Vientiane years: 1971-81
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World Poems #1 ກະວີແປ #1

World Poems #2 ກະວີແປ #2

World Poems #3 ກະວີແປ #3

World Poems #4 ກະວີແປ #4

World Poems #5 ກະວີແປ #5

The complete series can be found at http://kongkeo.ibnsites.com




Sabaydii,

I guess I need to tell you how I came to live in Vientiane. Yes, this time it was in Bane Sisavath or Nahaidieow, only one or two miles from downtown Vientiane. At that time, the later part of 1971, my family was still living in Thadeua. Yes, you might have known why I was here in this big city. I was going to Lycee de Vientiane - a number one high school in the country which was more than a high school in itself. They said that if you went to this coveted Lycee de Vientiane, you were the envy of everyone not going to that school. Before I go deep into this, let me tell you how I became one of its students. First, since I was over thirteen - the cut age for going to sixieme (7th grade), my dad took me to change the birth certificate from the year of birth 1957 to 1959 - the hardest thing for an honest man to do. I guess what made him do so was because he treasured education. He strongly believed that, without a quality education, I wouldn't have made it the way he did. I think he was right. Besides, an age limit is kind of a silly thing given the pyramid structure of the Lao educational system at that time. One needed not only to be the book-smart but to have pure as well to get in. I remember one case very well. While back in Thakek, I had one friend who was ranked in the top five of the class every month. Being so in the top private school signified only one thing: a guaranteed spot in College de Thakek (comparable to the middle school in the U.S.). either he was choked by the pressure of the exam or not, he flunked the entrance exam badly. For me, I flunked the first time not because I was choked badly (I was the one who could have made it if luck was on my side. After all, I was just an average student in the top private school) but because I slept with my Khatha JaiPong (magic formula to do well in school) instead of using it. For those who don't know what is this magic formula, I will take the liberty to elaborate it here. KhaThaJaiPong is Su, Ji, Pu and Li. Su means listening attentively, of course. Ji means thinking about what you just listened or heard. Pu means asking questions when you don't understand something. And finally, Li means writing down what you just got it. As you can see, this is a fabulous magic formula. That means if we are not that dumb to start with (none of us is), we all could do exceptionally well in school. You know what I did in Thakek? I wrote this magic formula down on a piece of paper and then put it under my pillow hoping that it would somehow turn me into a smart student. I guess I don't have to tell that it did me no good doing that way at all.

Getting back to Lycee de Vientiane, I found that my second entrance exam was much easier than the first one. Maybe, because the test was in the Lao language to a greater extent for the firs time (I am not so sure at this point) or because the test was mostly in the format of multiple choice questions or even because I knew what to expect (not so with the multiple choice questions and the predominant use of the Lao language but the experience of taking a test). If I am not mistaken, this multiple choice format and the predominant use of the Lao language was the result of the American influence in Laos. At that time, the American had built FaNgum school which was intended to be a high school comparable to Lycee de Vientiane. To make the Lao education more standard, the American must have forced the government to standardize the high school entrance test. One thing that I found worth mentioning about the American influence was the interjection of the propaganda right into the making of the test. For example: there was an analogy to be filled in the blank that goes like this: Maa (dog) Kup (with) Meow (cat)...
And the right answer to be filled in was: Keeo (Vietnamese) Kup (with) Lao.

On a personal note, my another sister, Euay KongJai, gave me a big boost on the day of the test. She yelled 'Go, Keo!' while driving a motorcycle past Lycee de Vientiane on the way to her work at the post office. As you might know, Lycee de Vientiane lied on the grand LanXang avenue of which one end stayed the post office, the morning market, and PhaRatSaVang (the palace. Now, it becomes the presidential residence). On another end, it had USIS (the U.S. information service) library, the veteran monument (now, it is LanXang monument) and, of course, Lycee de Vientiane. At that time, I was either loitering in front of the Lycee or about to go past the Lycee gate. What I know for sure was that this kind of encouragement did carry a long way. Even today, the image of her waving and shouting wildly is still imprinted beautifully in my mind. After all said and done, there is nothing more precious than a token of love from your family.

Hakphaang,
Kongkeo Saycocie

Part 2
Sabaydii,

First, let me tell you about Bane Sisavath, Koum Nahaidiew - the place where I lived for a decade from 1971 to 1981. This village, if I may say so, was where the notorious and all-powerful USAID was located. Though within a walking distance from my house, this USAID compound was out of reach to me and to most Lao. Generally, I didn't want to pass by this place for what I could see was only the four walls that acted like a separator dividing us and them. Moreover, given the proximity of the place to my school - Lycee de Vientiane, I came to find it more and more mysterious and even menacing. Apart from the grim-looking walls with wires on top, if I was not mistaken, guards with rifles were posted at every gate. Strange as it may be, no one had ever mentioned anything about this compound the whole time I studied at the Lycee while the old regime still existed. The teachers didn't talk about it and neither the students. In another word, this USAID was like a surreal thing. It was there and, at the same time, not there in a way. What I know about USAID came from the post 1975 events. Of course, it was more of a bad thing than a good thing since the info was derived from the post 1975 regime itself. Judging from the secretive nature and obvious significance of the place, I found the info worth listening to. First, it was said that this USAID compound was the seat of the shadow government where the real power resided. Here, given that a big chunk of the government expenditure came from the U.S. pocket, it gave some weight to that kind of claim. After all, the one who propped you up had the rights to pull the string. That was reasonable enough. Second, the place was more heavily guarded than any of the government building itself. If it weren't that important, ordinary people wouldn't have a hard time getting in and out. Not once, I was chased away for getting so close to the gate. After all, I just wanted to take a peek of what was inside. That was all. Besides, since no one had ever mentioned about this place even it was right under their noses (Lycee case) told me that this was not an ordinary place that you could wander around. And lastly, this USAID compound was like a self-sufficient town in itself - not to mention that it was a well-fortified fort able to resist any armed attack. As I remember, this place was stocked with any necessity in life from food to medicine and from the amenity of good life to the stock of firearms. Even from outside, I knew that the USAID compound had its own power supply. The constant smoke from the furnace at one end of the compound made me wonder what they were doing in there. Suffice it to say that the USAID compound was such an oddity in Khum Nahaideow where rice fields, stilt houses and temples painted the landscape. If only this USAID thing was located next to Soun Luk Hok (Compound Kilometer 6) - the residence of the American diplomats, maybe I wouldn't have much to talk about it. After all, Soun Luk Hok was considered an American town, though on a tiny scale but, most importantly, it would be completely out of my sight.

Enough about the USAID compound, now I will talk about the temples - the spiritual center of Bane Sisavath. Though not of a great size, Bane Sisavath could boast of three temples. Of those, one was and still is the pride of the village. Yes, I am talking about Wat DongMieng which, at one time or another, Pha SangGaRath (the head of Lao Buddhist monks) came to reside in. I would say that, by that fact alone, Wat DongMieng was comparable to the many famous temples in Vientiane like Wat PhaKeo, Wat Sisaket, Wat SiMeuang and Wat OngTu. I will have more to say about those temples in my later installment. What made Wat DongMieng rank among the elite of Vientiane temples was its beautiful Sim (the place where the prayer is recited. Also, it is the place where all important events are held such as the ordainment to be a monk.) Apart from the highly decorative Sim, Wat DongMieng wasn't much of a difference from the other temples except one more thing. This temple had TouaJoutSop (the furnace where you burn the corpse). It was at this place that my brother-in-law, Ai Kinh, was burnt. Ai Kinh was Euay KongJai's first husband whose T-28 plane was crashed at Udone on the way back to Vientiane. Since Wat DongMieng was less than five minutes walk from my house, I liked to frequent this place. First of all, I like to make it clear that I went to this temple because I was a devout Buddhist. Instead, I hardly TakBath (give alms to the monks) by my own initiative. Whenever someone caught me TakBath, it meant only one thing: my parents dragged me there. Wat DongMieng was special in the sense that I eagerly went there not for TakBath but for the movie showing. It was almost a custom that whenever there was a corpse burning, it was a sign that a free movie showing would be there. Still, it would be an exaggeration to say that it was a movie like the one we are used at the movie theater. In fact, most of the movie showing at Wat DongMieng or at any temples was just a black and white newsreel produced by the USIS (U.S. Information Service). The most you could get was an old American movie either Cowboy movies or Tui/Joi (skinny/fatty) comedy. With the hope of seeing a 'real' movie once in a while, I hardly missed the movie showing at Wat DongMieng. In fact, I even prayed that there were many more corpses burning at the temple. Anyway, watching the movie at the temple ground on this special occasion came at a price too. Not a few times, the foul smell pervaded the temple that I had to constantly close my nose. At times, the sight of the hot charcoal burning in the furnace interplay with the flickering light from the movie projector. What a weird thing to witness especially when the cold crept in and the midnight was fast approaching.

Hakphaang,
Kongkeo Saycocie

Part 3
Sabaydii,

Today, I will talk about the other two temples of Bane Sisavath: Wat Nahaidieow and Wat Sibounheuang. The former was the biggest of the three in terms of square feet. Since this temple was on my way to Lycee de Vientiane, I came to know more of it than the other two. Besides the Sim and the monks' dwelling place, this temple also housed a big Sala (a place where the villagers and passers-by can rest or even stay overnight). The monks also used this place to give sermon to a large audience. It was here that I learned about Phavet SunhDon, Nang Mutthie, Kanha, Sali and Pham Susok. I would say that almost all of the audience had the gray hair and was disproportionately of women (MaeTu). I, myself, hardly came to the temple for any kind of preaching but since there wasn't much going on in my area, any kind of Boun - preaching or not was fine to me. Yes, a repeated teaching - though small at a time, did add up whether I intended or not to the lasting memory in me. Still, I wouldn't say that I am more like Phavet now than twenty years or so. After all, Phavet was so unreal that it read like a fantasy story. Frankly speaking, in my life, I had never met anybody who came close to his bigger-than-life feat. For those who don't know about the story, Phavet was the one who gave his two kids to Pham Susok. He would even gave his own wife, Nang Mutthie, to that guy too if the latter had asked for her. In another word, Phavet story is the ultimate act of giving. It is said it is the last life before Phavet can become a Buddha in the next life. I don't even remember how many lives the man who would ultimately becomes a Buddha has to go through. Some books say ten. That's why we call 'PhaChao SipXat' (the ten lives of Buddha). By the way, each life of Buddha (to be exact, the Buddha-to-be) has its own name. I remember that one of the tens is PhaChao TehMeh (the one who is very patient. Also, there is a saying that compares those that nothing can affect him or her as if nothing happens as Pha TehMeh). Whatever the number may be, each one is incredible by itself. I am glad that the many lives of Buddha fell on my ears especially the one on Phavet for, like it or not, they become a part of me though small it may be but it is there. And that makes all the difference in my life!

Also, at Wat Nahaidiew, it seems that all the Boun in that section of the city was held there. Funny as it may be, all the Boun I remember at that temple apart from Phavet story was from the post 1975 regime and they all had a little band playing AiNong songs and a variety of Lum namely Lum TungVai, Lum KhoneSavan, Lum Kiew and KhubNgum just to name a few. For all of these Lum, they used a modern musical instrument like a guitar, an organ player and a drum - not the one hit by a bare hand but with a stick. Though expedient, this kind of Lum playing was not aesthetically pleasing to the ears at all. It was like eating Larb with a steamed rice. The young didn't like this kind of music though some might stop by and listen to the upbeat rhythm of Lum Tanvai before they too took off. The old didn't like it either for it wasn't accompanied by Khene and, most of all, those who sang this kind of Lum were all amateurs who might just learned to Lum because it was such a hip thing to do during the initial stage of the revolution. For those who don't know, Lum is a traditional art of singing that requires years of training and rote memorization. In another word, to be good at Lum, one must know tens of stories (if not hundreds) by heart. Among those are Phavet, Sinxay, Nang TunhTai, Jampa SiTonh, so on and so on. At that time, I wasn't much into Lum at all. Still, I was very fascinated by the flow of the singing and the charming sound of Khene. This realization happened to me when I had a chance to witness Lum Sithandone at HeuaneDii (funeral reception) right before the change of regime. I guess the person who held the funeral must be very wealthy. Not only that he had a Lum showing (both Lum Leuang - the kind of Lum that told a story and Lum Kiew - the kind of Lum that featured the courting of male-female couple) but a movie showing as well. I, myself, watched all three events. I started with the movie showing and then went on to Lum Leuang. Finally, I finished my sight and sound delight with Lum Kiew until the first light of dawn parted us. I would say that Lum Kiew captivated me otherwise I would go for a much needed sleep. Being a young man, hormone (or whatever it may be) tended to rush high so every word that Moh Lum sang (mostly obscene and sex related) kept me waiting for more. Frankly speaking, I didn't even realize that hours and hours had passed by. To say the least, these MohLum must have been a genius churning out words after words - sort of a magic in itself. To keep the Lum Kiew going at high speed, the wealthy audience fed the MohLum especially the female one with a large cash every now and then. I would say that the cash feeding came whenever the sex related words were spelled out. First, there would be a wild uproar (the one that gave you satisfaction) followed by a gesture calling out for MohLum to approach the audience. If it was for the female MohLum which was usually the case, the audience (male of course) would tug the money right into the MohLum's blouse (I think it must be in the bra). Since the uproar usually followed by the money handling out, MohLum would take an initial step to approach the audience. And they were right most of the time. To me, if anyone wants to know about the nature of Quon Lao, he or she should spend time listening to Lum. The sound of the Khene and the voice of MohLum will take you to the heart of Lao-ness which words, powerful as they may be, can not go deep enough to reveal that secret.

