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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

Recollections of 1963

 

 

 

A Pivotal Year

 

1963 was a pivotal year for me.  It was the year I completed High School and matriculated to University;  the year Bob Dylan became big in my life; and Beatlemania began; the year JFK was assassinated. 

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 both the beginning and the begining of the end for the US effort there. 

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 well underway with the USSR still holding their lead by putting Cosmonaut, Valentina Tereshkova into orbit for almost three days and returning her safely. 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 Aldous 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

Tragedy in Norway

 

 

The extraordinary tragedy in Norway points yet again to the dangers of extremism in any religion. 

I find it hard to comprehend that anyone can hold their religious beliefs so strongly that they are driven to carefully plan then systematically kill others.  Yet it seems to happen all to often.

The Norwegian murderer, Anders Behring Breivik, reportedly quotes Sydney's Cardinal Pell, John Howard and Peter Costello in his manifesto.   Breivik apparently sees himself as a Christian Knight on a renewed Crusade to stem the influx of Muslims to Europe; and to Norway in particular.

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