Tuesday, May 31, 2011

May 31- Save the best for last

And so the morning of May 31 is Time to fly for most of us to our new destinations and it was so hard to say goodbye, and I seriously think it's much better when we gave huge hugs to each other and hope to see one another again in the future.
Many of us took the bus back to Vientiane to take the train to Thailand, some us took the flight home, and the Hanoi University girls took the train from Luang Prabang to Vinh (Vietnam) and then home in Hanoi.
It has been the A-May-zing month of May if I should say, in four weeks we have travelled to various places in Vietnam and Laos, we have been to many caves, rivers, mountains and the sea, we have visited many historical sites and have been to many temples and beautiful places. We have travelled by all means of transportation that we can, by bus, by train, by boats and we can not count how many steps we have walked along the road and on the way up and down to some temples and caves up high in the mountains. We have been together as a group and we have met so many wonderful people in Vietnam and Laos, and worked with the local people in our volunteer project sites. We have completed our service work in Quang Tri (Vietnam) and Xieng Khuoang (Laos) to bring the new look to the places we have been to. There was some low moments during the trip but most of the time we jumped really HIGH :) and I am sure we have learned a lot from what we have experienced, many of which we have never known before.
I would like to get back to what William Faulkner said "You cannot swim for new horizons until you have courage to lose sight of the shore.", I think we have gone beyond the horizon and made this journey to the SEA (Vietnam and Laos) our MAY, the Marvelous Adventure of the Year.
It has been a great journey in four weeks of May and we will keep the memory of the trip and our smiles forever wherever we go for our next destination.

Friday, May 27, 2011

French Fries, Chopsticks and Paint Splatters

At the conclusion of our harrowing journey through the mountainous northern regions of Laos, we have emerged to find a much colder climate in Phonsavan, the likes of which suit most of our Michigan counterparts and leave new Vietnamese friends donning cardigans and long pants.

Luckily this gives us all a chance to make use of our scarf purchases from Hanoi - the likes of which we thought would be dead weight in our suitcases during 36 hour return flights. This is good news!

This leg of our trip begins at the Xieng Khouang Hotel for our first night not requiring air conditioning.

This component of our service project takes us to the Xiangkhaung Library for 3 days of painting, landscaping and french-fry eating (with chopsticks, naturally). We began our first day sanding the outer walls of the library in preparation for a new coat of primer and paint, a festive coral with maroon trim.

The majority of our two days to date have been spent with the current staff of librarians and some local children for added guidance in the finer points of painting. The library sits on a former UXO site which has now been cleaned up to make way for both a local museum and our project. The library project we are working on exists in the wider scope of the Lao Library Project (http://www.libraryoflaos.com/), an NGO begun by an American Veteran originating in Vietnam with corollary projects in Laos and Cambodia. The project looks to create central librarys in each of Laos 100 provinces with room to create smaller satellite facilities to serve the greater populations in these countries with multi-media resources.

Many of the sites picked housed former UXOs with the intention of replacing bombs with books and creating a place for humanitarian efforts and community building.

We look forward to completion of our small part in this exciting effort and doing some touring later in the week around this historic area in the heart of the mountains.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Lovin' Lao

We arrived in Laos after a long and arduous ordeal with immigration officials. Strangely the Laos border was only about one mile from where we had stayed the previous night. Our new tour guide, Alie, met us with our new bus on the Laos side of the border. We loaded up the bus and drove for about four hours until we reached Savannakhet, our home for the night. After a very late lunch, we set to explore the area. Some of us took a walk to the river to watch the sunset while the rest of the group went to a local park and played soccer and basketball with some of the local kids. Tomorrow we continue our journey in Laos and head to Vientiane—about a six hour bus ride from Savannakhet. Hopefully we can pick up some Laotian on the way!
We have arrived at Vientiane, which is the capital of Lao. We got a chance to wander around the city and see some of the major attractions including the Golden Stupa, three Buddhist temples, and the Victory Monument. Later on in the day, we had a meeting with the head of public affairs in the U.S. embassy in Laos and learned about her experiences. Our hotel was right next to the Presidential Palace and right across from the Mekong River, which separates Lao and Thailand! It was really nice to walk along the river. On our last night at Vientiane, we were treated to some traditional Lao dance and music.
From there, we continued our journey through the beautiful mountains of Laos to Phonsavan where we will be starting our library project for the next four days.

Farewell Vietnam and Truc

The last full day in Vietnam, we woke up early and went to the boarding school for ethnic minority students. There are 250 children from grade 6 to 9 selected by their villages at the school. It was the last day of the school year before summer vacation, so we played games and sang songs with them the whole morning. At first, they were very shy but then they became more curious and engaged. Some of the students were very excited to show us their dorm rooms which are quite different from Michigan dorms! Before we left, we donated some school supplies and candies.

Our last night in Vietnam, we had a big dinner as farewell for Truc – our fabulous guide. We feasted on giant prawns, fried squid, clams, vegetables and of course, rice. We hung out the rest of the night and finished off with a special presentation for Truc and a group discussion reflecting on our experience in Vietnam.

More exploring in Quang Tri

Our last few days in Vietnam were really memorable. We left Dong Ha for Lao Bao – a town on the border of Vietnam and Laos. On the way, we made a quick stop at the Rock Pile and learned a bit of history about the battles fought there. All the foliage that had been destroyed during the war has grown back so we could not climb the Rock Pile itself, but we took a couple of pictures and learned some interesting facts about the war. The Rock Pile presented an obstacle for both sides in the war, and especially for the US Army because they were unfamiliar with the terrain. Next, we spent some time at the Van Kieu minority village. We treated the kids to some candies and learned about their lifestyles. Because they don’t speak Vietnamese, it was difficult for us to communicate with them but we found that a smile can be as good as words. The villagers’ livelihood consists of various agricultural practices, and because their parents work all day in the fields, the older children are responsible for taking care of their siblings.

From the village, we walked down to the Ho Chi Minh trail. In the war, it was crucial transportation route for soldiers and supplies between North and South Vietnam and Laos. Then we went to the museum in Khe Sanh. The mountains surrounding the museum were beautiful but in the past there was so much bloodshed there. Next, we continued on to Lao Bao and spent the afternoon exploring the town. We spent a mellow night in Lao Bao.