Hakphaang,
Kongkeo Saycocie

Part 4
Sabaydii,

Wat Sibounheuang was not far from my house either. In fact, all the three temples I had mentioned was within ten minutes walk. I would say that, apart from Bane Mixay on Samsenethai road which has over half a dozen temples, Bane Sisavath could boast of the many temples in Vientiane. For those who don't know, the Samsenethai road connecting to Sikhai road houses Wat Inpaeng, Wat OngTeu, Wat Chanh, Wat HaiSok, Wat Mixai, Wat SiengNyeun, Wat Phakeo, Wat Sisaket and Wat Simuang. All of them are within ten minutes waling distance, and a majority of them are adjacent to one another. At one point, three to four temples stood side by side. There is a saying that one can go TakBath in nine temples in one single morning. It is in this area that the saying refers to. Also, it was said that, altogether, Vientiane had over one hundred and forty temples. That was a lot. By this fact alone, it tells you that Muang Lao especially Vientiane is really a land of temples. I will have more to say about the particular temple namely the well-known ones in the later installment.
Getting back to Wat Sibounheuang, I rarely went to this temple. It wasn't that it looked bad but it was out of the way I went to school. Moreover, I hardly traveled that way at all. Situated next to ThongSangNang where a big tract of empty land was, I didn't feel compelled to pass by for any reasons. Besides, the road that connected to Wat Sibounheuang was not paved (this road also passed my house) therefore breathing in the dust whenever a car passed by wasn't my favorite thing to do at all. Since I have already mentioned my house, I had better talked about it. It was built in the land my grandpa inherited from his parents. Since the family members divided the land between themselves, each one's land got intertwined with one another. At first, it might be of an equal size to each one, then one or two might have sold their lot to their sibling. With time, the land of youngest daughter (I guess it is the favorite of the parents) was two to three times bigger than any of the family members who were still living there (four of them altogether). Strange as it may be, the land of my grandpa who was the eldest son was tugged within the land of his two siblings - very much like a sandwich. There was only a narrow lane from the main road that allowed us to get to the house. It was good in a way that we didn't have to get the blunt of absorbing the flying dust so blatantly. Besides, the tract of land next to the lane was left vacant so our house was in a way unhidden. Then, things have changed greatly with the opening of the country in the late eighties. A new concrete building with four stories high was built in the vacant spot. This place was sort of used as an apartment. With that being in place, it completely blocked my house from the street view. I, myself, was even lost when coming to visit it again in 1998. I am glad that I didn't have to witness this monstrosity back while I was still living there.

My house was of a two stories high with the first story laid in concrete. The second story had three bedrooms while the first story had only one. Also, attached to the main house was a Granny which became my bedroom. I would say that I liked this bedroom a lot. In a way, it was like I had a house by myself since it had a separate entry to the main house and it was big enough to contain all of my books. Yes, you can say that I was and still am a bookworm. I liked to collect books and was in a habit to scavenge for books everywhere namely the market, the bookstore and even the library. For the last one, it all started when my buddy took the first step. Being a fan of Fascism, he was in love with Hitler and the Third Reich. Since both the USIS library and French cultural center library was next to Lycee de Vientiane, we went there whenever we didn't have class. As for our school library, it was so thinly stacked with books that we found it was a waste of time to spend the time there. Since the detecting mechanism in both of the libraries wasn't in sight (I guess that they didn't have one at that time yet), it dawned on my buddy to tuck a book or two behind his back. When this technique repeatedly worked, I did succumb to this temptation too. Gradually, my stack of books increased twofold. Name it. I had books ranging from history to philosophy and from literature to plain pictures. The way I did it was first to do my buddy's way then whenever I passed the librarian, I felt like someone was looking at my back so I came up with my own way: tucking the book in front of my belly. To make it look not bulky, I wore loose clothes and even caved in my belly. Really wonder how my buddy and I had survived this ordeal without a single catch. That was a period of one full year. I don't remember how we stopped. Maybe, the remaining books just didn't excite us (hardly no new books coming in), or maybe, we were tired of doing it the same thing for such a long time. Anyway, by the time I left Laos, my four bedroom walls were lining up with many rows of bookshelves.

By the way, not all of the books were from the libraries. I would even say that a majority of them was from a legitimate means. Believe it or not, hundreds of books were from the various embassies distributed at That Luang festival. Since I was more into collecting books than reading them, it didn't turn me into a scholar a bit. Still, that was not to say that I didn't learn anything. In fact, just reading a couple of pages or chapters in some of the books, it even surprised me that I was well acquainted with the general knowledge than any of any classmates. In fact, I know of the fascism than I had ever needed. Why? Because my buddy who knew French only a little bit and no English at all constantly had me translated the books about Fascism into Lao for him.
I will have more to say about this later.

Hakphaang,
Kongkeo Saycocie

Part 5
Sabaydii,

Before I go deep into events that aren't chronological, let me start from the first year I was living in Vientiane. Then, I will cover the whole period of the old regime before I finally wrap it up with the new regime up to 1981.
The first year I came to Vientiane, I stayed with my grandparents. They had me lived in a big room shared by my elder sister and my cousin. All three of us went to Lycee de Vientiane. That was the main reason we came to live with them. In a way, it was hard to live with even your own grandparents. They had their own way of doing things which, as guests, you had to comply with. One thing was to take off your shoes even before you stepped up the stairs. Since there were stairs (one in front and another in the back), I had to constantly remember that the front one was the one I had to take my shoes off first. The front stairs connected you directly to the living room where shining floor always welcome you. My grandpa had the habit of polishing the wooden floor until it shined like a pair of new shoes. I would even say that no dust would be allowed to graze on this floor. With that came my job to sweep the floor four or five times a day especially during the weekend when I didn't have to go to school. So whenever weekend came up, I would think of myself as the sweeping guy whose image was nothing else but a broom. For the back stairs, I was allowed to wear my shoes on upstairs and took them off before I reached the kitchen. By the way, there was a veranda between the stairs and the kitchen which at one end was used as a bathing place. For me and my sister, we bathed at a place close to the well. Logically, it was less of a tear and wear for us not to carry water that far. This back stairs was also used to carry buckets of water up so you were allowed to wear shoes here. At the far end of the veranda, my grandma had a weaving machine which she would work there for a good portion of the day. I guess I haven't told you that my grandma was from Samneua so the Lum that she listened to was the one from that town. I think it was called Khub Samneua instead of Lum Samneua. The way it was sang was slow, kind of moaning and was more like a Vietnamese song. Being a person who was not in a good taste with the Vietnamese song, I found this kind of Lum annoying so I would stay as far away from my grandma's spot as possible. Still, at eating time, whenever the radio station had that kind of Lum on, she would tune to it. Luckily for me, it wasn't on most of the time. Wonder if she had a tape like nowadays, she would listen to her Lum all day long and that would be an awful thing for me indeed if I happened to be around. For me, I could go with any kind of Lum namely Lum Phuan. For those who don't know, Phuan was the main town in Xiengkhouang - the place I was born and a former kingdom too. Maybe, since I was from Xiengkhouang where people thought of themselves as better than their Samneua counterpart, I might have a bias against anything from Samneua. You can say that Phuan people in general had a rich heritage comparable to Vientiane and Luangprabang. Still, that doesn't warrant Xiengkhouang people's superiority. I had a chance to listen to Khub Samneua again lately, and I would say that it is as good as Lum Phouan. I guess that one needs to be open minded to see thing as it is, not the way one perceives it to be.

My grandparents were masterful in making good dishes. Since they were at the lower end of the middle class, they had to make sure that every single Kip counted. Therefore, their good dishes tended to be small. Being a conscientious person, I rarely ate the big pieces. In another word, I just Jum to get a little taste of it. Still, since it was so good, taste was more than enough. Strange as it may be, some dishes - little as they were could be eaten for a couple of days to come. For Jeow, it could even be eaten for the whole week. Too bad I don't remember the names of the dishes since mostly they were from Samneua. What amazed me the most was my grandparents' ability to keep the dishes last that long. Yes, at that time, we didn't have a refrigerator so I guess that they must have added salt to their meat or fish. At least, that was the way my mom did though she rarely cooked herself. Thinking back of those days, I would love to eat Lao food accompanying by the sticky rice again. Now, most of the time, I eat Chinese-like food and can only touch sticky rice at most once a week. As you may know, cooking Lao dishes takes a long time. If not for a Boun or a family gathering, we wouldn't even think of them. I can't say that not eating Lao food makes us less Lao but I would say that, without it, we feel like something is missing. By the way, have you ever noticed that if your stomach is full with sticky rice, you feel that it is really full? That means you won't be hungry that fast like eating the steamed rice. By this fact alone, doesn't it tell you something as a Lao? You, and only you, will know in your own gut.

Also, it was at my grandparents' house that I came to listen to the SeuSane (communication) radio station. This station featured the famous Jarn Peu. Now, I can't even tell what he was famous for. At that time, if you were a fan of Lao radio station and if you didn't know Jarn Peu, you must have been a weird person indeed. Asides from Jarn Peu, there was one guy who hosted the program at night at the same station. It was like the song as you requested. At that time, it was quite a revolutionary thing for listeners to call in and request song. I would say that not that many homes had the telephone but how they could pull this off was completely beyond my imagination. I, at one time, requested song too. Since we didn't have a telephone at home, I wrote a letter instead. The hit song at that time was KheunNunh (that night). Obviously, I requested for that song and would love to hear it every night. Asides from the song, I also listened to LaKhorn or Lao radio soap opera. I don't remember what the title of that one was. What I remember was about the story that a bad guy who raped the heroine (a quite novel thing for a heroine to lose her virginity to the bad guy)

Finally got his own medicine. He had an affair with another woman but got caught in the act so to avoid the penalty he jumped off the window and met his own death. Since this story was at noon, I had to make sure I got home from school in time for the show. That tells you how much I was hooked to that LaKhorn. There was another thing I was hooked on to. It was the Chinese story of SamKok (three clans). This story was the classic in Chinese literature especially the ones that were well-known in Thailand. This one was read early in the evening by some Thai radio station. At first, I was really into it but since it went on forever, I had to stop otherwise I wouldn't have time to spend on homework which, at each passing semester, it got more and more. Still, to this day, SamKok story fascinates me. I guess I need to tell otherwise you won't get a sense as to why how great it is.

Here is the nutshell of the story:
First, let me tell you about the background of the story. It happened at the time when China was dividing into three big clans competing for the throne. This was around the 5th or 6th century A.D. The clan that controlled the capital therefore it was the strongest among the three was the most hated one at least to me. This clan belonged to JoSo. The clan I rooted for was the LaoPi clan. Though quite weak among the three, this clan had KhongBeng who was incomparable in high virtue and, strangely enough, ruse. It was said KhongBeng kept LaoPi waiting for the whole night to test his determination when LaoPi came to recruit him for the country cause. In fact, LaoPi's clan, facing annihilation many times by JoSo's force, was saved only through the ruse of KhongBeng. Besides, this LaoPi clan also had KuanOu - the ultimate loyal soldier who rather died than switch to the winning side. For the third clan, it was only a minor partner in the event. I guess you have to read this story to know how earthshaking it is for it has all the tricks and strategies known to human being in that story.

Hakphaang,
Kongkeo Saycocie

Part 6
Sabaydii,

Now, it is inevitable that I have to talk about my school, Lycee de Vientiane since I have already referred to it too many times already. Besides, it was the reason I came to Vientiane in the first place.
Before I tell you about my experience at this wonderful school, let me give you the school surrounding, its ambience and the school itself.

