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Coming home 1st-15th

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Installment 1st-15th

Sabaydii,
 
I thought of writing a series of 'Coming home' for a
long time. I guess now is the time. 
 
Without further ado, here is the first one entitled
exactly as the series 'Coming home'.
 
Hakphaang,
Kongkeo Saycocie
 
Coming home
 
Flown leisurely
at the top of the flagpole
the full moon flag[1] is looking at me
indifferently
 
Over 20 years ago[2]
I fled home
With only a bag of clothes
And no hope of coming back 
again
 
That day 
in fact night
I still remember
My eyes moist with tears
The fact that I had to leave 
this motherland 
for good
just settled in me
like a sharp knife
cutting through my flesh
for the very first time
 
Muang Lao
How could I put into words?
I love this land so much
Why did I have to leave her?
Only heaven knows
 
With my eyes defiantly raised
I then look at the flag
The very flag
That shuns me for so long
 
Like the Mekong that flows 
uninterruptedly
No matter what the flag on this land
Looks like
I kiss the ground
Put the Lao sacred soil on my head
And let my eyes moist with tears
Flow for the very last time.
 
7.24.03
 
 

 



[1] The current flag of Laos or the new regime established in 1975.

 

[2] I fled Laos in 1981.

 



 


Sabaydii,

 

Here is the continuation of a series of 'Coming home' entitled 'First Arrival'

 

Hakphaang,

Kongkeo Saycocie

 
First Arrival

 

I first arrived

At the long forgotten land by bus

Crossing the Friendship bridge[1]

 

Like a deja  vu

I am back

At the very place I hurriedly left

-          the murky, yellowish Mekong river

 

slowly across the bridge

I saw the faraway land

Receding in distance

The thatched houses grew bigger

The voice from the radio grew louder

And finally

the fragrant smell of Dokchampa[2] grew closer

 

home

here I am

after 17 years of self-exile

hardly a minute gone by

I wasn't thinking of this land

Grand as they were

Many places across the globe

I had visited

None was more gratifying

Than this land

The land of bare subsistence

Where a wide stretch of land

Remain uncultivated

Where the tallest building

Was no more than 7 stories high

And where the roads were replete with potholes

More than the surface of the moon itself

 

Still I love this land

More than any words can convey

What about this land?

Does she love me back?

Does she extend her generous hand to me?

Or am I just one of the nameless many

Forgotten by time?

 

I don't care

Let the sour-faced few

Look at me with distrust

Or even let the nameless many

I faced at Tha NaLeng[3]

A gateway to Vientiane[4]

Stared at me with bewilderment

Seemingly to ask

Why was I back?

What was for me here?

Didn't I risk my life

Fleeing this land?

And didn't I feel unwelcome

In this land in the first place?

 

I guess nobody can answer those questions

Better than only this land herself

 

7.28.03

 

 



[1] Friendship Bridge is the first bridge built across the Mekong River

connecting Laos to Thailand

[2] DokChampa is the national flower of Laos. This term connotes both

a longing for the country and a symbol of our people

 

[3] ThaNaleng is the place where every tourist to Laos coming

from the other side of the bridge has to check in.

 

[4] Vientiane is the capital of Laos - about 15 miles from ThaNaleng

and the Friendship bridge itself.

 

*****

Sabaydii,

 

Here is the continuation of a series 'Coming Home' entitled 'First encounter'.

 

Hakphaang,

Kongkeo Saycocie

*****

 

First Encounter

 

Busily filling out an entry form

I was then approached by

A boyish looking man

A LPDR[1] official

'Sabaydii[2]

do you recognize me?'

 

Couldn't say if I really recognized him

A man with the AiNong[3] face from SamNeua[4]

Might he be someone I knew

At...

 

Before I could say anything

The young man stated his name

And the place he used to work

The very place I used to work too

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs

 

Back in 1980-81

A group of recently high school graduated

From SamNeua and Xiengkhouang[5]

Came down to work at my Ministry of one year

Among the tens of them

One did look like this official

Standing in front of me

 

He then added excitingly

'I saw your photo ID

and knew instantly

it was no one else

but you

my English teacher and co-worker

at the old ministry'

 

Also

'know what?

Many of us did make it big'

He then rattled off some names

One was posted as a deputy ambassador to Germany

While not a few was on the way up

 

Before taking off to his desk

He graciously gave me his phone number

And said

'Call me some time

we will get together

and drink to the good old days'

 

Couldn't really say

If I had the good old days

Like an old wound

Rekindled through this encounter

Not at him

Nor at his friends

But at the injustice

Done in the name of the revolution

 

I remember well

Not a few of the outsiders

Were left fending for themselves

With the low position

With so much talent and energy

Badly wasted

 

One of my dear friends

Posted at this ministry

With so much prospect as a diplomat

Ending up quitting his dream job

After so many false promises

But little substance

 

I myself a less fit

Opted out earlier

By leaving the country

Wishing not to return

For good

 

Here I was

in this land

filling out the form to enter the country

American citizen I might be

Still not a time

Feeling like an American

But Lao

No less different than the official

I just met

 

I guess

This is the reason

I was home

And relived my olden days

Whatever they might turn out to be

 

