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Laos

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Comparative Cultures: Laos Personal & Professional Development Aug 12, 2015

Comparative Cultures: Laos Concrete Experience I grew up in a small Illinois town never really leaving that area, so that is all I knew, but one phone call changed my life for the better. That phone call was a U.S. Navy recruiter in Central Illinois asking me what I was going to do after high school. I had no clue what I was going to do, but I did know that I did not what to be a farmer like my dad and grandpa. After talking with Petty Officer Blount I decided to join the United States Navy. I remember my friends asking me why I wanted to join the Navy, I replied with I want to see and experience the world. After basic training and “A” School I was sent to my first ship USS Guam (LPH-9), stationed in Norfolk, VA. I was on board the ship two days before I embarked on a six month deployment to the Mediterranean. While on my deployment we would stop in different ports for a few days at a time, but it wasn’t until I did a Joint Pow/Account Command Mission (JPAC) that I really got to interact with the people and start to understand that the world is a small place and everyone is basically the same. After I was selected to go to Laos I decided to do some research about the country I was going to spend 35 days enjoying. The internet had a great deal of information about Lao People’s Democratic Republic (Lao PDR). There was a lot of good information available regarding this country, so I had a difficult time trying to find the right books to read. I found two books one titled “A Dragon Apparent” by Norman Lewis he had visited Laos in 1952, and the other book was “One Foot in Laos” by Dervla Murphy. With the information I gained through reading I thought I was intellectually and emotionally ready for my mission to Laos.

I arrived in Laos around 0230 local time in October 2004, after a 13 hour flight in the back of an old C-17. The plane landed on an old CIA airstrip that was used during the Vietnam War. Even at 2:30 in the morning it was very hot and muggy. That was my first impression of the country that I called home for the next 35 days. I remember asking myself what I have I done. All the bags that were on the C-17 had to be placed on the ramp for a custom check. As the guards were checking each bag they would start laughing about certain things from the United States. After the custom check was complete we loaded all the gear onto a Russian MI-7 helicopter. When I landed at Svannakhet the locals where excited and happy to see Americans. The local people had made us an American breakfast with bacon and eggs and toast. The first few days there I had very little sleep because of the time change and the unbearable heat (there was no air-conditioning in the rooms). My days would consist of going over the interactions with locals, currency exchange rate, and local laws. I was not allowed to leave the compound without prior permission from the Lao officials. When the classes where over we flew to the crash site where we would be working. On the day I traveled to the crash site I was amazed at the terrain, it looked just like the moon. There were thousands of bomb craters and burnt hill tops from the Vietnam War. Now I understood why some of the older people did not like America and I did not blame them.

Observations and Reflections I made the decision to travel to the marketplace, hoping that it would satisfy my thirst for knowledge and wisdom. I was curious to see what the differences were between my country and Laos. Laos seemed to be so much more interesting than the books had offered. Walking through their marketplace I was amazed to see that it was like Americas shopping malls, Laos had clothing stores, places to eat, and places just to hang out and talk. As a kid I was fascinated with the Vietnam War, and I knew that the US bombed some of Laos because of the Ho Chi Min Trail but never had I realized the extent of the bombing. While working with the Lao people I learned that Lao people are very intelligent and put a great emphasis on family and hard work. The people of Laos are very engaging and full of life. When I was working at the crash site I discovered that many of the Laos people were interested in American culture. Laos Korean people would come up to me and ask me questions about my life in America. I was always treated with respect and made to feel welcome. I realized that many of my early thoughts about this country were premature and unjust. I found the village of Svannakhet to be alive and vibrant. I enjoyed the sounds of the ax drawn wagons and venders shouting out to potential patrons to stop and buy their goods. I went shopping in the village of Svannakhet where I found it to be power-driven and fast paced. I learned to fine tune my haggling ability. This taught me to be more confident and open minded. It was also where I began to realize I needed to learn this new language. My feelings about this land began to change. I took helicopter rides across Laos to the Luang Mountain Range which offered a panoramic view of the country. It is a destination I would encourage tourist to see. The village people of Laos were especially engaging. The Laos villagers spent eight hours a day working side by side with me. It was a pleasure to work with these hard working people of a different culture. During breaks I would sit with Laos’s people and talk, joke, and just play around. I would try to teach English to them, and they would share their culture with me and enhance my knowledge of the Laos language. Often they would bring their family to the hill so they could learn some American culture. I formed friendships with many of the people.

I really enjoyed the many flavors of Laos’s foods and drinks, which are mostly hot .One in particular was Laap. Lapp is served with raw vegetables and sticky rice, I later found out that Laos people eat more sticky rice than any other people in the world. Laap is made from minced meat, fish tossed in lime juice. I had a difficult time at first, sharing food with others that was placed in a bowl and everyone would grasp a small handful, it was a community foods. I did not want to be the rude American. There was one man in particular that taught me more about Laos’s culture than anyone else. His name was Akamu, which means of the red earth. His father was killed during the Vietnam War by the South Vietnam army. He was the same age as me and held no resentment toward the United States or me. We both knew that was in the past and neither one had anything to do with the war. On my days off I would fly to Vientiane, Laos. It was a great place for shopping and dining. I would buy name brand clothing like Ocean Pacific, Polo, Izod Lacoste, and Guess jeans for half the price. The suits I had tailor made for me were inexpensive and a great quality. I had these suits delivered within a couple of days. Some of the restaurants had menus written in both the Laos and English language and a number was also place adjacent to help the patron to order.

Abstract Concepts and Generalizations In 1893 Laos became part of the French empire until 1946 when Japan occupied the country

for a short time during world war two. In the 1950s Laos gains their independence and a civil

war breaks out between the royalists and the communist party. During the 1960s and early 1970s

the United States dropped more bombs on Laos than were used during world war two.

After the civil war ends Laos becomes a communist country. Laos opens a “Friendship Bridge”

in 1994 linking Thailand and Laos to open trade between the two countries. Laos is one of

the least developed countries in Southwest Asia. Savannakhet and Pakse are the next most

significant cities, while Luang Prabang is the most important historical city. Vientiane has

around 500,000 people, many in rural districts. Logging and timber have been the major

industries and are run by the state and army-controlled companies. In the 1990s, there was a

rapid expansion of foreign-owned garment-making factories. Hydroelectric power generation is

another major industry. The Communist Party ruled by decree until 1991 when a constitution

was developed.

Applications to New Situations I believe that my experience in Laos has made me a better person. I was able to raise my two daughters to be open-minded about people from other cultures. My love of the Lao food was an easy to teach my family because the food tastes delicious. I taught them to respect their elders and how to use chopsticks. I also taught them about the culture I experienced while working in Laos. I think that by acquainting my girls with this and other cultures helped them be more accepting of all people. I do not want my children to judge another culture out of ignorance. I would love to travel the world with my wife. I think an ideal situation would be traveling the world and taking time to spend with local people getting to know the detail information about them and their country. I believe the important things to keep in mind when learning about other nations are to remain open minded and to not influence your way of life onto the country. I would tell people visiting another culture to be adventurous and to absorb themselves with the local people. I would definitely go to other areas that are not generally visited by many travelers. When traveling the best of any place is the places that the tourist do not see, this is where you can experience the true culture.

References

Lewis, Norman (Ed.). (1982). A Dragon Apparent, Eland Books

Documentation for LLP

1. Military Records (Navy evaluation, orders)

US Passport

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