Lycee de Vientiane stood on the grand LanXang avenue where TaLatXout (morning market), Wat Sisaket, PhaRatsavang (the king palace), the post office, USIS library, the French cultural center library, and Anousavalee Nukrobkout (veteran monument - now, LanXang monument) were concentrated. Stood at the corner of the avenue in opposite end to the palace, Lycee de Vientiane side was parallel to the side of the national assembly. Not far from the national assembly was USAID which I already told you about. If you stretch further on another end of LanXang monument, you will run into That Luang, Phone Kheng and ultimately Dongdok. There was one temple that stood directly in front of Lycee de Vientiane, just behind the dormitory and the pavilion for watching the parade. It was no other temples but Wat ThatPhun (literally means temple of the dirt) itself. This temple was used to burn the corpse so virtually no one wanted to hang around this area once the darkness crept in. I had one friend who lived in Wat ThatPhun as DekWat (temple boy) which I am going to tell you about him in the later installment. In another word, Lycee de Vientiane stood at the center of things where most of the government buildings resided. By the way, I forgot to tell you that HongKanh Ratthabanh (the primer minister office) was not that far away. As with the government buildings anywhere, the area around them will be quiet after the office hours have been over. Still, since LanXang avenue is a two-lane avenue and two-way street and, moreover, it is at the hub of the town connecting to the four corners of the city; it seemed to be busy from the early morning to late sunset.

Besides, Lao people from anywhere coming to visit the capital just couldn't help but coming to look at this 'bigger-than-life' street. With that being said, LanXang avenue became the face of modern Laos. There was one time or two when LanXang avenue really became THE avenue of the whole Laos. Yes, it was during the armed forces day or national assembly day. On those days, the entire LanXang avenue was blocked for the grand parade. The many army units along with the police force, some of the government departments and of schools would participate in the event. They lined up behind LanXang monument and marched through it. Usually, the event started when a five-star general rode on a jeep out first and signaled the parade to begin. Then came the army marching band followed closely by the flag carrying of three branches of the armed forces. I would say that, besides the display of the military hardware like the tank and the artillery, the excitement mounted when the cadet (military officer) unit dressed in white uniform marched by with their arms, shoulders, head and legs straight. Each pounding of their feet onto the ground made a firm sound along with their rhythmic movement making the spectators on both sides of the street applaud incessantly. I don't remember if I had ever participated in the parade but I am sure to remember that I was one of the spectators alongside the street.
Lycee de Vientiane itself spread over quite a big chunk of land. There were four entrance gate to the building. One was from the side next to USAID. If you had a bicycle or motorcycle, you had better come this way. It was there that the parking lot was assigned. I, myself, used this entrance gate even when I didn't have a bicycle yet. Why? Because it was close to my house and, most importantly, I was used to it. A second entrance was only a few yards away. This one was for the teachers who had cars and for the cars that belonged to the sons and daughters of the government officials. By the way, there was a small parking lot for bicycles and motorcycles too.

I guess those who brought their vehicles from the other three gates had to use this parking lot which was packed all of the time. The other two entrance gates were in front separated by only a few yards too. Usually, if you were a big name student, you came through the front gate or, at most, the side gate. This way, it would expose you to a big chunk of students at a time since the front yard of Lycee de Vientiane was big and had lots of shady place under the trees to hang around. Not a few Lycean came to use this facility between classes. Their green and blue name tags displaying grandly on their shirts and blouses were to tell you that they were proud of those tags indeed. For those who are not familiar with Lycee de Vientiane of pre 1975, I have to tell you that those different name tags carried a different prestige. The blue tag belonged to the students from Sixieme to Troisieme (7th to 9th grade). Again, French educational system was different from the American one. To the latter, it takes you only six years to finish both middle school and high school. For the former, only if you are extremely bright, you can do so within the same time period. That means you pass the entrance exam with, maybe, the highest scores, then you go directly to Cinquieme bypassing Sixieme A and Sixieme B. Personally, I haven't known anyone who has done that. Still, since this exists, I guess there must be someone doing that once in a while. For the average students, you have to go from Sixieme B to Sixieme A, then Cinquieme, Quatrieme, Troisieme, Seconde, Premier, and finally Terminal.

I, myself, came to know one person who passed the entrance exam and jumped directly to Sixieme A. She, herself, failed the entrance exam the first time. The reason I know about this is because she happened to be my cousin. Both she and her sister failed the entrance exam the first time they took it. Also, both of them went to the Catholic School - Dara Sisamout. In another word, to be a student at Lycee de Vientiane, going to private school is a sure advantage. Since it was tough to get in, it was likely that Lycee students though wearing blue name tags were, in fact, young men and women. With that being said, those students wearing green name tags especially the male ones were the envy of those wearing the blue tag names. It wasn't unusual to see girls of blue tag names look up to their male counterparts in green with admiration. At the same time, those green tag names also liked to walk by wherever the concentration of blue tag names girls hung around. I and my buddies always looked for the day when we, too, could tag that green thing on top of our shirts. When that day came, we would swerve around like a HongKham (golden swan).
Until that day arrives... Now ,we would have to satisfy with the blue name tags for at least four more years.

Hakphaang,
Kongkeo Saycocie

Part 7
Sabaydii,

Since I haven't done with the school description yet, here is the follow-up. Lycee de Vientiane had over ten buildings. The front one was used as an administrative center. This one was of two stories and aesthetically designed especially the façade on the second floor which was shaped like a big box stuffed with hundreds of small and empty cubes inside. This building also housed a big auditorium which was also used as a testing place. Asides from this one, there were four more buildings built of two stories. One belonged to the teachers' living quarter. Another I wasn't sure since it was deserted for some unknown reasons. Looks more like it was once used as a student dormitory . The third one was used for the Sixieme A and Cinquieme classes. The fourth one which was next to the soccer field was of a dual purpose. The upper floor was used as the student dormitory while the lower floor was reserved for the Quatrieme. My first year class was in the one story building behind the teacher living quarter next to auditorium. Facing us was the building of Troisieme. If I remember correctly, the Seconde, Premier and Terminal classes were right after the main front gate. All the buildings were painted in white or, more correctly, Greek color like looking building. At the corners of the soccer field and the Terminal building stood a cafeteria and a big restroom. In fact, I shouldn't say that it was a cafeteria since it was consisted of only a place to buy drink and food. Moreover, they didn't have any tables or chairs to sit down. Behind the 'cafeteria' stood a Bibliotheque (kind of a place to store teaching materials namely books from various grades). As I recall, it was open only at the beginning of the school year so that we could check out books and at the end of the school year for getting back those books. Since this bibliotheque was at the corner next to the wall and quite out of sight, some male students who were in a hurry or just plain lazy just relieved themselves over there. Did I do it too? Of course, I did since the toilet between classes was always packed. If you had to wait for your turn which was quite long, at times, you would definitively be late for class. During that time, being constantly late for class would amount to a good reprimand and, ultimately, suspension. Me? I had never got myself into those kind of things especially when it has something to do with what my son later called 'going to the bathroom for #1' (being that the other one is called #2). In general, this school had a lot of shady spots since trees were strategically planted around the campus except, of course, the soccer field. Still, Lycean would religiously packed the four sides of the field whenever their team played. I would say that the soccer team of Lycee de Vientiane was as good as of any teams in the country. At one time, they rivaled with Team KongThup (the armed forces team) who was always the strongest team in the country. By the way, the match among the Division One, which our school team belonged, was played in Sanam Kila HengXat (the national stadium). I would say more to say about the Lycean team in the later installment for they were really great and, therefore, captured the imagination of the entire soccer fans.
Getting back to Lycee per se, classes were held very much like college courses. For example, one might have math four or five days a week and each week one or two hours at a time. Each subject was taught by a particular Professeur (professor) who came to your class at the assigned time (yeah, there was a difference here. In the U.S., it was you who went to different classes, not the teachers. Besides, there wasn't a bell ringing at the end of each period like the one in Lycee). From Sixieme B to Quatrieme, there was no differentiation yet. That means students of the same grade learnt the same thing. Things were different when you entered Troisieme. Here, they classified you as belonging to a certain categorization. For those who were good at math were relegated to Section C which was highly regarded among the peers. For those who were good at letters or language were to go to Section A. Section B was reserved for those who were science oriented namely Biology major. Finally, those who didn't show sign of greatness in anything were to go to Section D. This system of categorization was to be dismantled in 1975 when the new regime had taken over Laos. Yes, it was the very year I was to enter Troisieme so I was kind of unlucky not to have an opportunity to experience this much-talked about system. At that time, I wasn't even sure what I was good at. My math was so-so compared to my peers. Science? I just wasn't interested in it so my grades were only a little bit over the median. By the way, scoring even if in the median was hard enough. About the scoring system, twenty was the highest that anyone could get. Usually, even if you were an extremely bright student, you would get only eighteen or nineteen the most. I, myself, had rarely seen anyone getting the perfect score especially in math. The score to aim at for anyone was a ten (just half the total). If you got that one, you were to pass to another grade. If not, you would have to stay in the same class for another year. In general, a majority of students was in the range of ten to twelve. Most of the time, you would see the top scorer in the fourteen mark. Once in a while, the number one student reached the plateau of sixteen mark. By this fact alone, it did tell you that grading at Lycee was terribly tough. If you aren't that very good, don't even think of even getting a C (three fourth of the total scores which were translated into the fourteen range) at the Lycee system. By the way, scores were tabulated every month. As it happens everywhere, those who were on top were usually on top months in and months out. Me? On top like in Thadeua? No way. Roughly speaking, I was more to the tail end of the first tier at most.
Maybe, if I showed some sign of greatness, it was in philosophy and, more and more, in composition. Too bad, though I was good with grammar - French grammar of course, I had a hard time composing in a format the professor wanted. By the way, at that time, Lao language was treated as a foreign language course (that means you had the choice to take or not to take it) while French language course was mandatory. The textbooks were also in French so if you didn't read and write well in French, you were out of luck. In fact, you wouldn't be able to get in in the first place anyway. Speaking French? By the time I got in Lycee, the lower level grades weren't taught by the French professors anymore so if you didn't speak French well as I did (too shy to speak French for fear of making a fool of myself), you could still manage to get by. With the way professorship was changing hands from French citizens to Lao ones (the pre 1975 regime wanted to have more stake in running their own educational system), I would say that my graduating class of 1979 and later was less fluent in French than their counterparts of an earlier class. After all, French is just a harder language to master. Most of the time, you were caught in Jaek Verbe (changed the tense) that you thought it was better off not to deal with this frustration at all.
Hakphaang,
Kongkeo Saycocie

Part 8
Sabaydii,
When I first started Lycee, my parents bought me a bicycle. I guess it must be a not very good one since I hardly remember anything about it. My first one in Thakek I remember it very well because it was a very good model. Yes, it was a Peugeot which, at that time, a number one bike - very much like a Benz Mercedez or BMW in cars. Too bad that I had to ride a no-name bike. In fact, it was even worse when comparing my stake with those of my cousins. They went to school not with bikes but with an automobile. These cousins of mine were the children of my grandpa's youngest sister. Of all the families, this sister of his was the wealthiest. Her house was made of concrete and had its own water pump. She also had a two stories concrete building called HongHian Philippine (Philippine school) adjacent to the main road. In another word, her property flanked my grandpa's house by both sides. Besides that, it was said that she also owned a big rice field, next to her house, which she rented it to migrant farmers. She, herself, was a MaeKha Pa (fish merchant) who spent time at the Morning Market from dawn to dusk. Yes, so far so good until there were two mistresses at the house instead of one. I don't think that it is proper for me to go into details here. Suffice it to say that the offspring of hers had a dark skin while the other one had a lighter skin. At times, I really wonder how the two wives could coexist in the same house. More importantly, since both wives had over half a dozen kids, how did they stay under one roof and didn't bite one another to death? I, myself, hardly went to their house. It wasn't the fence that separated us and neither the big, barking dog but it was something else which was hard to point out. My daily contact with them was through their car passing by and, by fate or not, one of their daughters happened to be in my class for six years of the entire eight years I spent at Lycee de Vientiane. By the way, her name was Ouy. In general, she was a fine girl and quite pretty. What was interesting was, though being cousins, we hardly talked or did homework together. At times, I even felt that she was out to beat me in class. According to my recollection, I didn't recall that I had beaten her even once. Her elder sister, who was one grade above us, had a misconception that I was a very good student (she still does now). Maybe, because of this reason, her younger sister, Ouy, came out ready to beat me in class all the time. Strange as it may be, I later became obsessed with her which I will tell you in the later installment.
There were four ways for me to go to school. I could either take the dusty road that cut across my house and then turned right to the road that would take me straight to school. Since I didn't like the dust to start with, I hardly took this road. The second road was straight from my house to Vang Pao's house and then zigzagged through the movie theater area to the road to school. This zigzagged part had to pass by the backyard of many houses which, at times, they were closed. Since the gate wasn't locked, what I needed to do was just kicking it open. This zigzagged part was the one part that I passed by virtually every day to school no matter what road I ended up taking it. Why? Because it was such a neat shortcut that could save me up to five minutes. The third road was also straight from my house but before it reached Van Pao's house, there was another road that took me either to the zigzagged area or straight to school. The last road was through part of the dusty road and the short road that connected to the zigzagged area. I would say that it was the fourth road that I frequently used. Since this road cut through Wat Nahaidiew, it was great to pass under the Pho tree and benefited from its cool shadow. As you know, the temperature in Laos tended to be hot most of the time especially during the dry season. Here, a little help from the sweltering sun would help tremendously. Besides, you didn't want the collar of your white shirt to turn black before the week was over. Less exposing to the sun would definitively help to this cause. In general, it took me ten to fifteen minutes to get to school. As a matter of fact, fifteen was the time I calculated to get to class. That means five minutes to find a place to park my bike and walked to class. At times, it was somewhat hard to walk through the alley between the two buildings. This alley connected one end of the school to another, and it passed through my class (in fact, the building where my class was held. My class, instead, was at the other end of the building). What was special about this alley was that it had a roof so when it was terribly hot, more students would cramp under it making the traffic really slow. Since this area tended to be packed during the rush hour (8 am), I had to unwillingly give up five more extra minutes. Telling you the truth, at that time, I didn't like school that much. Yes, it was an honor to go to this prestigious school but the vigorous schoolwork just took out all the fun. Besides, not being able to be on top of the class did have something to do with the drudgery of school. Moreover, my first year teachers were all lifeless. I remember one teacher whose house was near the Nahaidiew primary school. This guy hardly smiled at all. Studying with him was like going to the boot camp. The motto of the day seemed to be to drill and to drill. I couldn't help wondering why he was that way. Was it because he lived in a dark and cramped apartment, not worthy of his status? Or was he that way since the beginning of time? Hard to approach to begin with, I didn't even bother to go to him when any of the schoolwork problems arose. It seemed that he got along with the girls who flocked to him with any possible questions imaginable. No wonder that they did well as a group. For me, I was just limping along hoping to get some break which never came. To this day, I couldn't help but wondering if only I had just one teacher whom I could connect with, I might have a chance to shine academically. I know that what I needed most at that time wasn't much of a drilling but a caring heart which would help smoothen my transition from home to this rat race school. Reminiscing back, I just realized that I had spent more time with other activities than schoolwork itself. Yes, at that young age, you just didn't realize that people determined your worth not by your being but by how well you had done in class in comparison with others. That's what life is and will continue to be so for a long time to come.
Hakphaang,
Kongkeo Saycocie

