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The Lao People's Democratic Republic is a communist country, like China to the North and Vietnam with which it shares its Eastern border. 

And like the bordering communist countries, the government has embraced limited private ownership and free market capitalism, in theory.  But there remain powerful vested interests, and residual pockets of political power, particularly in the agricultural sector, and corruption is a significant issue. 

During the past decade tourism has become an important source of income and is now generating around a third of the Nation's domestic product.  Tourism is centred on Luang Prabang and to a lesser extent the Plane of Jars and the capital, Vientiane.

To quote from Wikipedia:

Laos traces its history to the kingdom of Lan Xang, which existed from the 14th to the 18th century when it split into three separate kingdoms.
In 1893, it became a French protectorate, with the three kingdoms, Luang Phrabang, Vientiane and Champasak, uniting to form what is now known as Laos.
It briefly gained independence in 1945 after Japanese occupation, but returned to French rule until it was granted autonomy in 1949.
Laos became independent in 1953, with a constitutional monarchy under Sisavang Vong.
Shortly after independence, a long civil war ended the monarchy, when the Communist Pathet Lao movement came to power in 1975.

 

Laos is famously one of the few large land-locked countries in the world.

Economically it is poor, on a par with Cambodia to the South, but economic growth is in the region of 8% pa. While 75% of the population are poor farmers, services (mostly tourism) and industry now account for over 60% of GDP and growing.

Minerals and hydroelectricity are important resources that are expected to accelerate industrial development.  Laos sells its excess electricity to neighbouring countries and has substantial commercial gold and copper deposits already in commercial production.  Potential commercial deposits of tin, aluminium and coal have been identified that may provide future economic growth.  A number of Australian mining companies are active in Laos.

To generate additional hydroelectric power the government is presently constructing the controversial Xayaburi Dam on the  Mekong River in Northern Laos.  As the Mekong downstream is also an important resource to Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam there have been international repercussions. These are in addition to the usual environmental outcry that results from any large dam construction. 

For logistical and time reasons we did not go to the heavily bombed and heavily restricted Plane of Jars.  But there is an excellent exhibit in the Lao National Museum in Vientiane providing background and I commend the Wikipedia article on this amazing iron age burial/cremation site to you.  Three metre diameter solid stone crematory jars beat anything at Forest Lawn.

 

Lao National Museum -
Hindu objects removed by the Buddhists and some interesting Bronze and Iron Age exhibits - including the Jars

 

 

 

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Travel

Denmark

 

 

  

 

 

In the seventies I spent some time travelling around Denmark visiting geographically diverse relatives but in a couple of days there was no time to repeat that, so this was to be a quick trip to two places that I remembered as standing out in 1970's: Copenhagen and Roskilde.

An increasing number of Danes are my progressively distant cousins by virtue of my great aunt marrying a Dane, thus contributing my mother's grandparent's DNA to the extended family in Denmark.  As a result, these Danes are my children's cousins too.

Denmark is a relatively small but wealthy country in which people share a common language and thus similar values, like an enthusiasm for subsidising wind power and shunning nuclear energy, except as an import from Germany, Sweden and France. 

They also like all things cultural and historical and to judge by the museums and cultural activities many take pride in the Danish Vikings who were amongst those who contributed to my aforementioned DNA, way back.  My Danish great uncle liked to listen to Geordies on the buses in Newcastle speaking Tyneside, as he discovered many words in common with Danish thanks to those Danes who had settled in the Tyne valley.

Nevertheless, compared to Australia or the US or even many other European countries, Denmark is remarkably monocultural. A social scientist I listened to last year made the point that the sense of community, that a single language and culture confers, creates a sense of extended family.  This allows the Scandinavian countries to maintain very generous social welfare, supported by some of the highest tax rates in the world, yet to be sufficiently productive and hence consumptive per capita, to maintain among the highest material standards of living in the world. 

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Fiction, Recollections & News

Merry Christmas

[Turn on your sound...]

 

 

What!   Don't I mean happy festive season? 

No I don't. 

I'm more than content with Christmas this uniquely Australian blend of cultural traditions celebrated in the heat of summer.  I'm happy for school kids to perform in nativity plays.  I'm happy to go to Church with friends and family.  And I'm happy to play Christmas Carols at home and sometimes sing them with others in a park or around a table. 

Like many Australians I'm an immigrant. When I arrived in 1948 with my parents I had no choice in the matter. But since then I've tried living overseas and now I'm free to leave at any time I like. Yet I choose to live in Australia because I have come to like and be a part of our way of life.  Celebrating Christmas as we do is uniquely Australian.

So I'm inclined to say to new arrivals or to local killjoys who object:

"Try embracing our chosen country's rather unique traditions and ways. You may come to love them as I have.  Celebrating Christmas doesn't stop us holding our own religious beliefs or from remembering and integrating our previous cultural traditions as well."

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Opinions and Philosophy

Gambling – an Australian way of life

 

 

The stereotypical Australian is a sports lover and a gambler.  Social analysis supports this stereotype.  In Australia most forms of gambling are legal; including gambling on sport.  Australians are said to lose more money (around $1,000 per person per year) at gambling than any other society.  In addition we, in common with other societies, gamble in many less obvious ways.

In recent weeks the Australian preoccupation with gambling has been in the headlines in Australia on more than one level. 

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