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Entries in Asia (5)


Bubble Life


Greetings from a sleepy little town down south along the mighty Mekong,

After finding a pillow and delicious local cold java swimming in a glass you get a hair cut and your ears cleaned.

It's essential, as we've said previously, from China, Vietnam, Cambodia and now Laos to relax.

Sit back close your eyes hearing the whirling overhead fan rotating like helicopter rotor blades over rapid cobalt rivers inside deep forested green jungles, skimming granite mountains, swooping toward rice valleys allowing a thin man with shiny silver tools to clean, vibrate, scrape, identify, probe, assess, magnify, illustrate and remove old historical debris, leaves, brooms, the click-clack of shuttles, blue and yellow butterflies, children's laughter, language acquisition cycles, tonal frequencies, vibrational shifts and so forth.

A new marveLaos gallery is live.

It contains clouds, art, design, black & white, wats, paper making, rice threshing, weavers, kids and big serious humans.

The Luang Prabang airport has one simple concrete runway. The control tower needs a coat of paint.

There are two gates. A French tourist is worried because their boarding pass has a big number approaching infinity. "We only have two gates," said the serene and helpful girl behind a desk.

"Oh, my goodness," said the tourist holding a can of white paint and a brown sable hair brush.

"I was so worried I wouldn't get home for Christmas. I mean I was feeling so anxious and neurotic and lost and dazed and confused and sullen and tired and suddenly I felt comfortable in a calm way knowing I will realize my vacation dream and paint a control tower at a small airport in Asia." 

"Be a work of art or wear a work of art," said the smiling girl, or, as Picasso asked, "what is color?"


Paper is an essential part of Lao life. The art of paper is in the making, using, honoring paper in the community and burning paper to honor ancestors. Artists use white fibers from plant stems to make paper. To soften it they mix it with ash and soak it in wood fired 55 gallon drums. They pound it to a pulp. The woman spreads fibers over a screen. It is dried in the sun and used to create tactile textured paper books, umbrellas, bags, cards, lanterns, envelopes and airport control towers.


The Chinese Virus


Before floating south to Pakse and the Mekong toward Cambodia here's a summary of the northern visions. 

Buon Tay is a small dusty town two hours south of Phongsali on a narrow red dirt silver stone road flanked by rising thick forests. Oudomxai, a large Lao-Chinese town five hours south is a real Chinese mess.

High remote Lao villages and harvested rice terraces lead toward Luang Prabang. Disneyland East.

The Chinese are invading Laos. In masse. It's a virus.

The geographical borders (Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam) and incessant rampant anxious desire for money, exploitation and natural resources (timber and minerals) dancing with political, economic influence and cheap labor drives the Chinese engine. Hello Big Brother. 

Buon Tay is one example of the new wild west filled with Chinese guesthouses, restaurants, billboards, CCTV television programs, black diesel belching ubiquitous blue Chinese dump trucks filled with dirt and Yunnan workers.

Factories (cheap clothing & construction) sprout like mushrooms. Crowds of ill-mannered loud rude Chinese idiots rule. Drunken men sing, "We are the world. Long live socialist ideology and economic profit."

Groups of Chinese construction workers in track suits received plastic bags filled with cartons of cheap cigarettes as partial payment for their socialist sacrifice and backbreaking toil. They trudge dusty roads near green mountains back to their makeshift tin shacks. They are the new immigrants. They build roads and hammer and shovel and carry and slave to create hard nosed businesses. It reminds me of poor Maija village near a business university in Fujian.

The Lao markets are filled with Chinese goods: beer, juice, disposable plastic consumables. 

A wealthy Chinese man with a gold watch, leather bag and dress shoes goes to the market. His sour dull depressed looking wife handles the money. She makes all the economic decisions. She buys some meat - a luxury only they can afford.

Lao women spread their luscious green vegetables on banana leaves. They arrive, chat with friends, sell, leave leaves and return home to grow more food. Shallow stranded immigrants wander around staring at onions, lettuce, cabbages, cuts of meat. They are poor. The lost desperate starving dull eyed Chinese workers traverse sparrow songs, passing recycled garbage, sleeping dogs, and industrial dump trucks spewing glorious growth potentials inside shrouds of mountain mist. 