Part 9
Sabaydii,
Since my days at Lycee covered over a period of eight years with half in the old regime and another half in the new one, it would be proper for me to write in each distinct period.
From 1971 to 1975:
It was an exciting period to be at Lycee at this time. Apart from the soccer team that played the best soccer ever, Lycee did boast an academic excellence. It was said that those who went on to study in France were as good as any students graduated from the French schools. I guess it was of this reason that the Lycean came out to claim that they were better than those who went on to study at Dongkok. I, myself, a product of Lycee would say that apart from the few bright ones Lycean weren't better than those who went to Dongdok at all. In fact, a big portion of them was considered so-so that you could substitute them with students from anywhere on a comparable grade and still see no difference. In regards to this matter, this equally applied to the Lycean (named differently, of course) after 1975 as well. In general, those who got in were mainly the children of the middle class. It was either one of their parents had gone to Lycee or the elder sibling did. Since the path was already paved for them, what they needed to do was just following it. There was one case that strikingly illustrated this. It was known throughout Lycee that Minister Ngon Sananikhone's kids were, whom you would call like a movie 'Dumb and Dumber', if left to their own merit wouldn't get into Lycee in the first place. By the way, Mr. Ngon was the minister of Public Works. More importantly, he belonged to the influential Sananikhone family. Yes, this is an extreme case but it did tell you that this high caliber school was not perfect at all. If you ask me whether I was better than a good portion of the Lycean I mentioned. No, not at all. If I have to pick out those who really deserved their place in this great school, I would go with the sons and daughters of the farmer folks and, to a greater extent, of the minorities folks. Once in a while, we will see them graze the landscape of Lycee. When they did, they were truly exceptional. I, myself, had three minorities classmates. One was a ThaiDam (black Tai) and the other two were of the Hmong. These two disappeared as soon as the peace agreement of 1973 had kicked in. All of them were good at math and were no less so with French. Maybe, that I wasn't originally from Vientiane, they had more trust in me than any other classmates. To me, what differentiated them with others was their hardworking. They studied very hard and gave time for anything else. No wonder they were always in the top tier of the class. Of the farmers' offspring in my class, I got none. I heard that there were a couple of them in other classes that did quite well.
Now, le me get back to the glorious day of Lycee. There was nothing spectacular happening in my class or my grade of about ten classes altogether. Where it happened was at my sister's grade who was three grades above me. I would say that, to my pleasant astonishment, one of the Quatrieme students stood no higher than four feet. In another word, he was a dwarf among the giants which the short of them was at least one feet taller than he was. Most would say that he was older than he looked. Still, by the way he looked, he didn't look older than a ten year old kid. That really complicated the issue. Whatever his real age might be, his presence did give color to our school and something that I remember about even today. By the way, did I ever tell you that Lycean wore a uniform? For male students, white shirt and blue pant were a necessity. For the female students, white blouse and blue Sinh (long skirt) were a must. Since no less than half of the student body was grown up (applied to those Seconde up - in some cases, you could even argue for the Troisieme too ), Lycee campus was very much like a typical college campus here except, of course, kissing and hugging or even holding hands in public.
I have one story to tell you about how a typical Lycean treated the Lao language course which, at that time, was like an optional course. Students who took this class just wanted to either have an easy grade or another hour to relax between the heavy loaded classes. You know what my friends did? They, of course male students, bribed the teacher by buying him a cup of coffee and let him sip all the way to the end of the class while they, themselves, pulled out homework from other classes to do right in front of the teacher. According to my recollection, no one flunked this Lao language course and most got the grade in the range of twelve to sixteen without a single drop of sweat. Then, in the latter part of the eighties, I saw this teacher again at Rockford, Illinois. As usual, wherever he was, he wasn't far away from the coffee cup. Did I blame him for being so lax in those days? Yes and no. Yes, because it deprived me of the Lao language I later come to love. If he didn't let my friends have their way, I might have even learned to compose Lao poetry the way it was supposed to be - not the free verse I am used to now. No, because there was no way that the teacher could change the demeaning attitude of the Lycean towards the Lao language.
Talking about teachers, I had one that was outstanding. In fact, he wasn't a regular teacher but a substitute one in time of needs. More than that, he was a directeur (principal) of our school. The way he taught I came to know that he was so good at the subject because he didn't have to look at the textbook or a note like some of the teachers liked to do. Moreover, he was passionate about what he was doing. His exuberance was so contagious that I came to love every word he expounded despite the fact that what he taught was about geology. This directeur was a man of forty something. He liked to wear classes. I am sure that those of us who went to Lycee in the early seventies will know him. After all, he was such a good administrator/teacher that any Lycean could be proud of.
The last bright spot about Lycee was unanimously given to the Lycee soccer team. Judging from the ages of the players, you would say that they were a junior team. Unfortunately, for any opposing teams, our Lycee team played like nothing else but king of the hill. Believe it or not, they were no less better than the armed forces team whose players, for the most part, played for the national team. Of course, when matched against the physical and experienced armed forces team, our Lycean team lost more often than they won. Still, our school style of playing which was a short pass was so impressive that it won the hearts of every soccer fan. Really wonder if the old regime still exists, this great group of young men namely the masterful forward TiengThong (he was in Troisieme) would heap trophies upon trophies to our school awards. Better yet, our national team would benefit greatly from the addition of our Lycee players. Just look at the national team now, and one can not help but wonder what has happened to them - a double loss to the Arab/Persian teams in the recent pre qualifying matches to the world cup. By the way, our Lycean team lost big too at one time. That day when it rained heavily, the short pass couldn't take off so the armed forces team - a physical team, just had the day. The final score was like four or five to one. Of the great team Lycee had at its heyday, only one member stayed behind. His name is Kong, a native of Savannakhet, who came to join the great Lycee team at its peak. He, himself, played for the national team for a good portion of years before retiring. Compared to TiengThong and his elite teammates, Kong was still a far cry from them. In another word, this soccer drama was very much like the drama of the country played on the smaller scale. The greatness that was about to come was immaturely cut short when things suddenly changed. Whatever each one of us may think of the change, there is much to be desired as a soccer team, as a people and as a country.
Hakphaang,
Kongkeo Saycocie

Part 10
Sabaydii,
Lycee de Vientiane from 1975 to 1981:
During this period, Lycee became just one of the leading schools, though still highly coveted by virtually all students. In another word, Lycee lost all of its distinctive edge characterized by its high educational standard modeling after the highly competitive French one. Yes, it was the categorization of students into disparate groups of classes that appealed and enticed the ambitious young men and women to come here no matter how many times it would take them to pass the entrance exam. Why? Because they wanted to prove that they were among the best in their generation. Starting with 1975, this mystique was somewhat lost. The school name was even changed to Oudom Vientiane. Gone also was the name tag, the strict grading, and the highly elusive score of a perfect twenty. With the new system came the more frequently attainable score of a perfect ten. Funny as it may be, the same group of students who hardly reached a plateau of fourteen (comparable to a score of seven in the new system), now rarely had anyone gone under that mark. Did our school suddenly become a better school with a departure of a good portion of 'backward' thinking students? Or did the interjection of new teachers from the 'liberated' area extract the most out of us? Or even did the addition of the students from the 'liberated' area help inspired us to strive harder? Suffice it to say that now the former Lycean could indulge in a proliferation of grade they could have hardly dreamed of. Moreover, if you were not good in any subject, you could still get help from the entire class. To make it even easier, the teachers - namely the math and physic teachers would give a number of tests in advance to the students so that they could derive the answers before the actual (selected among those) test was finally given in a week or so. I would say if anyone didn't get a decent grade after all of these help, he or she must have been terribly lazy or dump beyond any hope. Wonder if Minister Nyon's offspring was still here, would they continue to be a laughing stock as before? Or wasn't there any way to separate the mediocrity from this mass self-delusion of greatness? Really curious to know if this great school could make itself to take this path, I really wonder how extreme the measures would be for the minor schools to take so that all were happy and things were all good in the eyes of the power-that-be.
If you ask me whether I liked 'Lycee' of post 1975, my answer is likely to be a 'No' though I would have hardly changed any school for this one. As you would have guessed the quality of other schools both physically and instructionally was even in worse shape than this one. At least, we still had some of the quality teachers left behind. Most importantly, no matter how 'Lycee' really was, we still lived on its good name. And that was enough to sustain our ego and to help carry us further in life (hopefully, of course). At the same token, there were many things happening to Lycee that a mere 'yes' or 'no' to the above question won't give a sense of fairness to the new regime. With their limited resources and ideological straight jacket, it was more of a wonder that the 'Lycean' were allowed to study more than spending time doing the extracurricular activities such as digging canals or planting vegetables. I guess what most of us hated the most was a regularly big dose of a political indoctrination. It seemed to go forever and at high frequency especially at the first few years of the new regime. Since this is just an overview of 'Lycee' after 1975, I will leave the details for later installments. Besides, there was a lot to tell about the Lycean life in this stage of our country development.
Lastly, it would be fitting to wrap up this installment with the most memorable part of 'Lycee' in the period of post 1975. After all, whatever 'Lycee' turned out to be, it was still my school - 'Lycean' school. It was we, not anyone else, who gave life to this school so, with this realization, we created our memorable moments. Of which, this is one.
He was a math teacher who taught math at Oudom level (10th to 12th grade). Though having a math degree from France, he was very humble, and most of all, very approachable. Every student loved him even those who did miserably in his class. What was most memorable about him was his sincere concern for the young generation's education. Besides teaching in class and making himself available to students in and out of school, he also taught math for free during his free time. This class was open to all students from Oudom 1 to Oudom 3. It was at this class that I came to know more of him. To start with, he wasn't my math teacher though my friends at the other classes had talked highly of him. By the way, he lived at Bane PhearWat where he held a free math class. Seeing him at close distance, I was even more impressed not only by his brilliance in teaching but by his being as a person. Slowly talking and very patient with his students' slow learning, he explained the math concept again and again until the dumbest of us finally got it. Judging from his accent, I construed that he was from the South. He, himself, was kind of dark. If he were well-built and in a good health, he would typify the proud southerner. Too bad that he was in bad health, the class had to be cancelled as regularly as my lame excuse was. Soon, I too stopped going to his class. Still, to this day, the image of an unpretentious man giving all he had for the country and people he dearly loved was deeply imprinted in my mind. How much would you expect from a man who pedaled a bike to school carrying his frail body around as if he had all the world to give? May he live long to see and read this account! As a 'former' student, I would like to tell him that he was such a bright spot at the post 1975 Lycee. Though not acknowledged by the power-that-be, his exemplary behavior has become a model we, Lycean, will always strive to emulate it.