*****

7.29.03

 



[1] LPDR is the acronym for Lao People Democratic Republic

(Laos under the new regime)

 

[2] Sabaydii is the greeting like 'Hi'

 

[3] AiNong is the term used to refer to the people from the

new regime. Literally, it means brothers

 

[4] SamNeua is the province where once the forces fighting against

the old regime concentrated. At the same, those who hold power in

Laos now were originally from that part of the country

 

[5] Xiengkhouang is another province where once the forces fighting

against the old regime concentrated. It is also the site that holds the

well-known Plain of Jars. At the same time, this province was the

most bombarded place in Laos because its terrain is the key access

to the whole of Vietnam territory

 



 


Sabaydii,

 

Here is the continuation of a series 'Coming Home' entitled 'On the way to the city'.

 

Hakphaang,

Kongkeo Saycocie

 

On the way to the city

 

Changing from a bus to a pick up

I left Tha Naleng in a heartbeat

Thadeua road[1]

A few decades old

But still usable

With its paved surface

Shot like an arrow

Almost straight to the city itself

 

On both sides of the road

I spotted new houses new buildings

Lining up the road

Springing up from nowhere

Everywhere

 

Getting close to the city

The road began to show sign

Of wear and tear

Red soil exposed through the many potholes

Crept up with its supreme dust

Flying over the places

The houses

The leaves

And people's clothes alike

 

That was 1998

The year of tourism

Or a year preceding it

 

From the familiar landmarks

Old memories triggered in

Suan 555[2]

The cigarette factory

With its beautiful Chinese garden

Surrounded by a body of water

The place my mom took me for a picnic

 

 

And Chinaimo military headquarter[3]

The place my brother bombed with his T-28[4]

 

In fact

There weren't even an inch of a space

Devoid of a memory

I still remember

This road I rode a bike

With my high school classmates

To dig a canal

Supposedly for an irrigation

 

This road I traveled to Thadeua

Where I once lived and went to school there

And this road I hopped on a motorcycle

Going to places

Finding out if the prospective employees

Qualified enough loyal enough

to work for the Western-based embassies

Stationing in Laos

 

What did I get back in return?

A boot out of my own country

 

Slowly the pick-up trotted along

On the way to the capital

And slowly I was about to begin

A new chapter in my life

Either I succumbed to the old wound

Or I got over it

Only time would tell!

 

7.30.03

  


[1] Thadeua road is the road connecting the town of Thadeua

and of ThaNaLeng to Vientiane. This road was built by the

American in the 60s. When it was first inaugurated, its surface

was as smooth as silk itself.

 

[2] Suan 555 was the Chinese garden built by the cigarette

company called 555.

 

[3] Chinaimo was the regional military headquarter. Of all the

5 regions, the one at Vientiane was the most powerful one

 

[4] T-28 was the fighting plane used by the Royal Lao Air Force.

It was mainly used to drop bomb in the Communist stronghold

of SamNeua and Xiengkhouang. During the late 60s and early 70s,

General Ma, the head of the Royal Lao Air Force, along with his

trusted pilots among them my brother, made a coup d'etat by

bombing the support base of the government.

 

*****

Sabaydii,

 

Here is the continuation of a series 'Coming Home' entitled 'Vientiane at a glance'.

 

Hakphaang,

Kongkeo Saycocie

 

Vientiane at a glance

 

 

Our pick-up stopped at the restaurant

Grandly decorated

But no customer was in sight

 

The old Chao Anou[1] hotel by the restaurant

Looked gloomily at us

My LaoNai[2] acquaintance the driver

Two Japanese businessmen and me

 

Glancing outside the window

Waiting for the food to be served

I saw Vientiane frenziedly dressing herself up

With the big truck pounding the road in front

Not far by the other road

The black Benz Mercedes

Waiting impatiently

For its turn to pass by

 

Once in a while

A horde of bicyclists and motorcyclists

Rushed by

Throwing the ready-to-fly dirt

Everywhere

 

A middle aged waitress

Dressed in the Lao traditional costume

Perching by window

Sent out a long and weary look

Into somewhere

Far far beyond

 

With nothing to do

I approached her

Inquiring about the place she came from

'Savannakhet[3]'

a town to the South of Vientiane

she gently replied

 

I told her

I was from Savannakhet too

A long time ago

 

Like two long lost friends

Met in a land not of their own

Our eyes met

And we understood

 

On the way to That Luang[4]

And out of the city itself

We passed through

The once grand LanXang Avenue[5]

The very one I was first at awe

When seeing it for the first time in the 60s

 

Now this avenue was full of potholes

And flying red dust

A sad replica

Of the years gone by

 

Then

At the far end of avenue

Stood my old school

Lycee de Vientiane[6]

Painted in an awkward blue

An unusual academic color indeed

 

I did remember

It was this school

I pinned my hope on

For the bright future

That never came

 

Like a thorn stuck deep in my flesh

Nobody knew

How much it hurt

But myself

 

Smile I may be

Laugh I may do

Stuffs I may accumulate

Nothing fills the void inside

 

Riding along

Letting the breeze brush my cheeks

Stopping the liquid in my eyes

That were about to form

 

For when I left Muang Lao

The big part in me had died with it

 

Will I ever get it back?

