Laos is really one of the best places to visit. it seems that almost everyone that i have talked to (even the ones that are not biased like i am) have all told me how much they enjoy the country, the food, and the people. but that isn't to say that Laos isn't experiencing its own set of difficulties. for example, the haves and the have-nots are becoming more pronounced. it's amazing to me how many of these new "fancy" concrete houses are popping up all over the country. and the weird thing about it is how prosperity hits like lightning: one can go out into the baan nauk (the rural area) and find a bamboo house on stilts right next to one of these big new gaudy concrete-covered-in-shiney-white-paint houses. with the loosening of the economic system here, people are finding ways to make money (legal and otherwise - connections with those in power never hurts), and some have relatives in other countries that send money. kham's parents have been extremely generous with their family still here in Laos and Thailand. they have helped build houses for them and supported their business ventures.
well, the youth of Laos are beginning to show some wear. drugs, especially meth, are becoming a problem (i am hearing about it much more than i did two and a half years ago when i was here.) and gangs are starting to form around the drug trade. kham's 14 year-old cousin, kii la, is caught up in the mess, although he is reporting that he is "stopping" his involvement in all of it. but this morning some 20-something year-old came by to talk with him, and he wouldn't answer when his aunt asked why he was talking to someone that old. kii la told me that there are about 15 or so "groups" of these gangsters in in Savannakhet. they don't have names (like in the USA) and they don't steal, but just sell drugs, and some of them carry guns... but mostly just sticks and knives.
kham and i were out water-fighting the other day,(see the pictures kham took right before the preceding incident) and then, outa nowhere, these guys with sticks came running up the street to the teenagers we hanging out with. the group we were with responded quickly - engaging in "battle" almost instantly. (there were mostly teens and twenty-somethings on the street where we were). well, kham froze there (like he was about to take a picture) and so i just pushed him to the other side of the street, yelling, "move! move! move!" and as we were crossing to the other side, the fight turned bad - one guy picked up a hollow square brick and hit another guy over the head with it. i don't know if it was the head that shattered it or if it happened when it hit the concrete- but it was splintered all over the side of the road. there were some other bricks and stones thrown, and people hit with long sticks, but the assaulting team eventually dispersed and disappeared around the corner.
well, the defending group had grabbed the guy that had done the most damage (i guess he must have been the one that threw the brick) - and made to arrest him. it took several people to take him down, and handcuffs appeared out of nowhere, like some kind of citizen's arrest. the victim (he was walking around like it was nothing, but with blood pouring down his face and shirt from the gash in his forehead,) confronted him there in the street; he and his friends were yelling, punching, and kicking the guy in handcuffs. then the bloody faced guy took a stone and hit the handcuffed guy over the head with it- and at this point i started to think it would turn into a public execution. but they took him away on a motorcycle, presumably to the police station...
anyway... initially i was hesitant to share this and i had decided not to - until i realized i would probably just tell everyone anyway- that's how i am. but i don't want to give anyone a negative perception about Laos or have you worried for my safety. i still feel that it is safer here than in the USA. but something is afoot here... i was met a couple of women at a noodle shop where kham and i stopped for khao piak today; i began talking to them about the problem, and they agreed that Laos has had an increase in these problems in the last two years due to increased contact with neighboring Thailand. they said that the drugs were coming in from there, and that this influenced the violence. they also blamed Thai TV (the violence in Thai movies and TV has increased dramatically) and video games (internet cafes are full of kids during the daytime hours - no longer are they out in the fields playing football or kataw.) and i can't help but think that it has something to do with the increased prosperity for some- and a continued stagnation for others.
leaving for vietnam in a day or so... so i will email again when i get there. and just wondering: does anyone else think i look old enough to be kham's dad? what is going on here? do i really look that old? and second: do we really look that much alike? we have been asked if we were father and son numerous times... and i am starting to lose confidence. and another painful realization for me. dogs in Laos do not like me. (no dog-eating jokes please). i think they discriminate against me because i am white. they do not bark at anyone BUT me. any veterinarians out there that can help me with this?