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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

Poland

Poland

 

 

Berlin

We were to drive to Poland from Berlin.  In September and October 2014 were in Berlin to meet and spend some time with my new grandson, Leander.  But because we were concerned that we might be a burden to entertain for a whole month-and-a-half, what with the demands of a five month old baby and so on, we had pre-planned a number of side-trips.  The last of these was to Poland. 

To pick up the car that I had booked months before, we caught the U-Bahn from Magdalenenstraße, close to Emily's home in Lichtenberg, to Alexanderplatz.  Quick - about 15 minutes - and easy.

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Fiction, Recollections & News

My Art and Artists

 

 

One recreation that I find very absorbing is drawing and painting. 

Having once been married to an exceptionally talented artist (now Brenda Chat) I do not pretend great skill or insight.

I always drew and painted but living with Brenda was like someone who has just mastered ‘chopsticks’ on the piano being confronted by Mozart. 

Our daughter Emily has inherited or acquired some of her mother’s skill and talent.  

Emily and I once attended life classes together and I am awed by her talent too.  One of her drawings hangs behind me as I write.  It is a wonderful pencil study of a life class nude. 

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Opinions and Philosophy

Manufacturing in Australia

Originally written in August 2011 - it might have been yesterday - so little has changed.

 

 

Manufacturing viability is back in the news.

The loss of manufacturing jobs in the steel industry has been a rallying point for unions and employers' groups. The trigger was the announcement of the closure of the No 6 blast furnace at the BlueScope plant at Port Kembla.  This furnace is well into its present campaign and would have eventually required a very costly reline to keep operating.  The company says the loss of export sales does not justify its continued operation. The  remaining No 5 blast furnace underwent a major reline in 2009.  The immediate impact of the closure will be a halving of iron production; and correspondingly of downstream steel manufacture. BlueScope will also close the aging strip-rolling facility at Western Port in Victoria, originally designed to meet the automotive demand in Victoria and South Australia.

800 jobs will go at Port Kembla, 200 at Western Port and another 400 from local contractors.  The other Australian steelmaker OneSteel also recently announced a workforce reduction of 400 jobs.

This announcement has reignited the 20th Century free trade versus protectionist economic and political debate. Labor backbenchers and the Greens want a Parliamentary enquiry. The Prime Minister who reportedly initially agreed has now, perhaps smelling trouble, demurred.

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