Will I ever be the same?

Only Heaven knows

 

7.31.03

 

 



[1] Chao Anou was the Lao heroic king in the early 19th century. He fought to throw off Siamese (Thailand)

yoke but was crushed and tortured to death.

 

[2] LaoNai was referred to the Lao people inside Laos.

 

[3] Savannakhet is the second biggest city in Laos.

 

[4] ThatLuang is the most revered stupa in Laos. Every year on November,

a big festival is held to celebrate the stupa reputedly to hold the sacred hair

of the Buddha. People from all over the country will come to participate in

this event usually lasted for the whole week.

 

 

[5] LanXang Avenue is still the largest avenue in Laos. By the way,

LanXang is the former name of Laos when the country not only the

present Laos but the northeastern Thailand as well.

 

[6] Lycee de Vientiane is the prestigious high school (number one on

the list) in the whole of Laos. Going to this school in the old days

amounted to guaranteeing oneself to the highly coveted government

jobs. I would say that all of Lao leaders graduated from this school

before they went on to study in France. What made this school so

special was its high academic standard - very much like the one used in

The French educational system. Each year, it could accept only a few

hundred students through the highly competitive entrance exam taken

by all 6 graders in the capital. Usually, it takes 8 years to complete it.

In a way, Lycee is both the middle school and high school together.

 




 


Sabaydii,
 
Here is a continuation of the series of 'Coming home' entitled 'On the road to Pakse[1]
Hakphaang,
Kongkeo Saycocie
 
On the road to Pakse
 
Leaving the sad-looking monument[2]
Newly constructed
By That Luang behind
Our pick-up gained speed
And hummed all the way
Down the route 13
The only premium highway of the country
To the south of Laos
 
This route
I remember
My family had suddenly traveled 
From Thakek[3] to Vientiane in 1970
After only 3 years of stay over there
 
 
Not long before dark
We reached the outskirt of Thakek
For a Pho[4] dinner
Greeting us at the entrance of the town
Was no one else
But the desolate monument
Of Kaison Phomvihan[5]
 
It looked like
Every sizable village or town
The supreme leader monument
Became a spirit altar guarding the place
Replacing the once revered LakMuang[6]
 
Too bad
Neither villagers nor townspeople
Maybe only a few diehards
Even looked at it
 
Just the mentioning of this monument
We received a funny turn of the head 
This much told us
Of what came into its creation
And of what people were really thinking
Of their super-imposed cult veneration
 
By the roadside
Among the parked Tuk-Tuk[7]
Strayed the skinny dog
Scavenging for any remains
At the trash can
By the roadside Pho restaurant
 
Being not that hungry
I grabbed a few meatballs 
from the Pho soup
tossing them to the hungry dog
 
 
after all
I too was that hungry before
I too was that desperate
 
How could it be?
Almost 30 years had passed
And still things were very much the same
Or even worse
 
Leaving another monument behind
We took off to the sunset
Letting the shadow of the hills
Surrounding Thakek 
Wrapped us in the thrall of magic
I had long forgotten
 
Oh Muang Lao
Was I finally home?
 
7.31.03

 

 



[1] Pakse is the third largest city in Laos. Situated in the south of the

country, it is rightly called the capital of the south.

 

[2] the sad monument I am referring to is the monument for the dead.

This one is for those who died fighting for the Communist cause.

 

[3] Thakek is the fifth largest city in the country. It is located in the

middle between Savannakhet and Pakse.

By the way, Luangprabang is the fourth largest city. After the first

five, no towns could come close to be called a city.

 

[4] Pho is the Vietnamese noodle highly popular in Laos. In fact, it

becomes accepted as a Lao food consumed all over the country.

By the way, Thakek being a town once heavily populated by the

Vietnamese settling in Laos during the French colonial years was

famous for its delicious Pho.

 

[5] Kaisone Phomvihanh was the least well-known Lao Communist

leader. When the old regime was overthrown, he became the prime

minister and undisputedly a strong man of Laos. Still, a majority of

Lao people didn't like and trust him that much for he was half Lao.

His father was Vietnamese. Only his mom was Lao. He was a

trusted disciple of Ho Chi Minh, the Vietnamese Communist leader.

 

[6] LakMuang is the sacred spot where the city was first built. Lao

people have a strong belief that the city will prosper only when

LakMuang is in the right place.

 

 

[7] Tuk-Tuk is the tricycle used mainly as a taxi. It made a loud

noise like Tuk-Tuk. That was why it was called so.

 

*****

Sabaydii,

 

Here is the continuation of a series 'Coming Home' entitled 'Pakse - the beauty of the South'.

