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Middle Kingdom Podcasts (2005-2017)

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The Language Company
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Entries in textiles (1)


Mekong Blue


The road is made by walking. The road from Pakse, Laos to Cambodia is paved or sealed.

At the border, old rusty red and white metal bars weighted by rocks in a rusty bucket netted by wire hangs suspended. The VIP double decked candy cane colored bus is packed with babbling European backpackers destined for the 9th Century at Angkor Wat. They have a long way to go. Back in time. 

The efficient bus boy hands out departure and arrival forms, collects passports, a $2 Lao departure fee, a $25 Cambodia visa fee and $2 entry fee. He takes everything to a Lao shack. The bar goes up and we roll through no man's land at the speed of a landless snail. 

Being landless is fun, dramatic and exciting. No country, no documents, no money, no food, no medicine, no family, no friends, no chance. Abandoned by a strip of land on Earth. A solitary traveler walks north from Cambodia to Laos. 

A female Cambodian health care worker wearing a uniform with an official patch and face mask gets on the bus and points a small medical toy gun into each face, registering body temperature. Someone says, "If you're sick you stay here." "On the bus?" "No, on the road."

Crossing a border is a transcendental act.

On the C side it's business as usual; immigration shacks, money changers, women pushing food and beverage, fruits, naked children, scavenging emaciated dogs, torn cell phone umbrellas and food stalls where tourists sit waiting for the boy to come back with the government issued passports. An incomplete grandiose empty towering new C immigration building with Angkor temple motifs signifies grand plans.

How does it feel to back in C after 28 days in Laos? Laos was a time warp in the sense of pace, connecting with gentle people, relaxed attitudes, floating on high mountain rushing rivers and exploring soaring elevations.

Stung Treng is 87 clicks south of the border along the wide Mekong. Most travelers pass through this sleepy little town. It reminds me of Kampot on the southern coast five years ago.

Mekong Blue is the Stung Treng Women's Development Center. 50 women are trained in a six month silk weaving course, dyeing and creating beautiful silk textiles. It has been recognized by U.N. as a UNESCO award winner for superior quality, creativity and originality. 

The center improves the standard of living and breaks the cycle of poverty through vocational training and educational programs. There is a primary school with 35 kids and two teachers. Everyone receives lunch. After the local government it is the single biggest employer in town.