Hakphaang,
Kongkeo Saycocie

Part 11
Sabaydii,
Today, I will talk about my classmates. Some I knew since 1971 when I started Sixieme B, and some of a relatively later day of my school years. There was one person who jumped out at me. His name was Phouvong Phalakhone. We had been in the same class for six years. After graduation, we also worked for the same ministry - the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In general, Phouvong was a serious person. He always had eyes for an excellence and a perfection which, in turn, drove him incessantly. In contrast to many classmates who didn't know what they wanted out of life yet, Phouvong came with a set of plans ready to be implemented. This made easy by his strong disposition and the ability to mix with any sort of people. At first stage, he would focus primarily on education. Since he came to understand that French was the language of the day, he was determined to master it with a pure determination and panache. It wasn't unusual to see him converse this hard-to-learn language with the teachers and even fellow advanced students on a regular basis. By the time French was no longer the prima lingua (starting with 1973), he was already fluent with it. This mastery did pay off when he came to work for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs where part of the duties was to deal with the French speaking foreigners. The second thing he came out to conquer was to land himself at the forefront of the elite class of students. To accomplish that end, he made friends with the top students in any class. By pure association, presumably mentoring at times, he was categorically at the top five spot of the class. When the new regime kicked in, he was well positioned to make the most out of it. First, he got himself elected to be the president of the class. Secondly, he gave all out to become a TuaDenh (an exemplary student) on a consistent basis. Here, he would volunteer to do anything such as digging canals and planting gardens. Finally, he would lobby very hard to get himself elected into the revolutionary youth organization, a junior partner of Phak Pasason Pativat Lao (the Lao Communist Party). At that time, to be a revolutionary youth member amounted to having a ticket to a certain privilege namely the rights to be sent to study abroad after high school and, ultimately, to a position of power. Strange as it may be, there were lots of revolutionary youth organizations especially at the village level. Unfortunately, the one that had the sole prestige was the one organized and controlled by the school, and in the case of outside schools, various ministries. Yes, being a member of the local youth organization helped but it didn't necessarily translate into the acceptance of the school one. That was the perfect example of Phouvong's case. He was a youth member at the local community but not the one at school. Judging from all criteria, he should be in. Unfortunately, he didn't come from the working class family. His dad was in the civil service and his mom was just a housewife. With this kind of background, he was repeatedly barred from a junior party organ. I later learned that he was bypassed to study abroad even after his productive years at his new job. Finally, fed up with the system, he resigned from his job and left behind a dream of becoming a diplomat which he was more than qualified, if given a chance.
That was the story of my friend who now played the dice of marrying himself into the circle of power. On my recent visit to Laos, I was told that he got married to the daughter of ChaoKhaeng Khammouane. Hopefully, when I see him again, he would be getting close to his dream and realize his great potential. After all, our country has every right to be served by the most qualified member of the society. Isn't that right?

Hakphaang,
Kongkeo Saycocie

Part 12
Sabaydii,
Before I leave Phouvong to write about other classmates, I would like to add that, apart from his highly marketable skills, he was also outstanding in the art of composing essays and short stories. Since he was a big fan of the great writers of the world namely Voltaire, Balzac, Guy de Maupassant, Anton Chekov, Gogol, Maksim Gorky, Dostoevsky and Tolstoy, his writing was deep and insightful about human nature. Moreover, he had a knack for the choice of words which gave a distinctive style to his writing. At one time, right before my departure to Thailand, we formed a literary group known as TaVenhDeng (red sun). This group was consisted of four members with one graduating at the top of our class and the fourth, another one of our 1979 class, a big fan of French novels. Our first objective was to translate foreign works into Lao. Then, after achieving some kind of recognition, we would create our own short stories. Phouvong got this kind of idea because he was impressed with a Thai literary group called PhaChanhSuay (the crescent moon). In all probabilities, we could be on the same par with that group. After all, the conditions of our two groups were kind of similar in an existential sense. Our group, a product of a transitional period from the old regime to the new one, was ripe with the experience of the two. We thought that we could help with people in our generation. It wasn't that we could educate them (not our job anyway) but it was in the sharing of feeling as pals that we could make life more meaningful.
As for the crescent moon, they came into being because Thailand in the late sixties and early seventies were experiencing a turmoil caused by the American involvement in the Vietnam War and the stationing of the U.S. troops in their soil. Compounding with the intellectual stupor prevalent in the country, this group voice was like an oasis in the desert. Of course, they were a smashing hit only to the students since they themselves came from that representation. To us, that was big enough. After all, we could write only what we had experienced, right? Some would say that it was not necessary the case. Yes, you could write out of your own imagination but imagination, without an understanding of life which needs time to develop, was a pure nonsense. As a group, we were as much influenced by the French, American, and Russian literature as the Thai leftist one. One of the Thai writers we admired the most was Si Burapha. His writing of social consciousness with love as a setting became a model which we always tried to emulate. Unfortunately, we didn't get that far. We were told to dismantle our group only after one set of translating works was finished and had them published at Vientiane Mai newspaper (as I remember, I did the translation of Oscar Wilde's short story 'The Nightingale'. Since I was the only one who knew English and, at the same time, possessed a significant number of English books; it was very likely that I would end up translating more than any of my friends if only our group lasted a little longer). In fact, we should have foreseen that if we were smart enough. What in the world did we expect the new regime to allow an alternative voice - a voice that wasn't tightly controlled by the party? By this fact alone, it did tell you that we were nothing but a child in the world of politics. In retrospect, this unconventional thinking among other things doomed Phouvong's and my chance of being sent to study abroad as the ministry purported to be doing in regards to its new recruits.
On a personal note, Phouvong was both close and apart to me. Close in the sense that we shared the same interest, we loved reading and writing. And to our pleasant surprise, we read and write almost the same thing. Besides, when his dad passed away, I was the one who was by his side. Also, when I decided to leave Laos, I did ask him to go with me. At that time, his young sister was already living in Canada so if he decided to leave the country, he could easily have joined his sister over there. Now, about our sense of being apart, he was more of a guy who liked to be in the limelight while I preferred to stay in the background. Asides from that, it was hard to nail down our difference - subtle as it was. Suffice it to say that we were friends and strangers at the same time. Whatever it really was, I was glad to know him and wish him all the luck. Maybe, one day, we will have a chance to work together and to get to know one another better. After all, with the likes of two of us, we could spice up the world of Lao literature with a far more impact than ever. The question is: do we have anything left after two decades of stupor. I guess only time will tell
Hakphaang,
Kongkeo Saycocie

Part 13
Sabaydii,
There was another friend of mine whom I liked dearly. Unfortunately, I forgot his name. Yes, you can see that I forgot too many people's names especially friends. That doesn't mean that they weren't special to me. Instead, they were otherwise I wouldn't have anything to say about them. I guess I just have a bad memory with names. That's all. Now, about the friend I mentioned above. He was from Pakse. Typical of the southerner, he was good at math. Still, that wasn't the quality that impressed me. His sensitivity to life instead appealed to me. By physical structure, he was a well-built guy. Equipped with a sharp intellect, he was the kind of guy that our country would be proud to have a multitude of him. Too bad that we had been classmates for only one year. That was in Oudom 1 which was also the very last year before they broke my class since Sixieme B. That was a continuation of six years since that first class at Lycee. At first, I didn't pay much attention to him but since he always saw me carrying a book wherever I went, he approached me and asked what the book was about. With that initiation, we had a lively conversation about philosophy - my favorite subject which happened to be the book I carried with me at that time. I would say that though fascinated by philosophy, he was pragmatic and competent at the management of the daily life. Asides from being a good student, he made his own money by photographing pictures and teaching English. Since he and his brother didn't have to rent for a place to live (they had a spacious house to live near Chinaimo military headquarter. I guess the house belonged to their extended family), his income was more than enough to sustain the basic lifestyle of the two brothers. I went to visit him at his house a number of times, and I would say that he was very gracious and mature than any of his group age (mine included, of course). Since his house was not that far from KhamLa NoKeo - the well known songwriter, he made friends with him and as a result turned himself into a not-so-bad songwriter too. That showed you how talented he was. In fact, he was prime to make a splash if nothing mysterious and fishy didn't happen along the way. He was suddenly caught and thrown in the prison for the clandestine activities. In another word, he was accused of plotting against the new regime. Then, for an unexplained reason, he was released after spending a good amount of time incarcerated. With a blemish in his life, justified or not, his life wasn't the same. Yes, he could still go on with his daily life but the prospect of making it big as he was capable of was gone forever. I don't know how he is doing now. Whatever he may end up doing, I am sure that he will make the most out of it. I know that he is a fighter and nothing is going to dampen his fighting spirit. That's how much trust I have in him!
Another friend of mine I like to mention here was Laeh (very dark). He also shared my class for only one year. Laeh, the friend I mentioned above and I were like the three musketeers hanging out together. In fact, I still have a picture taken at my house featuring the three of us. At that time, who could tell that it was going to Laeh who would step up in the social ladder? The irony was that he wasn't much into study and more into Fascism, a hated enemy of Communism. Still, he was the one who was sent to study abroad after high school. I guess what was in stock was that he didn't come from a bourgeois background like most of my friends. Personally, that was fine with me. As a friend, I had nothing against him but best wishes. Hope that if he is in a position of power, he won't be too fascist. More than that, I wish that his infatuation with Fascism was just a fad that just came to visit him for a while. After all, he was such an amicable guy that he didn't need to result to that kind of ideology to get people to love him and to rally to his side. I, for one, love him for in his heart I see his goodness untainted by the maddening lust for power.
Before I move on, I would like to add a finishing touch to these two friends of mine. As for my first friend, he doesn't need power to make his life going. After all, what constitutes him is a power to itself. With the opening of the country like this, nothing will keep him down. As for Laeh, since he sees power as a realization of his true self, power is what he needs - little as it may be. In the final analysis, everyone will get what he or she strives for. There is no need to be saddened if you don't get it at a certain period of time. Some day, somehow you will get it. Just take heart!

Hakphaang,
Kongkeo Saycocie

Part 14
Sabaydii,
I will tell you some more of my classmates which typified my generation. They can be roughly divided into two groups: the 'HouaKaoNah' (the progressive), and the bourgeoisie. Obviously, the former group was the darling of the new regime. They were always in the forefront, at least, in their ostantious pretense. You might ask: who were these people? For some whom I knew since Sixieme B, I can categorically say that they were not different from the latter group. Once they knew about the nature of the new regime, they co-opted it. That was they became the ardent mouthpieces of the revolution and began the process of self-separation from their former 'incorrigible' friends. Yet, they were some who were earnestly for the revolution just for the revolution sake. This subsection of the group tended to be less flamboyant and therefore got less noticing. This was obvious when it came to rewards namely the rights to study abroad in such coveted countries like East Germany, Czechoslovakia, and the Soviet Union. The most they could get was to be awarded to study in Vietnam. Not a few were hypocritically sent to Dongdok University with the tag that they were the best in the fields, be it mathematics or physics. The irony was that if you were a big name, you were sent to study abroad whether you were at the top of the field or not. The commonly accepted notion that only the best got the scholarship didn't apply in this new regime. In another word, the more you kowtowed to me, the higher the reward would be. No wonder more Lao students were sent back home in their mid studies for lack of qualification. Still, for those who came back with a degree were far less academically qualified than those who were left behind. Wonder what kind of signal this sort of treatment was sent to the young Lao. I, for one, didn't like it a bit. After all, if you want to build an equitable society, why don't you do it right at the first place? Or maybe, that was the best they could do.
Of the latter group, it was obvious that they were on their own. Here, they had two choices. One was to flee the country and further their education in the third country, or eke out a living with the hope that one day they might have a chance to be sent to study abroad from their respective ministries they currently worked for. Some took the first course even before they had finished school and some opted for the second childishly clinging to the idea that their turn would come one day. Unfortunately, for a majority of them, that day never came! Now, who were these bourgeoisie? They ranged from the formerly middle ranked officials' sons and daughters to the low ranked ones. Of one thing I know for sure is that they didn't include the sons and daughters of the high officials of the old regime. Those people already left the country even before the changing of the regime. Of those who stayed behind (the less high ranked post), they occupied the medical school. Here, you should know that, apart from the coveted countries named above, medical school was the second best choice.
At that time, Dr. Vannareth was the number two man in the ministry of health so, by his own connection to the old regime, he took in some of their kids. Moreover, being a big fan of soccer, he helped bring in quality star players from Lycee. Among those who benefited from special treatment was my classmate, Nu, and another one of class 1979, Kong. As you can see, our bourgeoisie group benefited from the new regime too if they happened to have the right connection or be endowed with a special talent. For those who didn't fall into those categories, hard luck was for them. In general, everyone of us was for ourselves than of any time. Some wanted to test out the water and see whether they could make it in this new world or not. Some just wanted to buy time before they themselves took off, and some just let the daily activities overwhelm them (numb them to be exact) so that they wouldn't have to think about their future. Whatever situation they were in, they faced a foe that was bigger than themselves. At one time, they acquiesced. At another, they cajoled, or if conditions permitted, they mounted a passive resistance. Whatever they did, the foe remained inscrutable to them. By design or not, this bourgeoisie group of ours gradually became a lost generation. We didn't fit in neither the old nor the new regime. In another word, a taste of the revolution made us see the old regime with a critical eye. At the same time, though leaning to justice, what was in front of our eyes was far from the self-professed claim.
Yes, this was the price we had to pay for being caught in the world other people had created for us. I would say that, for those of us, who haven't lost faith in the good nature of human being, may power be with them. Maybe, one day, with their exemplary path, we might be able to get back our lost innocence.