 

Hakphaang,

Kongkeo Saycocie

 

 

Pakse - the beauty of the south

 

By the time we reached Pakse

The city I had never been to

Darkness already crept in

 

Lodging at the hotel by the river

The park in front

At one time housed the monument of Katay[1]

The forgotten Lao Issara[2] intellectual

Grant Evans[3] had so much to praise

 

Exhausted I was

Traveling all day long

Taking in all the Lao scenery

I missed so much

 

With my head on the pillow

I fell fast asleep

Our driver

Young and full of life

Took off for a night life

With only at the most

He could take out a girl

And had a time of his life

 

Only some time before dawn

Did he get back

And still being alert

To do his job as our driver

 

I myself rose up early

Used any minutes of the time

Exploring the city

The gem of the South

 

Being that the time I came to Laos

Was in the rainy season

Rain began to pour down

The night I arrived

 

Once I stepped out of the door

A small puddle already danced in the street

More enticingly

Lao women dressed in the traditional costume

With Sinh[4] and PhaBieng[5]

Carrying a bowl of alms

Filed graciously past me to the temple

 

With no hesitation whatsoever

I wholeheartedly followed them

And felt what it was like

To be a true Lao again

 

Buddhism long departed from the country

Had made a comeback to Muang Lao

What a joyous moment to witness

 

Laying by the temple stairs

An old beggar in ragged clothes

Continuously raised his hands

Praying he did

For a better life next life

 

I couldn't help

But pulling out a Thai bank note

Left from my stay in Thailand

And dropped it in my tin bowl

 

Amidst his many words of thanks

I took off from the temple compound

And never to look back again

 

8.1.03

 

 

 

 

 



[1] Katay Don Sasorit was the intellectual and one time prime minister

of Laos. The Communists hated him because he was so vocal against

anything un-Lao.

 

[2] Lao Issara was the independence movement against the colonial

French. A big part of this movement later became a Royal Lao

government when France gave Laos independence in 1954. A tiny

section of this movement joined the Communist cause.

 

[3] He is the leading authority on the studies of the modern Laos.

 

 

[4] Sinh is the long skirt worn by Lao women. It is the Lao traditional

costume which, today, is still popular among Lao women. In fact,

Lao female wears Sinh to work, to school, etc... and, of course, at home.

 

[5] PhaBieng is the long piece of decorated cloth worn across the

shoulder by Lao women especially at the Buddhist festival.

 



 


Sabaydii,

 

Here is the continuation of a series 'Coming home' entitled 'Pakse again'

 

Hakphaang,

Kongkeo Saycocie

 

 

Pakse again

 

After the temple,

Slowly I strided

Towards the Xe[1]

Seeing the old rusty one-way bridge

In the distance

 

Not far

On top of the bus

I saw baskets of fruits

Hanging loosely

 

At times

I heard the strident female voice

Piercing the air

As something juicy fell off the bus

 

Down below the bridge

On the river

The boat sailed along

With stuffs and merchants

Very much like the scene on the bus

 

Looks like I saw everything

Then came a monk

Perching on the rooftop of the bus

Enjoying the view all around

 

Pakse

A city spanning over the two sides of the Xe

Was truly a sight to behold

 

Couldn't help to wonder

Where the hell I was before

 

With still more time to kill

Before taking off to Xekong[2]

I dropped by a school nearby

 

Being located in the city

This school was better built

With cement and some kind of painted walls

A gift left from the old regime

 

I noticed a young teacher

Just got out of the teacher school

Waiting to be assigned

To a new class a new life

 

The way she sat

Reminded me of my own life

When first came to the U.S.

Nervous and not knowing what life may bestow

 

By 8 am

The bell rang

Rushing in the students

Into their respective classes

Some with the red scarf[3]

A first step to the party membership

A key to power and wealth

 

With the camcorder on hand,

I followed the red scarf students

There they were

Taking the lead role in the class

Commanding their fellow students

To salute the teacher

the leader

 

Yes Lao kids of today

Were different from those of yesterday

Will this new indoctrination last?

Nobody can tell

 

8.1.03

 

 



[1] Xe is the small river. All Xe in Laos pour themselves into the Mekong River.

 

[2] Xekong is one of the 17 provinces in Laos. It is located South of Pakse.

 

[3] Red scarf students are the little league Communist cadres.

 

*****

Sabaydii,

 

Here is the continuation of a series 'Coming home' entitled 'On the way to Xekong'

 

Hakphaang,

Kongkeo Saycocie

 

On the way to Xekong

 

Realizing that it was quite late

I rushed back to the hotel

Seeing the pick-up

Ready with the engine on

 

Yes it was 9 o'clock

Time to leave

 

The driver

Full of life as he was

Turned on the Moh Lam[1]

Tapping his fingers to the tune

 

Hearing for a while

I knew it was a Lam from Isan[2]

Full of bawdy language

And sex insinuating gestures

 

Life in Laos was great

For the ordinary people

You never lost touch with reality

You smile with what little you may have

And you laugh with what fate may bestow on you

 

Our driver

Once an employee at the Ministry of Agriculture

Hard to make ends meet

Decided to switch his job

From a stable but pitiful government position

To a precarious but lucrative cab like driver

 

At times

He made a big tip

From the ASEAN[3] businessmen

From the Lao overseas coming home for a visit

And from a soft-hearted fellow

Hearing his life story

For the first time

 

As I later came to know

Through his own words

He had a sickly baby daughter

And a dependable young wife

Waiting for him back in Vientiane

 

Wonder

If I am in his shoes

Won't I do the same?

