Long Tieng Trip 3-7 June 2007
Mac & Sunee Thompson made another trip up to Long Tieng, LS-30/98/20A in early June. Purpose of this trip was to deliver the hard goods to build a 4-unit toilet for the primary school near the airport. This school supports approximately 180 students who now use the toilets in the neighborhood private homes.
A budget was allocated from the TLCB Assistance Committee for in-country transportation and hard goods. In the end, the trip came well under the allocation.
3 June, Monday: Was the drive up to Nong Khai in my van, some 665 km, a bit over 400 miles. Left the van there and we crossed over to Laos via the Australian funded Friendship Bridge (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thai-Lao_Friendship_Bridge) and on into Vientiane via taxi. Dinner with four American friends who are resident there. These guys travel a lot and I asked them to be on the lookout for worthwhile projects that we might look at funding, keeping in mind a ceiling of perhaps $1,000.
4 June, Tuesday: Plan was to head directly up to Long Tieng, pick up the head school master, and get back to Xaysomboun/Moung Cha/LS-113 in the evening to purchase the hard goods. Had a thought in the morning and tried the cell phone of Bounsouk, the bossman at Long Tieng, just in case he was in an area with cell coverage. Turns out he'd transferred to Xaysomboun so we proceeded to head directly there, a some 6 hour drive over good dirt and paved roads, except for the last 30 minutes heading into to town. FYI, the elevation at Vientiane is about 500 feet, Xaysomboun is 3,725! I took my GPS along. Phoned Bounsouk and he came over to the market area for some Bier Lao, eats, and discussion of the trip.
The plan was to buy all the hard goods and see about delivering them up to Long Tieng the next day, or latest the day after. So much for plans. Turns out there's no “Home Depot” in town and the only cement block maker makes the blocks on demand. We needed 500 blocks and he had about 10 in stock! So, we ordered up the 500 and paid him kip 550,000 (about $60) with the balance of kip 550,000 to come when complete in 4-5 days.
This called for a change in plans as I didn't want to stick around for that long with a rental pickup funded by the TLCB. Also a bit of a change of concept for the toilet project from strictly a self-help project to a joint “trust” and self-help project.
Agreed with Bounsouk that he'd accompany us up to Long Tieng the next day to ensure that we didn't get blocked from entrance at the gate.
5 JuneWednesday: Breakfast at the Xaysomboun market, 0800 here comes Bounsouk with the Chao Muang (District Chief) whom I'd not met. They said they'd meet us up at Long Tieng as they were going to another place before hand. Fine, even better, as wanted to show the Chao Muang what the TLCB was doing.
After they departed we wandered down the market area to a pretty large hardware store run by a young Chinese couple who'd immigrated to Laos just three years ago, the wife spoke fair Lao, the husband not much. Here we bought the four squat toilets, 30 roofing tin sheets, and hardware, hinges, door pulls, locks, etc, some kip 1,525,000 (about $160), loaded them on our pickup and motored off to Long Tieng three hours distant on the rocky road. BTW, we gassed up, well, “dieseled,” at one of the two gas stations in town, I chose the one with the “VP” sign, made me think of the old days.
BTW, on the way from Xaysomboun, 3,700 feet, the road drops down to 1,500 foot elevation at Ban Nam Moh, LS-207, just before the Gold Mine Junction (Phu Kham), which is at 2,400 foot, then up and down again to Long Tieng at 3,100 feet.
Surprise, we didn't get held up at the Long Tieng entrance guard shack, we must becoming a sort of known quantity now and the guards just let us in. On up to the village area to scout around for Sayasith, the schoolmaster. Lunch at one of the local pho shops then over to Sayasith's house to unload the hardware we'd brought up. He said that'd be the safest place, evidently there's some thievery even up there! We discussed the toilet project with him, mentioned that the cement blocks would follow and that we expected some photos of the finished project in the not too distant future. He said he didn't know if there was a 35 mm camera in the area so I handed over an inexpensive one I'd bought earlier along with four rolls of film that Roger Warner had provided just for this purpose. He laughed when I asked about the availability of a digital camera.
