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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

Hong Kong and Shenzhen China

 

 

 

 

 

Following our Japan trip in May 2017 we all returned to Hong Kong, after which Craig and Sonia headed home and Wendy and I headed to Shenzhen in China. 

I have mentioned both these locations as a result of previous travels.  They form what is effectively a single conurbation divided by the Hong Kong/Mainland border and this line also divides the population economically and in terms of population density.

These days there is a great deal of two way traffic between the two.  It's very easy if one has the appropriate passes; and just a little less so for foreign tourists like us.  Australians don't need a visa to Hong Kong but do need one to go into China unless flying through and stopping at certain locations for less than 72 hours.  Getting a visa requires a visit to the Chinese consulate at home or sitting around in a reception room on the Hong Kong side of the border, for about an hour in a ticket-queue, waiting for a (less expensive) temporary visa to be issued.

With documents in hand it's no more difficult than walking from one metro platform to the next, a five minute walk, interrupted in this case by queues at the immigration desks.  Both metros are world class and very similar, with the metro on the Chinese side a little more modern. It's also considerably less expensive. From here you can also take a very fast train to Guangzhou (see our recent visit there on this website) and from there to other major cities in China. 

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Fiction, Recollections & News

Recollections of 1963

 

 

 

A Pivotal Year

It appears that the latest offering from Andrew Lloyd Webber: Stephen Ward, the Musical, has crashed and burned after four months in London.

On hearing this I was reminded of 1963,  the year I completed High School and matriculated to University;  the year Bob Dylan became big; and Beatle Mania began. 

The year had started with a mystery the Bogle-Chandler deaths in Lane Cove National Park in Sydney that confounded Australia. Then came Buddhist immolations and a CIA supported coup and regime change in South Vietnam that was the beginning of the end for the US effort. 

Suddenly the Great Train Robbery in Britain was headline news there and in Australia. One of the ringleaders, Ronnie Biggs was subsequently found in Australia but stayed one step of the authorities for many years.

The 'Space Race' was underway with the USSR holding their lead by putting the first female Cosmonaut into obit. The US was riven with inter-racial hostility and rioting.  But the first nuclear test ban treaties were signed and Vatican 2 made early progress, the reforming Pope John 23 unfortunately dying midyear.

Towards year's end, on the 22nd of November, came the Kennedy assassination, the same day the terminally ill Aldus Huxley elected to put an end to it.

But for sex and scandal that year the Profumo affair was unrivalled.

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Opinions and Philosophy

Renewable Electricity

 

 

As the energy is essentially free, renewable electricity costs, like those of nuclear electricity, are almost entirely dependent on the up-front construction costs and the method of financing these.  Minimising the initial investment, relative to the expected energy yield, is critical to commercial viability.  But revenue is also dependent on when, and where, the energy can be delivered to meet the demand patterns of energy consumers.

For example, if it requires four times the capital investment in equipment to extract one megawatt hour (1 MWh) of useable electricity from sunlight, as compared to extracting it from wind, engineers need to find ways of quartering the cost of solar capture and conversion equipment; or increasing the energy converted to electricity fourfold; to make solar directly competitive.

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