Won't I embellish my life story?

Make it sentimental?

 

Life in Laos is hard

If you happen to be a lucky few

Good for you

If not

You're not different

From an outcast

A human garbage

In your damned very own country

 

Whatever his failing may be

I understand him

 

Let the monsoon wind

Carrying our vehicle

Take away all the country's failing

And let all the Boun[4] seekers

Coming from TakBaht[5]

Filing by the roadside

Turned Muang Lao into a better place

Or at least turn her into a corrupt-less place

Just for once

 

8.4.03

 

 



[1] Moh Lam or Lam is the Lao folk music widely popular with common people both in Laos and Northeastern Thailand

 

[2] Isan is the Northeastern region of Thailand, once a part of Muang Lao or LanXang

 

 

[3] ASEAN is the Southeast Asian Cooperation Bloc in which Laos is a member

 

[4] Boun is the festival celebrated by Lao people. In fact, every month in the Lao calendar seems to have Boun. At the same time, Boun also means any merit making for example giving alms to the monks, etc...

 

[5] TakBaht is the giving alms to the monks. In Laos, there are two ways to do that. One is by going to the temple and another is by waiting for the monks to walk by their houses in the very early morning.

 

 



 


Sabaydii,

 

Here is the continuation of a series 'Coming home' entitled  'Xekong - another corner of Muang Lao'

 

Hakphaang,

Kongkeo Saycocie

 

Xekong - another corner of Muang Lao

 

Consisted of only a few government buildings

A couple of paved roads

And, maybe, one hotel

At least the one we stayed

This became a town called Xekong

One of the seventeen administrative centers

In the new Laos

 

Greeting us at the hotel lobby

Were some old issues of

Sieng Pasason[1] an official party mouthpiece

And of Vientiane Mai[2]

A no less mouthpiece of the power-that-be

 

Interesting to see

There wasn't anything worthy to read

But self-aggrandizing success and achievement

No wonder nobody cared about them

 

Couldn't help to ask

What is the purpose of the newspaper?

If not to inform

Or at least to entertain

 

Or are we that different

That stupid

To be fed like a baby

Like a retarded

 

On our trip to the school

Built by the Japanese donors[3]

The head of Xekong school systems

Jokingly said

At the meeting attended by

All seventeen provinces

Each one came up with the impressive numbers

Though we added a few zero to our number

We still came out second to last

 

I wonder

What an outlandish number

They had to come up with

 

That is how low it gets

When truth is discarded

Integrity is lost

And a sense of self-respect is destroyed

 

Not sure

What we're building here

A country full of self-serving yes-man

Or a strong foundation of ethical citizens

Muang Lao can grow on

For eons to come

 

The sign seems to be pointing

To the former

 

I guess that is the most

We can do

Or what else?

 

Slowly

Our pick-up tumbled its way

To the school

Past the bumpy trail

Past the hard-to-reach corner of the province

And past civilization itself

 

Maybe there is still hope left

To redeem Muang Lao over there

 

8.5.03

 

 



[1] Sieng Pasason is the official newspaper of the government

 

[2] Vientiane Mai is a semi-official newspaper. In fact, all publication in Laos has to be overseen by the authorities

 

[3] The Japanese donors have contributed to giving scholarships to needy Lao kids and the building of new schools through an organization called 'Minsai'

 

*****

Sabaydii,

 

Here is the continuation of a series 'Coming Home' entitled 'Schools in the countryside'

 

Hakphaang,

Kongkeo Saycocie

 

 

Schools in the countryside

 

The new school built by the Japanese

Half finished

Stood in contrast to

The old decrepit school

The kids were currently occupying

 

This 'school' consisted of

One big room

Made of bamboos

And hays on the roof

 

Whenever the sun shot its hot ray down

Pass the many holes

The kids scampered away

Like ants poking their very flesh

 

At times

The wooden chairs they sat on

Shook with each jolt move

Ready to crumble at any time

 

I was told

The villagers had to fix the school

Every single school year

With very little help from the government

 

Even a number of teachers

Housed and fed by the villagers

What a load indeed

For they themselves

Had hardly enough to eat

 

One volunteer teacher

Coming down from Pakse

Not much for the monetary reward

But a deep sense of shared destiny

And maybe a few grains of rice

 

Standing in front of the flagpole

Ready to class

Or be dispersed

The hundreds of kids

Were incredibly obedient

 

As I later know

Half of the kids would just show up

For the flag raising

And then go home

Before it was their turn

To go into class in the afternoon

 

Being that the school had only one big room

Two classes were scheduled to be held

Concurrently

No surprise

The kids with their backs towards one another

Started their school day

While each teacher competed for their attention

 

Don't want to say

This is the school in rural Laos

But it is

 

There

Electricity is not heard of

There

You can attend school only half a day

And there

What you possess is only

A book or two at the most

 

Most of the time

You have to share your book with

The one sitting next to you

 

Through the camcorder

I brought with

I saw the kids

The future of the country

Dressed in whatever their family can afford

Some with brand new uniform

white shirt and navy short

plus sandals or tennis shoes if possible

 

a majority

just in plain ragged clothes

that you couldn't tell

where the rag began

 

what's more

most go with their feet empty

some for long distance

 

still

the way their eyes shine

you just couldn't tell

whether you are looking at

the surreal image or not

 

see

how seriously they try to absorb

each word expounded

and see

how much they struggle to do so

for what they heard

is nothing but a competing noise

 

who will be blamed

if these kids graduated

and still retained nothing

of what was taught

 

or was boastful statistics

enough in itself?

