in America; save some places to visit for next time; keep the trip short but sweet.
  • Cons: Miss out on a lot of places we may never see again; rush getting back to America and putting an end to the fun and adventure;
Of course, the point of the trip is to see as much of Asia as possible and do whatever we want in the case that this would be our last chance to visit the region. But at the same time, we did not want to make a huge little mistake by leaving ourselves with no money to start our lives in the USA.

In the end we decided we could continue the adventure in the states by working seasonal summer jobs somewhere - which would mean we could save and even make money while still having fun. Dan has a friend who lives on the island of Nantucket, Masschusets and we both applied to jobs in our respective fields - adventure travel (Dan) and pastry (Em). While we waited for responses, we decided to check out some of the more off-the beaten path places around town.

Of these, the most incredible as the mind-blowing exhibit at COPE (Cooperative Orthotic and Prosthetic Enterprise ). The center is dedicated to providing free or cheap medical assistance to underprivileged Laotians in need of prosthetics, orthotics, or physical therapy due to missing or deformed limbs. In Laos, while some of these cases are due to disease or small accidents, most of the people affected with this problem are victims of Unexploded Ordnance (UXO) dropped by the Americans during the Vietnam war. What is UXO? UXO are the 80 million unexploded bombs and mines still existing in Laos dropped by the American Army between 1964 and 1973 to prevent Viet Cong from travelling to South Vietnam via the jungles in Eastern Laos. There are tons of exhibits movies and demonstration areas to learn about the UXO, whats being done to clean it up, who is affected by it, and how COPE helps make people's lives normal again. One can't help but feel incredibly sad and guilty for the lasting harmful effects resulting from the actions of our Army over 40 years ago.

  • If you would like to donate to help fund the rehabilitation of a UXO victim, please click here
  • To learn more about what is being done to disarm and remove the existing UXO around Laos and the rest of the world, please check out the MAG website
  • To learn more about what is being done to ban the use of cluster bombs in the future, click here
While at the COPE center, we found out about an author named Colin Cotterill who writes mystery crime novels based in 1970's Laos, when the communists first took over. A portion of the proceeds of each book sale goes to support COPE and other important non-profit organizations. The book we picked up, called The Coroner's Lunch was nothing short of an amazing read - incredibily witty, funny, suspenseful, and clever. We also found out that Colin illustrates the cartoons and logos for COPE and other initiatives. To check out more info about The Coroners's Lunch, click here. For more info on where the proceeds go, click here. you can look through his website to see some examples of his cartoons.

By the end of the 5 days, we had gotten enough responses from our job applications to convince ourselves that the best idea was to head for Bangkok as soon as possible and try to get back to America.
Below are some photos of our time at COPE and around Vientiane.
UXO hanging mobile

The inside and mechanics of a UXO (bombie)
Check out the little metal balls that flyout the bomb explodes

Parents of a 9-year-old boy who died from accidently stepping on a UXO


logo made out of prosthetic legs

The Laos Arc d'Triumphe
Built from concrete originally donated by the USA to build and airport runway

The Jew claw

Trying to walk with a prosthetic leg
Harder than it looks!

Dan made it - obviously having way too much fun in a museum about bombs

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