Hakphaang,
Kongkeo Saycocie

Part 15
Sabaydii,
Now, it is time to talk about the Mekong River. Unlike any other places I used to live, my house in Vientiane was not that close to the river. In fact, if I rode a bicycle, it would take me about fifteen minutes to get there. I would say that, since the Mekong River was a part of me, I liked to spend my idle time just watching the sunset. If you ever witnessed the sunset on the Mekong River particularly at DonChanh, you would be hard-pressed to remember it until the rest of your life. Yes, DonChanh - an island during the dry season extended its magic touch on most of the Mekong River from Pak Pasak to the land down under the Mahosot hospital area. Here, if you feel like it, you can even take a wobbling bridge to the sandy beach. I, for one, never passed my weight on that about-to-crumble bridge. Just watching people strolling on it already made me nervous. One of my friends even tried to lure me into it by proclaiming that watching the sunset from that vantage was very spectacular. To me, as long as it was at DonChanh, you wouldn't be disappointed a bit. Now, if you ask, what is so spectacular about that place? Frankly speaking, I just don't know how to put into words. Maybe, it was because of the outstretched sight of the sand, or the twinkling ray of light on the water before the sun was about to set, or it was just Vientiane - the land of the proud Lao. To me, the land and its people were what made the place interesting. From the time immemorial (figuratively speaking, of course), Meuang Vientiane had featured prominently in the Lao consciousness. For those who are into history, he or she will know about Meuang Phainam, Meuang Viengkham, and Meuang Chanthaburie. They were all the former names of Meuang Vientiane. For those who are curious about those names which have a long and rich history, I will give you a brief intro so that you can find more about them. According to the Lao history book, the place where Meuang Vientiane existed was called Meuang Phainam because the city was protected by the thick walls of bamboo (Phai). When Chao FaNgum unified all other Meuang Lao under one umbrella, he made a detour around this city en route to Muang Sua (Luangprabang). The reason was because it was so well protected that it would take more than a military might to subjugate it. As it turned out to be, Chao FaNgum had to turn to the trick by having his soldiers patch the arrows with gold and then shot them into the thick of the wall. At the same time, he had his army withdraw from the city. Seeing that the attacking army was gone, the townspeople came out and cleared the wall for gold. Soon, the wall was but a plain. With that, Chao FaNgum's army had no hard time conquering the city. Because the city was won by gold, it was renamed to Viengkham - literally mean a city (Vieng) of gold (Kham). As for Chanthaburie, the legend stated that it was a guy named Chanh who came from NongHanh (SakonNakhon in Isan) after the big flood. He was the one who led people to build the city and, as a consequence, townspeople came to name the city after him. That was Chanthaburie - literally means the city (burie) of Chanh. According to another legend, it was claimed that the city was built by the two Rishies (wise men) who first planted the Chanh tree at DonChanh. By the way, I myself have never seen a Chanh tree. Really wonder what it looks like. Still, there was one temple by the Mekong River next to DonChanh that was called Wat Chanh. This is a pure coincidence of names or not, I do not know.
Now, let me talk about the name of Vientiane which is quite a controversy in itself. As of right now, there are two candidates to the name of Vientiane. One is the city of the moon. Of course, Chanh in Lao means the moon. You can see any of the foreign books that write about Vientiane or ViengChanh to be exact refer to Vientiane as the city of the moon. Another is that this city was named after Chanh tree and, to a lesser extent, after a guy named Chanh. If you ask which one of the three I think is the right one, I would say that all of the three have the same weight more or less. Here is my reason:
1. naming the city after a guy named Chanh. Maybe, after all, people believed that he was a Phoumiboun (the blessed one). Moreover, since he was wealthy by trading, naming a city after its big supporter was a tradition practiced widely in the past.
2. Naming the city after the Chanh tree planted by the Rishies. Very likely, since the Lao strongly believed in the magical power of the ascetic wise men. Remember that the Lao were animist before they were converted to Buddhism. Given that animistic root, it was highly conceivable that the city was named after the Chanh tree planted by the Rishies.
3. Naming the city after the moon. Here, given that the Lao were artistically inclined people so it was plausible to incorporate a moon into the naming of the city. After all, the moon gave not only the light but beauty too. There were countless of sayings attributed the moon to the beauty in the Lao literature. One of the examples is: when a young man says to a young woman that your face is white like a moon. That means she is so beautiful, and therefore, he loves her and wants her to be his very much. What is fascinating is that the Lao Issara flag as the well as the current Lao flag has a moon on it. Is this a coincidence? Once you know more about the history of Meuang Vientiane - the seat of Lao greatness and defiance, you will understand that this flag is more than a flag but an embodiment of Lao spirit since the days immemorial.
More about the history of Vientiane, its magic and enigma later…
Until that time…

Hakphaang,
Kongkeo Saycocie

Part 16
Sabaydii,
Since I have already mentioned about DonChanh, let me complete any stories relating to it. There are two well-known songs that capture what DonChanh is all about. The first one is a song by the songwriter/singer Somsanith. It was called 'HakNeuaKhomMith' (love beyond the blade of the knife). As you can see, just by the name of the song, it rings some kind of eerie to the ears. In fact, when you listen to the song, it gave you all the goose bumps that you will never forget. That was what happened to me. I remember that I first heard this song in the sixties and its lyrics was still very much with me even now. The lyrics go like this:
That night I still remember
The blade of the knife
Deep into my chest

(then the part I remember the most)
Ouat NaThi Penh PhaPuNon
using the water or current as a piece of cloth to lie on
Suan Monh NunhKheu HathSai DokKeo
As for the pillow is the beach
Ouath Fang MaeChanh
Using the bank of DonChanh as
Ouath Fa Penh SengVowVaew Thaen SengChanh
Using the light of the stars as the light
****
it was said that Ai Somsanith composed this song to let his girlfriend know that because of his love of her, he was almost killed. In fact, the person who hired the culprit was either the father or brother of his girlfriend. Whoever he might be, he was a man of high rank either in the military or in the police force. At that time, if you didn’t like anybody or were disgruntled with a certain person, you could have him or her got rid of and, at the same time, got away with no punishment. This happened when you were in a position of power. Most likely, the person who actually committed the atrocity was hired from Thailand. Once he executed his plan, what he needed to do was just crossing the Mekong River and never been seen again. For those who know about DonChanh, besides being a strolling place for lovers, it was used to smuggle goods in and out of Laos. Moreover, it was also used as a place to kill off your opponent and then let the current carry the corpse away. I think that you should know about the typography of DonChanh too otherwise you won't get a feel of the place. DonChanh in a dry season was covered with plants - big and tall plants for the most part. Once you were in the thick of the plants, no one would see you and, therefore, it became a perfect place to conduct an illegal activities including crime. I, myself, wouldn't get close to DonChanh once the sun completely set in. I guess if anyone wanted to do so, he or she would lose not only her belongings but her life as well. Yes, that was DonChanh - a fascinating place to see and stroll along the river but, at the same time, menace was lurking everywhere especially during the night.
There is another song that mentioned about DonChanh not by name but by implication. It was a song by Ai Voradeth Ditthavong called something like 'HathSai NyamLeng' (the beach at dusk). This song is a typical love song famous at that time. I would say that this song came out in the early seventies and you could hear it virtually every day from the radio station. What made this song so special was a combination of lyrics and music. Simply put, the lyrics tell about a guy who missed his girlfriend whom he used to stroll the beach with. Seeing a number of lovers - hands in hands on the beach intensified his love for her. As for the music, it was new - very much like the western music. In fact, a majority of the band players were not Lao. I think if not for a reversal of fortune for the old regime, Lao music industries would have progressed in leaps and bounds. The period prior to 1973 was at the height of Lao musical artistry. I will have more to say about Lao music in the later installment.
There are two more things I would like to add to DonChanh stories. One is about its soil. To my recollection, it was best to grow MunhPhout. At times, I even saw people grow vegetables namely lettuces over there. Since I was hardly at that tract of DonChanh, I had to reserve my qualification about the quality of the soil. Who knows? Since the land was flooded annually, it must have a fertile soil despite the big chunk of sand especially at the border of the river. Another one is about the curse on Vientiane. It was said that Chao Sikhottabong who once ruled the area around Thakek and ThatPhanom once said before his death at the hand of Vientiane ruler that as long as DonChanh wasn't crumbled to the bottom of the Mekong River, Meuang Vientiane would never recover its golden years. Even if it did, it would be like 'Xang Phab Hu, Ngu Laeb Linh' (like an elephant flapping its ears, and like a serpent sticking out its tongue). By the way, any of these two animals acts are very fast. That means only one thing: Meuang Vientiane will experience a long period of hardship interpersed by a brief period of prosperity. I wonder how this curse holds nowadays and, much more importantly, how the Lao people take in this curse. If you ever talk to the older people who know something of the past, it is very much likely that they will attribute the fate of Meuang Lao to that curse. After all, Meuang Vientiane is Meuang Lao - past or present. Now, if you ask me: what do I think of this curse? I would say that it was more than a bad mouth but something about ourselves as people too. In this case, Meuang Vientiane is Meuang Lao per-se so don't think that it won't apply to you - Lao people of other Meuang. To understand the issue, we need to understand about Chao Sikhottabong and his relationship with the ruler of Meuang Vientiane. First, about Chao Sikhottabong. He was the ruler of Khom or Khmer people in the central Laos when a unified Lao kingdom wasn't born yet. Being a person who was great in the arts of warfare, he was summoned to come and help Meuang Vientiane which, at that time, was invaded by an army of wild elephants. Here, an element of fairy tale crept in the story. I won't say which part is a fact supported by history and which part is a fiction adding up to embellish the story to make it greater than life for some cryptic reasons. Whatever it is, it all adds up to what others see in us and what we, for some reasons, fail to see in ourselves. Now, what do others see in us? Here, others incorporate not only the non Lao but the non LaoLoum as well. To me, what they see in us is: hypocrisy and untrustworthiness. At the same time, because we fail to see our weakness in the lack of courage and of the stamina to stand for what is right, we end up attributing our failure to luck, fate or whatever excuses we can come up with. If I have to carry this further, I would add that as a people we are no less great than other people. More to the point, it has always been our leaders who, for the most part, consistently fail us. To me, as long as our leaders continue to be the way they always are, Meuang Lao will be going nowhere, and so does the cursing of Chao Sikhottabong will keep repeating. At the same token, if we are true to ourselves and do whatever it takes to keep our integrity, curse or not, we will annul it or expunge it from our collective consciousness once and for all.