 

I walked away from these conflicting images

With more questions than answers

Who cared about them?

Will more buildings

More school supplies

Or even more teachers

Do the trick?

 

Will I in any way make a difference?

Or am I just an observer

Merely passing by?

 

With the kids' eyes

Nagging my conscience

It will be long

Before I could sleep

In peace

 

8.6.03

 

*****

 

Sabaydii,

 

Here is the continuation of a series 'Coming Home' entitled 'Xekong schools - its future'.

 

Hakphaang,

Kongkeo Saycocie

 

 

Xekong schools - its future

 

We arrived at school site #2

Still in the Xekong[1] area

This one just began to lay the groundwork

With only the cement floor

And a couple of walls partly erected

 

With nothing to see

To inspect

Like the Japanese architect

Tagging along with us

I took time to fully enjoy

The Panoramic view

All around me

 

Lush forest

I would say

Green and green everywhere

 

Down below my feet

The soil rich in minerals

Part of PakSong[2]

And Boloven plateau[3]

Known for its famous coffee

All over the country

 

Still

Xekong was one of the poorest provinces

Left most untapped

Unspoiled

And un-everything

 

Its population

A heavy mixture of Lao Theung[4]

A few Lao Lum[5]

Mostly from Pakse[6]

Holding most of Xekong's administrative jobs

 

I myself met a number of them

One a teacher

A regular Radio Free Asia[7] listener

Even heard of me

Of Satjadham[8]

 

Another an employee at Xekong school systems

Spending hours and hours on the cranky typewriter

With just one single piece of paper to type

When he was done

He sighed with a heavy relief

And showing off his hands

Smearing with black ink

 

Two Lao Theung women

His helpers

Grandly celebrated his gigantic feat

By taping his sweat soaking shoulder

And ready to face

A stack of papers

Lying impatiently in front

 

At the reception counter

I saw a kid sleeping

At the corner of the room

While his mom stood behind the information desk

Hardly seen a visitor

Dropping by

 

At another school

Where the principal was so young

That I took for a village boy

Tried it hard to explain

Why there weren't any classes

For the first day of school

 

Seeing the school for myself

I understood what he tried to convey

 

In front of me

What was known as a 'school'

Was almost blown off by the gusty wind

Raging the area for quite some time

 

He said with no uncertainty

When the school would open

Maybe the week after

Or even the month after

 

His teachers

All local graduates of this very school

They were to teach

Didn't make it back

From their other supplementary income jobs

 

Thinking that I might be

A government official

With power to bestow

The boy principal couldn't help but

Inquiring a little bit about

The late salary

He and his teacher

Had never received

 

Not to humiliate him

I just smiled

And let my Lao acquaintance

Accompanying me do the unenviable job

Of explaining

The government was as broke as he was

 

Or was it really?

 

8.7.03

 

 

 



[1] Xekong is one of the 17 provinces in Laos.

 

[2] PakSong is the place where they plant coffee in Laos.

 

[3] A very fertile plateau best suited to plant coffee.

[4] One of the three main ethnic groups in Laos (Lao Lum, Lao

Sung and Lao Theung). Lao Theung got the name from living

in the high plateau, but still not as high as Lao Sung who tend

to live in the mountain. Also, Lao Theung are a loose affiliation

of mostly Austro-Asiatic (Mon-Khmer) peoples.

 

[5] The Lao Lum are the ethnic Lao who have traditionally resided

in the Mekong River valley or along lower tributaries of the Mekong,

and who speak the Lao language. This group is about half of the

population and controls almost every facet of the government

functions.

 

[6] The biggest city in the South.

 

[7] The United States supported radio stations broadcasted in Lao

to people in Laos. Also, you can listen to this broadcast through

the internet.

 

[8] An internet-based Lao literary group established in 1995 to

promote Lao literature among the young and educated Lao living

outside Laos. I am one of the co-founders.

 

******

 

 

 

Sabaydii,

 

Here is the continuation of a series 'Coming Home' entitled 'On the way back from Xekong'.