We waited around for a bit more hoping that Bounsouk and the Chao Muang would make the scene and when they didn't decided we needed to head back to Xaysomboun to run down Bounsouk to complete our business. Arrived at the hotel a bit before sunset, phoned Bounsouk who sounded a bit under the weather and made an appointment for breakfast the next morning.
That evening while watching Thai TV3 at the hotel we saw the news about Hmong former General Vang Pao and the others having been arrested in California. Given the time zones, we might have been up at the old base at Long Tieng about the time some of the arrests were made. Weird.
6 June, Thursday: Bounsouk showed for breakfast and we spent some time talking about self-help and “trust.” The trust part enters the picture as I left some kip 2,880,000 (about $300) with him to make the final payment for the cement blocks, and to buy the wood doors and door frames locally. Note: He DID sign receipts for this, countersigned by me, just in case some follow up with him is required. He also said he'd arrange for delivery of the blocks and doors and frames up to Long Tieng by army truck.
I pointed out to Bounsouk, as I had earlier to Sayasith at Long Tieng, that this small project is a test run for them. If it goes well, more may well follow, if they blow it, sayonara. I was somewhat hesitant to handle the funds this way but didn't want to blow the entire trip. Laos is a somewhat difficult environment to work in unless you're on site often, like weekly or monthly, which I'm not.
After our morning meeting with Bounsouk we headed back to Vientiane, about 135 miles. Stayed in Vientiane that night as I had an appointment with Josh Archibald from the U.S. Embassy the next morning, wanted to appraise them of what the TLCB is doing on their turf.
7 June, Thursday: Morning meeting with Josh then out of Vientiane at 0930 hrs and over to Nong Khai, pick up my van, and on home at 1800 hrs.
In total the TLCB portion of the trip was:
$300.68 for in-country transportation out of a budget of $500
592.19 for hard goods out of a budget of $750
$892.87 total out of a total budget of $1,250
One interesting aspect of this trip was the funding, several inputs made by individuals specifically for it:
$100 by Jerry Blanchette, former TLCB member and I'm hoping he'll be back
$ 25 by my sister Anne in Oregon
250 by Professional PC Solutions, Hattiesburg, MS., John Schillo's outfit
250 by Ron Kosh, former USAF CC at LS-20A
$625 total or 70% of the expenditures
And, not included in TLCB's costs are my personal expenses for diesel to Nong Khai & back, hotels, Lao visa, which totals about $200, plus food and Bier Lao. These are NOT chargeable to TLCB.
Perhaps this will be a new trend for some of the TLCB donations, targeting for specific uses.
Next trip to Laos? Perhaps in November, after the rainy season.
Photos for this trip at: 2007-03 @ http://picasaweb.google.com/mactbkk/200703LongTieng#
Photos for all trips at: All Trips @ http://picasaweb.google.com/mactbkk/?pli=1
A few random observations:
-- We were in Long Tieng on Tuesday 5 June, and given the time zones, about the time there were arrests in California of several Hmong. We saw the news on Thai TV3 that evening at the hotel in Xaysomboun.
-- Sure wish I'd had a Porter, or Helio, or chopper, the air was CLEAR and could see a million miles. The rains had sure cleared out the smoke from the “smoky” season as it was in March '06 and March '07. Sure is beautiful mountain country even when viewed from the ground.
-- The Phu Bia Hotel in Xaysomboun was built in 1995 for tourists who never came, wonder why, given the harsh condition of the road. The night club/disco/karaoke closed down in '97, the hotel remains but not too busy. Does have hot water and TV, though, so is quite acceptable, especially at a rate of $6 a night.
-- We were invited “someday” to go for a picnic up on top of Phu Mok, the highpoint of Skyline Ridge, view the bunkers that are still there, trenches, hear some war stories from the “other side.” Might be interesting.
-- If you're interested in coins, such as the old French Indochine Piastre, be careful. Believe these started to be issued in the 1880s. At the morning market in Vientiane I saw one dated 1556 and another 1600!! Hmmm, could these be fakes? Have seen similar in Luang Prabang and on Silom in Bangkok.
www.tlc-brotherhood.org (join up, help out The Kids in Thailand and Laos)
Take a look at the TLCB Assistance Program at: http://tlc-brotherhood.org/thare.html