Hakphaang,
Kongkeo Saycocie

Part 17
Sabaydii,
In this installment, I will talk about the trajectory path of Vientiane: its emergence as a great Meuang and the center of the collective Lao consciousness. First, we need to know about the location of Vientiane then we will understand its significance. Now, if we look at the map, we will see that Vientiane was situated in the fertile plain called the plain of Vientiane of course. Even before Vientiane became the capital of LanXang (the former name of Laos), Vientiane was the hub of commercial activities in this part of the region covering the central part of Adhutthaya (Siam), Korat plateau (Isan region), Central Vietnam and of course the entire LanXang. The Chinese source did mention about the prosperous town called Wiantian in this part of the region centuries before the establishment of LanXang kingdom. Some historians even speculated that it was the people from Vientiane who came to establish the Thai kingdom of Adhutthaya. The RamKamHeng inscription also mentioned that Sukhothai kingdom (another Thai kingdom established in the thirteenth century) boundary extended as far as Vientiane. Apart from the brief mentioning of the city during Chao FaNgum's conquest of LanXang in the fourteenth century, Vientiane was mentioned again during Chao Saysetthathirath's reign in the sixteenth century. This time, Vientiane was named the capital of the thriving and more powerful LanXang. The reasons behind this move from Luangprabang to Vientiane were of the following:
1. Vientiane was more strategically placed than Luangprabang. At that time, the number one rival of LanXang was the resurgent Burma. Given that Vientiane was twice a distance away from Burma than Luangprabang, Vientiane was a reasonable choice.
2. Vientiane was located at the center of the Lao world. Remember that, at that time, the Korat plateau or Isan region was within LanXang jurisdiction. In another word, it was the Lao world politically and culturally.
3. As mentioned at the beginning, Vientiane was at the center of the trade route. Moreover, it was in a position to support itself in terms of supply because of the fertile land. This was apparent when the all powerful Burmese troops invaded LanXang at the times of Chao Saysettha. Twice, the enemy troops were withdrawn from Vientiane because our food supply outlasted those of the enemy. Of course, the guerrilla tactics of Chao Saysettha was also a big factor, not to mention the commanding stature of this great king of LanXang.
4. LanXang and Adhutthaya were on good terms. In another word, the two were like brothers. This brotherly tie was consummated in the construction of That SiSongHak at Loei province.
5. Lastly, LanXang was on the move - very much like the U.S. in the nineteenth century in regards to the frontier. At that time, Lao people began to heavily populate Isan region as well as Champassak region. With the acute need to be in touch with the growing LanXang, a new capital had to be created. Just think if LanXang could maintain its enthusiastic vigor, she wouldn't have suffered the tragic fate at the hands of the Siamese in the eighteenth century.
Now, before that fateful event occurred, what did Vientiane, as a great Meuang, accomplish?
There were two accounts recorded by two Europeans (Van Wustoff and Father Marini) at the times of Chao Souriyavongsa in the seventeenth century. In a nutshell, both records mentioned about the prosperity of the country (Vientiane obviously) with its beautiful palace, golden temples and lively markets. Last but not least, they also mentioned Vientiane as the center of religious learning where monks from the neighboring countries came to study. Should I also add that this period saw the height of Lao arts and literature. One of the Siamese poet who came to Vientiane with the invading army at the time of Chao Anou's reign described Vientiane as a city that was as beautiful, as lively and as rich as Bangkok.
What went wrong then? It is here that we, as a people, have to draw the valuable lessons from. After the reign of Chao Souriyavongsa, LanXang was divided into three petty kingdoms (Vientiane, Luangprabang and Champassak). Of all the three, Vientiane was the most powerful but wasn't strong enough or determined enough to reunite LanXang. In fact, given that no outsider powers interfered with the affairs of LanXang, Vientiane could have easily subjugated the other two separatists. Unfortunately, Siam and Burma wanted to keep LanXang weak and divided so they took every pretext to side with any single one over another. This kind of chess playing was detrimental to the Lao and eventually led to their demise as the independent kingdoms. For the Vientiane case, it was a total destruction. Suffice it to say that since the division of LanXang, the country was on the path of a spiral downhill. First, it was the invasion of Siam in 1778 which initially put Laos under Siamese yoke. Then, with the harsh treatment of the Siamese on the Lao, it finally culminated in a popularly armed uprising against the oppressive Siam by Chao Anou in 1826. I wouldn't say that it was ill prepared and doomed to be crushed but I would say that this heroic act of national salvation was a shining piece of Lao bravery and strong conviction in their rightful cause. With that war came Chao Ratsavong - the legendary Lao warrior of all time, PhaGna Narinh - the ultimate Lao who rather died than switching side, and of course Chao Anou whose entire life was given to one cause: Lao greatness. His defiance to the Siamese is what I am proud to say the pride of Vientiane, of Meuang Lao and of Quon Lao.
Vientiane was sent to the Stone Age after that war and remained a breeding ground for the wild animals until half century later when the French explorers stumbled into its ruins. When the French snatched the eastern bank of the Mekong River from Siam in 1893, Vientiane became an administrative site for the French colonialists. With that, French buildings painted the landscape of Vientiane. In another word, a new Vientiane was a creature of French imperialism. Whatever it may be, to the Lao, Vientiane is the heart and soul of Meuang Lao. That is the fate of Laos completely depending on Vientiane. In another word, if Vientiane goes to hell the whole country will go to hell too. At the same token, if Vientiane is to thrive, the whole country will benefit from its boom.
I would love to write about Vientiane at the time of Lao Issara, about Chao Phetsarath, about Laos after French departure, about the civil war, about the three peace treaties, and about the new regime but since this installment is already overdrawn, I will have to leave it for other installments.
Now, it is time to wrap this one up.
Yes, Vientiane has experienced many changes in its existence. The wily Siamese were gone. The arrogant French had long departed. The Americans? They too had to say 'good bye' prematurely to this little country of ours. Now, for the Vietnamese, their country will soon need them more than we are. When all the uninvited guests have been gone, it will be time to rebuild Laos again. We, Lao people and Vientiane people by intent, have learned our country lessons well enough. It is now or never time for us to get our acts together or the world will leave us in the dust.

Hakphaang,
Kongkeo Saycocie

Part 18
Sabaydii,
Let me talk about Vientiane accent today. In general, this accent was about the middle of the road between the soft spoken accent of Luangprabang or Northern people and the stridently firm accent of Pakse or the Southern people. With that being said, it was natural that Vientiane accent became the 'official' accent of the country. In another word, people if given a choice and the ability to change accordingly would learn to speak with this accent. I, myself, had seen many people from various regions in Laos spoke with this accent when they came to study, work or live in Vientiane. In fact, my wife's sister who was from Pakse spoke with a Vientiane accent at school (that was what my wife told me. Actually, that was what I heard when I talked to her) and a Thai Tay accent at home within her own kind. I would say that partly it was because of the needs to be accepted among the peer and partly it was because of the status symbol this accent was associated with. It was known that when they showed a film, a narrator would speak in a Vientiane accent when portrayed himself in the role PhaEk (as for the role of NangEk, a Luangprabang accent was generally used). At the same time, when a PhuHai (bad guys for both male and female role), a Thai Tay accent was virtually used all the time. As I noticed, this process was automatic in some people namely my wife's sister. At times, she didn't even realize that she switched from one accent to another without a conscious effort. For me, I guess I speak with a Thakek accent with a tint of Vientiane accent. My childhood friends from Savannakhet liked to complain to me that I spoke with a Thakek accent when I moved over there. Wonder what my Thakek friends would say if they heard my accent after a decade of living in Vientiane. My point is: at times, you change your accent unconsciously especially when you are still young and your tongue is flexible enough to adjust itself. Whatever anyone may say, you yourself know deep down in your heart that from where you came and what kind of hope and wishes that place nourishes in you. After all, whatever accent you speak, it is no less beautiful than the one uttered by others - Vientiane accent included. Since this series is about Vientiane, you might conclude that I am in favor of anything Vientiane. In fact, I am not. What I am doing here is to state the obvious and point out the nuance of things. Like the Thai counterpart, which Bangkok accent was called KhaiYa accent since every drug salesmen had to imitate Bangkok accent in their movie narration, Vientiane accent came to occupy that kind of status in Laos. In another word, if you want to sound pleasant, cosmopolitan, and sophisticated; it will be best served that you speak with a Vientiane accent with your countrymen. By the way, I am curious about one thing: why do people in the North have to speak softly (accent, of course) while people in the South speak so loudly that you don't have a hard time to hear even at quite a distance? At the same time, people living in the middle of the country usually speak in the middle of the road accent. This hypothesis was confirmed in both Laos and Thailand. If that is the case everywhere, what if we add part of Southern China to Northern Laos and part of Northern Cambodia to Southern Laos, will this hypothesis still hold? Or will the process be reversed for a while and with time gravitate to its old model?
Now, since I have already mentioned about the movie, let me talk about it in a far more detail. After all, movie or to be exact movie showing was what Vientiane was about. Typically, wherever there was a movie theater, all kinds of activities were spawned there namely the soft drink and Pho (Vietnamese noodle) stalls. Besides, since the movie showing became such an attraction to Vientiane people across all walks of life, it was the place to be for Vientiane people for a variety of reasons. The young wanted to hang out there because it was such a cool place to be. For the not-so-young, it was the place to buy a temporary happiness after a long day at work. For the rich, it was the place to flaunt off their wealth and, at the same time, be in the limelight. As for the really poor, it became their begging place as long as the cops didn't chase them away yet. Whatever the place may become, the one group who benefited the most was the merchants. Here, they made more money than any government officials except of course the corrupt ones. Even today, when the movie theater was bankrupt due to highly availability of videos, those groups of merchants still made money as if the money were poured down from the sky.
Here, I need to make a distinction that, of all the movie theaters (fewer than ten altogether), SengLao/BouaSaVanh and Audience Rama were the indisputable kings of the hill. In fact, since both SengLao and BouaSaVanh were at downtown where a bunch of shops catering to the needs of moviegoers were highly concentrated, these two theaters were THE place to be. Audience Rama, a new addition to the movie theater landscape, just came into existence in the early seventies. What went for this theater was its huge hall encompassing about seven hundreds seats. With that alone, it was the biggest movie theater in the whole country. In addition, the sound system at this theater was incredible. I am sure that if this one was a little bit closer to downtown (by the way, it was less than half a mile away from those two theaters), it would draw away most of the potential moviegoers from those two theaters. Maybe, it is worth noticing that only after a couple of years, the area around Audience Rama was booming to the point that, if left as it was, it stood a chance of surpassing the former area in a couple more years. For those who are not familiar with Vientiane, Audience Rama was at KhouaDinh while SengLao/BouaSaVanh were by Wat OngTeu which was in turn not far from the Mekong River. I would say that, of all the areas in Vientiane, this area was the most active from virtually early morning to late at night. I guess it was here that Vientiane was its best. With that being said, it wouldn't be too much to say that if you came to Vientiane but didn't see this area, it simply meant that you didn't see the real Vientiane pure and simple. In case that I didn't make it apparent enough, here are a few more observations. In the evening, the area was lighted as if it were the daytime. This thing in itself was quite an anomaly in a poor country like Laos. The streets cutting across those two theaters were constantly packed with people and so did the shops/stalls selling noodles, drinks and dessert. In another word, this place was like a mall that showed up its plentiful and good life - a sure sign of modern life. I can't tell you how many people really benefited from this bountiful harvest for money was such a hard thing to come by in a country of ours. What I can tell you is that Vientiane people did have a good time while it was still lasting. Whether this good time was either from a participant point of view or a mere observer one, it did add a new dimension to Vientiane - a proud capital of all Lao.

Hakphaang,
Kongkeo Saycocie

Part 19
Sabaydii,
Let me continue about the movie showing and especially the night life of Vientiane. There was one thing peculiar about Vientiane people - in fact, Lao people in general. That was we were enthralled by Indian movies no less than Thai movies. For the latter, it was understandable since we shared most of the characteristics with the Thai people. At times, they didn't even bother to narrate the Thai movie at all. What they did was to let the entire movie be heard in the Thai language. I think that they changed this practice not long before the arrival of the new regime. Thai movie stars were such a big hit that every moviegoer knew their names by heart. Of the earlier day, they were from the Sana SiUbol, Phitsamay Vilaysak and Xayya. Then, of the middle period, they were Mith Saybansa, Phetsara Nyauvarath, Sombath Methani, and Arunya Namvong. Lastly, of the later day, they were Jaruni, Nautvarah and Soraphong. There was one movie which was a big hit at that time. It was MonHak LukThul (the magic of LukThul). Here, you should know LukThul was a Thai country song popular among the country folks of Lao and Thai people. The movie theater that showed that film was SengLao. I would say that the place was packed day and night for quite some time. Though crowd favorite as it was, I didn't see that movie. Maybe, I was broke or, maybe, I just didn't like to follow the herd mentality. In another word, I was kind of a rebel fighting a useless cause. The reason was that part of me was fascinated by anything Thai. After all, they were in a more advanced state than we were. At the same time, I was disgusted with what they did to us in the past. Even at that time, the way they looked down on us made me want to punch them in their face. Wonder if I was born unruly, I might have drawn some blood from them. One of my relatives was married to a Thai guy. Frankly speaking, I didn't even bother to step my foot in her house even once except of course when my great grandmother had passed away and the funeral was held there so I had to involuntarily take part in that occasion. By the way, of the many Thai movies I watched, one stood out. It was Ku BaneNok (a country teacher). This film made me connect intellectually and emotionally with the leftist Thai. With that, I came to know of Caravan - a leftist band that greatly satisfied my taste for music. Even today, I am still a big fan of Caravan. Their music strikes the chord of common brotherhood, of fighting for justice and of yearning for a better life. With time, I came to hate not of all Thai but some Thai who still live in the Stone Age.
Now, let me talk about Indian movies. As I stated above, Vientiane people were in love with Indian movies. Curious to say that this phenomenon wasn't shared by the Thai - a close kin of the Lao at all. I would say that everyone in my family except maybe my father and, to a lesser extent, me. The main reason that we didn't like Indian movies that much was because of its simplistic plot plus the untimely singing and dancing which seemed to come up at any time of the show. Most of the time, you know before hand about how the movie was going to end so don't bother yourself to anticipate an unexpected ending at all. Besides, the typical plot was that a poor man was in love with a rich woman, and at the end, won her heart. Or, another likely plot was that virtue namely honesty would always prevail in any circumstances. What disturbed me about Indian movies was that the rich were fabulously rich while the poor were very much like a piece of rag. Even so, virtually no Indian movies seriously challenged that status quo. That really pissed me off. In another word, it was like sending a message that everything was okay while it was obviously not. Moreover, the ironic thing was that all the PhaEk and NangEk were so gorgeous looking (of course fair skin too) while all the Indian I saw in real life were like they just came out of the stove. In another word, they were as black as the charcoal. In fact, a majority of Indian had a dark skin and, of those, a big proportion was destitute. That means only one thing: what you see in the film doesn't represent India but a distorted view of reality. My verdict was that what a way to intoxicate a mass of people. No wonder there was hardly any Indian movies that win any kind of an international recognition. Before I move on, I would like to mention that there are two Indian movies that were worth mentioning here. One was about friendship. Too bad I didn't remember the title of the film. I saw this one by pure luck. Telling you the truth, I didn't like to watch a black and white film if given a choice. Since this film was without color, I didn't have an inkling to see it at all. In fact, if it weren't for my relatives who dragged me to the movie theater, I would have missed that touching movie. Still, know what I did at the start of the movie? I didn't pay any attention to it. Thought that it was going to be a waste of my time. Soon, when the story unfolded before my eyes, I began to realize that this was the movie of my life. Too bad that I didn't remember much of it but what got imprinted in my mind was that, apart from love, friendship was the most important element in human relationship. The way that the movie portrayed the friendship of two poor young men to the point of sacrificing what one had for another did bring tears to my eyes. There was another Indian movie which I saw at a later date. This one was entitled 'Salaam Bombay'. I would say that it was a great movie - a novel thing for an Indian movie. I am sure some of the movie stores in the U.S. still has a copy of it since I recently saw one at Hollywood movie store. In general, the story is about a street urchin who tries to make a living in one of the many slums in Bombay. I guess if you want to see the best of Indian movie films, do check out this movie.
Lastly, it is time to check out the night life of Vientiane of the early seventies. First of all, I would like to make it clear that I didn't visit any of those 'skin' places. Maybe, because I was too young, or maybe because some of the places I passed by didn't entice me at all. Whatever it was, I missed out that kind of night life badly. My friend, Phouvong, once asked me if I was interested in accompanying to the nightclub by SengLao. I guess it was Hotel Chao Anou night club. To my regret, I vehemently said no to him despite his assurance that we went there just to observe and have a drink. In fact, there was one incident that dreaded me to even loiter around that kind of place. I remember that when I just turned sixteen, the friend of the family - Ai Nou took me to the fair at Khai SeuSane (communication camp). On the way back, after so many drinks, he led me to Pakauy (banana forest) - an infamous whorehouse by Audience Rama. Yes, I heard of this place before but I had never set my foot there. Couldn't tell how I felt when a woman came out and tried to drag me in. She told me that my brother had already paid for me. Not waiting to hear more of her words, I pulled myself out of her grab and ran home as fast as my legs could take me. When the morning came, he dared to come and asked me if I had a good time last night. He, himself, was too drunk to remember anything. Determined not to be laughed at, I told him that it was the night to remember for a long time to come. Of course, it was for different reasons than what he had in mind. He left with a pride in his eyes for he strongly believed that he had initiated me into manhood. Wonder if he knew the truth, would he still smile that way?
Asides from the infamous Pakauy, there were a couple of places that catered to the needs of both the drinking aspect and the sex aspect. They were DongPaLanh and SomSaNouk. Those two were the most famous ones. I heard that you not only found the Lao women there but Philippine and Thai women too. Besides, the music band playing there was of the first class. Too bad that I was too chickened to check those places out. At Bane Sisavath, there was one place not far from Wat Dongmieng. I would say that it was a whorehouse because the lights were of many color namely red. Besides, the women there dressed in a way that no ordinary Lao women would dare to do so. Besides, if this were the ordinary place, it wouldn't be closed down right after the new regime had kicked in. I think that's about it for the night life of Vientiane. Until next time