Lao laugh and smile. They've seen fools come and go. They know these fools will stay, breed and take over.

No exit.






From the HatSa river zone to Phongsali at 1430 metres is a twisting 20K dirt road ride. It is cold and delicious with splendid mountains. It reminds me of Dali and Lijiang in Yunnan and Tibetan landscapes.

At 5 a.m. loudspeakers blare a mantra from a bare tree. "Welcome to a new day in your eternal mindfulness..." This continues forever. 

Mountains and valleys are shrouded in early clouds. The old town rocky paths feature Tibetan and Chinese red wooden homes made from bamboo, straw, packed dirt, wood and cement plaster. "Modern" homes are cinder block. 

This is the simple complete rhythm in a northern tribal zone of human energies peaceful laughter inside language music.

In the market village women lay fresh green veggies on banana leaf mats.

  • A woman chops chillies, a mother hauls water.
  • A woman puts on her bright yellow socks.
  • A woman tears lettuce leaves for her steaming noodle soup.
  • A woman sells crabs wrapped in banana leaves.
  • A woman unloads her heavy head yoked woven basket filled with greens.
  • A woman carries her world on her back.

In slow motion I meet many children. We draw the chalk alphabet on cinderblock walls. We sing and dance. They sing, You are fool whether you dance or not so you may as well dance. 




River Meditations


The recent water journey encompassed long musical boats on the Nam Ou River. The Nam Ou flows south from Yunnan, China and meets the Mekong originating in Tibet, near Luang Prabang, Laos. The Mekong continues through Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam to the South China Sea.

From Luang Prabang its seven hours to Nong Khiaw. The narrow boat and narrow seats held 15 tourists. Nong Khiaw has 4,000 people and is surrounded by mountains, villages, many guesthouses and eco-tourism opportunities for trekking and home stays with local people.

Neurotic foreigners speak of their angst, anxiety, trembling heart stories. Bye-bye tourists.

The timeless Lao river: a woman breastfeeds her baby, smiling, floating clouds in yellow green forest rising above bamboo homes, cooking fires, women washing clothing and their long black hair in the river. Singing. 

In the morning a mother, young boy and husband, with the help of villagers load five bags of cement and 20 sheets of corrugated tin roofing material into a long thin boat for the upriver voyage to Muang Khua. Along the seven hour trip we stop at their small hamlet to unload their building materials.

We are surrounded by rising limestone and karst peaks, diverse vegetation and wild green nature.

Scores of yellow butterflies dance near wet sand. Naked children play, dance and swim in day's heat. Water buffalo wallow in mud. Fishermen cast nets. Bamboo rafts with generators collect rapid wave energy, converting it into electricity through suspended wires to elevated villages.

We ride swirling rapids. The propeller breaks in a series of rapids and we float backwards to a calm area, beaching the boat. The driver strips down, hammers off the bent blade, attaches a spare and fortifies the connection with a nail. We head upstream. Life is but a dream.

Muang Khua is a small river town for tourists arriving or departing by bus from the eastern Vietnam border. 

Three of us find a boat driver with a narrow boat willing to take us to HatSa six hours north. By Jan-Feb this section of the river will be too shallow for navigation.

It's all this slowing down, energies and breath. A reconfirmation of the daily flow with mythic extremities. It is clear flowing water, many turbulent rapids, narrow canyons, wind, clouds, forests, and green eyed dragonflies.

Along the way a local man tells the driver to stop near a wide tributary flowing from the forest. He gets out, puts his bag on stones, washes his hands, waves and walks into the river disappearing into deep forest shade.

He is home.




Northern Laos


Four new image galleries are in Northern Laos. Live, immediate and direct. A visual river. They transmit sand, waves, tides, fresh air, mountains, communities, dancing light and humans.

For example:  

This boy said, Before dawn follow the woman on the one red dust road to the market. It is small, near a school. Women spread their produce all green and fresh on blue tarps, natural fibers weaving their muted voices inside cool mist mountain air and baskets of chillies wearing happy leather faces.

Across the bridge children climb mountains to harvest wood for home fires.


Somewhere in Laos a child is carrying the world on their back.