 

Hakphaang,

Kongkeo Saycocie

 

On the way back from Xekong

 

We left Xekong

Right before dark

The road we traveled

An extension of route 13[1]

Just paved

Already showed signs of cracks

 

Was told

The one who did the road

Didn't use the right material

To cut in his profit margin

 

Looks like

Everywhere you look

Bribery has its way

In the new Laos

 

Even a guy coming from abroad

Doing the construction for the school

Supposedly for the benefit of the people

Caused more damage

Than people in the right mind could imagine

 

His school in Xekong

Not finished

Not of a lack of funding

Or whatsoever

But poor quality of his materials

 

Once walls built

Once they were dismantled

 

Was told

The Japanese were so disgruntled

At what they inspected

Threatened to nullify the contract

And bring in their own crew

 

Wonder

If this trend doesn't slow down

How long it will take Muang Lao

To build a decent road

That doesn't fall into disrepair

Once put into use

 

Or to erect one decent school

That won't crumble

Right in front of your eyes

 

Hope I live to see that day

 

 

Half the distance covered

Slowly Xekong became a thing of a distant past

Dark like the village by the roadside

What a strange feeling indeed

Coming from a place

Where electricity abounds

Taken for granted

 

Still

With my head turned back

For the very last time

I let the good images of Xekong

Simmer in my mind

 

A little girl reading a Lao poem 'Satjadham'[2]

Written by my dear friend

Thip Chantharasy

Goes a long way

 

What a beautiful voice

What an added meaning

Heard in Muang Lao

herself

 

A night at the temple

Where Buddisht festival was celebrated

In the land once a Phi spirit was practiced

Now shone with the candle lights

Carried by villagers for the VienTian

 

And two little kids

Leisurely rode their bikes to school

As if time itself

didn't matter

 

 

 

As our vehicle crept along to Pakse

I treasured those images

As if life itself hangs on the line

 

8.7.03

 

 

 

 

 

 



[1] The only highway in Laos that could be used in all seasons. This highway is paved and connected virtually the north of Laos to its south.

[2] Nature created                                    for us to be Lao

many years had passed                      prosperity's been built

constitution included                          tradition came along

accepting Lao our race                        tightly we love.

 

But one day                                          our kamma turned

Sins from our last life                           we had brought with us

Leave our roots                                    our tradition we had to

Crossed oceans and continents        we landed on other's land

 

When far from home                            away from our motherland

Our heart craves                                   homespun love and tradition

Heart to heart we built                         satjadham continues

Hand in hand we held                         our heritage and folklore

 

Satjadham gathers                               our purity and our mind

In the ocean of compassion               justice arrives

With universal truth enforced           experiences shared

To all Lao all tribes                              do continue our Laoness

 

*****

Sabaydii,
 
Here is the continuation of a series 'Coming Home' entitled 'Exploring
Pakse'.
 
Hakphaang,
Kongkeo Saycocie
 
 
Exploring Paske  

This was the last day 
Our Japanese friends would be with us
Before sending them off
At the Thai border in Ubol[1]
I seized a moment 
To explore Pakse again
 
First I strolled leisurely
Towards the Xe[2] my favorite spot
At a distance I saw
A lone man fishing in his small boat
Very much like the Zen[3] painting
I admired
 

Captured by this image
I stood still
No less different than the man himself
 
Broken the spell
Was the voice of the kids
Playing by river
asking
'Looking for crocodile?'
 
 
I couldn't help but smile
At the innocence
This land had much to offer
 
'Is there a crocodile here?'
I replied with a question
 
In front of me
Stood two kids
One with no shirt on - a boy
And another a girl
Dragging her wooden toy car
Behind her
 
'Yes. I saw a humongous crocodile yesterday.
My dad saw it too.'
The boy pointed his index finger to the man
Inside the hut by the junk yard
Nodding in acknowledgement
I smiled at him 
And walked away
With an unsettling feeling
 
What on earth
This smart-looking boy doing here?
Judging from what I saw
He must be a year or two older 
Than my son currently in preschool
 
Pakse
Though 30 years have passed
Still very much lived in the past
Most buildings in town
Concrete or moss covered
Were a constant reminder 
Past the old regime
To the colonial era itself
 
The new planned market
Wasn't even built yet
Its grand architecture 
Posted outside the vacant lot
Once stood the old market
Destroyed by the ravage of fire
Was kind of making a mockery
At the whole town 
Full of promises
But ever elusive
 
Then out of nowhere
A female voice shot at me
'Where are you from?'
realizing that I must look like a tourist
always carrying a camcorder
I answered
'America[4]'
 
'My son is in Australia.
Is it near America?'
 
Not to make little of her geography
I just said
'No'
she then added
'he said he did very well and
would bring his sister along'
she proudly said
 
I remember
The young man at the hotel
I stayed
Would join his father in the U.S. too
 
Wonder 
If they would ever be back
Or there were enough for them in Muang Lao
 
'did you have anything to eat yet?'
the old lady asked
I just said
'I am not hungry yet'
'don't be a stranger. 
Come inside and have breakfast with us.'
 
seeing that I was already late
I just said
'thank you. Maybe next time'
not knowing whether there would be next time or not.
 
'stop by any time you are here.'
With quick feet
I took off
Couldn't help but taken 
By her hospitality
Southern hospitality
If Muang Lao is still this way
I will sure come back one day
For how can I forget Pakse
The land of my wife[5]
Always as beautiful as 
Beauty itself
 
 
8.8.03
 

 



[1] The Thai border province to the Lao province of Champassak.

This province population is mostly of Lao origin since it was an

integral part of Muang Lao until Siam or Thailand seized it as well

as the whole of Isan or Northeastern Thailand in the nineteenth century.

[2] A tributary cutting across Pakse and pours itself into the Mekong

River. Since the town was built on the mouth of the river, it came to

be called Pakse. In Lao, 'Pak' means 'mouth' and 'Se' or 'Xe' means

'a small river or tributary'.

 

[3] A branch of Buddhism as practiced in Japan. It is famous for

the direct experience of reality.

[4] People in Laos call the United States of America as simply

'America' or 'Amelica' to be exact.

[5] My wife was born in Pakse, and she is a beautiful lady.

 

*****

Sabaydii,

 

Here is the continuation of a series 'Coming home' entitled 'Crossing the Mekong River'

 

Hakphaang,

Kongkeo Saycocie

 

Crossing the Mekong River

 

The day

We crossed the Mekong River

To Muang Khowt[1] as Tai Pakse[2] called the opposite bank

Rain poured down real hard

 

Not satisfied with just sitting in the vehicle

With all the windows rolled up

I ventured out into the main boat

Where the engine carrying tens of vehicles

Across the mighty Mekong River

 

Sheltering under the boat roof

With merchants soaked wet with the rain

I took out my camcorder

And recorded Muang Lao at her finest

 

There

PhuThao and PhuNang[3]

Lying beside one another

Beginning to take shape

 

Right in front of me

Stood toweringly the thousand rooms palace

Not of anyone else

but the notorious Chao BounOum[4]

 

By my left

Loomed the half-constructed Mekong bridge

The second one in Muang Lao

Built by the Japanese

 

To my right and all around

Was nothing but the turbulent water

At times saturated with

Floating logs, twigs

Branches and even animal carcass

 

Like I put it my series

'along the shores of the Mekong river...'[5]

this river was nothing

but the heartbeat of Muang Lao

getting to know it

and then you will get to know

the very place you came from

 

Today

The river might be rough

Not most pretty to look at

But still

There is something in it

Belying all its ugliness

 

The tears of many wives

Lost her husbands trying to cross the river

The blood of countless patriots

Shed profusely at the hands of the invaders

And the wishes and dreams of all Quon Lao[6]

Drowned painfully

When Naga[7] the guardian angel of Muang Lao

Left this sad land for good

 

Will our Naga be back?

Only the Mekong can tell

 

Approaching Muang Khouat

A Lao shore opposite Pakse

Where both shores belonged to Muang Lao

Like a PoPa book[8] I once read

 

Couldn't put into words

What a strange feeling indeed!

 

Stranger still

When I walked across the demarcation fences

Where Ubol[9] stood

Muang Lao was just no more

 

Oh the once great LanXang[10]

What was left of her

But a pitiful piece of land

And a bickering people

fighting for the diminishing crumbs

 

Our Lao compatriots

Isan[11] whom we called

Weren't much better

 

The way they looked at me

The different clothes I wore

Told a sad story in itself

A story of otherness

With nothing binding us back

 

Is that the way Quon Lao are

Wherever they may be?

If that so

May I be strong enough

Like the majestic Mekong River

Flowing like nothing ever happens.

 

8.12.03

 

 

 

 



[1] The old Champassak opposite of Pakse is called Muang Khowt

or 'old town'.

 

[2] People of Pakse. Since the Lao was of the Tai race, we still call

ourselves as Tai such as Tai Pakse, Tai Vientiane, etc... Also, Tai

or Thai means people of a certain town, certain city.

 

[3] To people of Pakse, the range of mountains overlapping one

another as a backdrop of their town is seen as the picture of a

male hero lying beside the female heroine.

[4] The onetime leader of the right wing group in the old regime.

He was notorious for hoarding everything from power to wealth

and from female companions to a contingent of bodyguards.

In his own right, he was considered the king of the South as

his title 'Chao' in front of his name suggests.

 

[5] My memoir about life experience in Laos during my early

years to my early youth. This memoir is consisted of over 100

installments starting from the years in Savannakhet to Thakek

and from Thadeua to Vientiane.

[6] Lao people.

 

[7] The mythical serpent-like creature, king of the Mekong 

Since the Lao live by the river, Naga became the symbol of

their country. Also, before Muang Lao was known as the

kingdom of Nagas.

[8] The alphabet book of the Lao language pretty much like

the ABC book. In that book, one of the writing reads:

my country is called Muang Lao

far and wide as you can see

with the Mekong River running right in the middle of it

...

 

[9] The Thai border province. Asides from this one and the

one at the Thai province of Loei bordering the Lao province

of Sayaboury, all of the territories on the right side of the

Mekong River now belongs to Thailand.

[10] The name of the former kingdom of Laos whose territories

extended to over both sides of the Mekong River.

 

[11] The current Northeastern Thailand. This term can be

used to refer to either people of Northeastern Thailand or

the region of Northeastern Thailand. Before Siam or Thailand

took it from LanXang or Muang Lao in the nineteenth century,

it was an integral part of LanXang kingdom. Still, people of Isan

have mostly kept their Lao culture intact. They still think of

themselves as Lao ethnically (not politically, of course). It was

to be known that more people of ethnic Lao live in Thailand

than in Laos herself (close to 10 to 1 ratio).

 

 

 

 


 


The complete series can be found at http://panya.150m.com