Hakphaang,
Kongkeo Saycocie

Part 20
Sabaydii,
I don't remember exactly when we moved to a new house - maybe in late 1972 or 73. Yes, before we lived in our grandparent's house. Given that we were a big family of over ten people, it wasn't a comfortable way to live under one house at all. My family had some money since the days in Savannakhet though it got dwindled during our days in Thakek. My mom told me that she had to sell most of her jewelry to cover the cost of the house. At that time, it amounted to over a million Kip (500 Kip = $1). Though comparatively of a small sum when talking about buying a house in the U.S. especially in the state of California, it was quite a significant amount in Laos. At the first stage, we had only the second floor built. Then, when my elder sister got married a year or two later, we added the first floor made of concrete to it. By the way, our house was built in a lot next to our grandparent. Wonder if my grandpa didn't have a land inheritance, where were we going to live? I heard that the land in Vientiane was of a precious commodity. That means only one thing: it was beyond the means of an ordinary salary man. My dad, who used to be the head of the big office in everywhere he was stationed, was now to head only a subsection of Vientiane post office (PhaNek). If I remember correctly, he was in charge of the parcels that got in and out of Vientiane, or to be exact, Laos. At times, someone would try to bribe him for the possibility of smuggling in an illegal product through this office. My young sister who later worked for Phasi (the custom service) and stationed at his office reaped a handsome reward from the would-be smugglers. I am not sure whether my dad had ever pocketed some money himself. Most of the time, my sister would complain to me that our dad was too honest. Still, that didn't prevent some merchants to give him things like an AM/FM radio set. I remember this one vividly because that merchant came to our house and had a long talk with us. By the way, he wasn't a Lao merchant but French who was fluent in both English and French. Of course, my dad and that merchant spoke in French. Maybe, to show how good his son with English, he had me come in the living room and talked to that guy in English. Telling you the truth, my English was of an academic English - not of a conversational one so it was hard for me to conduct a normal conversation. Compounded with the fact that I was shy, I let him do most of the talking.
I guess you might wonder in what name I was able to speak English in the land where French was treated like another official language. This new language acquisition of mine came about not because of my fascination with English and the alluring power of the United States but of my dad's foresight. He reckoned that the U.S. was on the rise so it would be mostly beneficial for me to master this language the way he did with French. At that time I was in Sixieme A or Cinquieme at the most. The English course that I took was at HongHien English (English school) taught and administered by the Indian. The class was held every weekday with one hour of teaching time a day. The book that they used to teach was the 'Essential English' series consisted of 4 thick books. Roughly, it would take about three years to finish this school given that you passed the exam every semester. I would say that, compared to French, English was virtually a piece of cake. Besides, this school focus was on the grammar therefore I could get away with the pronunciation which I found out later that it was not so simple like French. In French, you pronounce the word as you see it so you don't worry about being unintelligible. On the contrary, English plays so much on the stress of the syllables. In another word, the way you pronounce the word will determine the intelligibility to the native speakers. You know? Since I was schooled in an Indian English where they speak the language as if it were their own tongue (listen to the way Indian people speak, then you will know what I mean), I had problems with a conversational English ever since. Now, about my academic English, it was completely a different matter. Here, I topped the class and graduated with the highest honor. This academic excellence especially in writing later put me in the top class for any Vientiane students attended the Summer school sponsored by the Lao American Association (their building was by the NamPhu). I think there were about two or three hundred students selected from various schools namely Lycee de Vientiane, FaNgum, HongHien KotMai (law school), Dongdok University, Phaetsath (medical school), so on and so on. I am not sure what year that was, maybe 1973 or 74. As I remember this special Summer school lasted less than a month but each day was stuffed with activities that you couldn't help but yearning for more schooldays. By the way, the class was held four or five hours a day and from Monday to Thursday. Now, let me tell you about what kind of activities we had each school day. First, be aware that this was the American sponsorship so it was inevitable that American cultural activities were the theme here. Yes, almost every day we learned about American cultural entities - be it Thanksgiving Day, Independence Day, so on and so on. Also, we came to learn about American history and its illustrious presidents until we had nothing but praise for their greatness. To make it even more forceful, they showed slides and movies. Wonder if the young of ours wouldn't be impressed by this kind of things, what would it be then? If you ask me: was I? I would say that it was for a certain extent. When I watched an American film and saw the workers toil at the high rising construction site, the words that came to my mind was a stout heart and a steady hand - the very words used in that film. Also, when I read Patrick Henry's patriotic words 'give me liberty or give me death', they sent a chill to my spines. Lastly, Abraham Lincoln's 'of the people, by the people and for the people' struck a resonant chord in me. For me, I always wanted Meuang Lao to be a land of Quon Lao, by Quon Lao and for Quon Lao. At the same time, I got some notion about the other side of the United States of America. During the 1972 presidential election between Richard Nixon and George McGowern, a Lao journalist wrote in an editorial that whoever won the U.S. presidency didn't make any difference to us - the third world countries. His reasoning was that the U.S., despite its lofty rhetoric, didn't care a bit about us but its own interest. He even went on to say that the U.S. government wasn't of people, by people and for people but of business, by business and for business. From here and there, I gradually piece information together, and I would say that the picture didn't come out as rosy as the U.S. had portrayed. By the way, bits and pieces of information I read pertained to the American Indian and the African American. Yes, if you read too much like I did, it would be terribly hard to say 'hurrah, hurrah' to what amounted to a distortion. Really wonder if read less and know less (better yet, less of myself), I might have scored big with the American. Who knows, right?

Hakphaang,
Kongkeo Saycocie

Part 21
Sabaydii,
Today, let me talk about the intellectual milieu of Vientiane. As I mentioned before there were two big libraries: USIS and the one belonged to the French cultural center. These two places were the breeding ground of Lao intellectual life. That wasn't to say other places were not in a position to produce Lao intellectual movement. For example: the bookstore at the corner of Bouasavanh and another one by Namphu had lots of books to satisfy the needs of book lovers. The first one catered to those who were infatuated with Thai novels, short stories, biographies and non fiction. In short, anything Thai went here. I, myself, wanted to buy a historical novel like SamKok but it was priced out of my range. Since I hated to just browse over the books, I rarely visited the place. Of the one at Namphu, if you liked books in French, it was the place to be. I, myself, hardly frequented the place simply because I already had enough to read in French from the French library. Still, those who wanted to be hip came to this place. In another word, the bookstore also served as a sidewalk cafe where you could sip coffee and engage in an intellectual discussion with fellow book lovers. That sounded great but I just didn't have the means to afford that kind of luxury. Besides, I was too young to formulate my own opinion yet. What distressed me the most was the national library. Apart from the few books, which if I wanted to, could be all read in a week at the most. At that time, the national library was between Lycee de Vientiane and the French library. There was another reading place. This one was at HongKan Ratthabane (the prime minister office). Here, you could read the newspapers and magazines published in Lao. The prominent ones were XatLao (Lao nation), Vientiane Mai (not sure about the name here) and PhaiNam. By the way, many organizations had produced their own KhaoSane (bulletin board) namely the police department. In short, the period of early seventies saw the proliferation of Lao intellectual and literary life. There was one writer whose works I liked a lot. Her pen name was 'NakKienNying' (the female writer). Hard to say what I really liked about her works. Time just took out my memory of her captivating words. Suffice it to say that she brought a new element to Lao literature - kind of freshness. There was another guy whom I accidentally picked up his book. What he wrote was a pure dirty joke. Apart from that, the literary works ranging from the short stories to the long novels (love novels, crime novels and anything in between) and from the beautifully written Lao poems to the translation of the giants' works of world literature. This showed you how extensive the scope of Lao literature was. Of all the things I mentioned, it wouldn't be complete if I didn't mention Phainam magazine in details.
First, what was Phainam? By its name alone, it did convey to us that it was here to promote, protect and nurture Lao literature the way this Phainam once did to Meuang Vientiane.
Second, who was Phainam? This magazine was the fruit of the literary love of Maha Sila Viravong's family. From Maha Sila Viravong himself to virtually everyone of his kids participated in the production of this magazine. Maha Sila was the editor and wrote the column about the use of Lao language. His three elder offspring plus the newcomer Ai Outhine Bounyavong who later became his son-in-law each contributed their expertise to the greatness of the magazine. As I learned, Panai (Ai Pakian) was the king of Lao poems. His narrative was also incomparable. Douangchampa (Euay Dara), Douangdeuane (Euay Dokket) and Ai Outhine were no less masterful. Since I wrote about them somewhere (please check 'the two pillars of Maha Sila Viravong' and 'in the memory of Ai Outhine Bounyavong' posted at http://www.panyasin.net), I wouldn't touch on them here. What's more: this magazine had numerous quality writings from their readers. I would say those two factors reinforced one another in making Phainam the widely read and circulated magazine in the entire Laos. Of course, the circulation was not that widespread given that Laos was a poor country with the illiterate majority and poor transportation. Still, this Phainam was a phenomenon success - something which the new regime literary works didn't come that close especially in the terms of quality.
Lastly, what did Phainam have that captured the imagination of the educated Lao? Simply said, it was the vanguard of the Lao literature. Most importantly, it stated things as they were. With that alone, the public was bedazzled with this magazine. Really wonder if this magazine was allowed to operate or the new regime didn't rush in so suddenly, Lao literature might have a better chance of catching up with the Thai one. If that was to happen, Quon Lao would be proud beyond any words.
There was one more thing I would like to add to the wealth of Lao intellectual/literary life prior to 1975. It was KhaoSane (bulletin board) published by the ministry of information. This one was written in French and posted it for the public consumption at the bulletin board by HongHian American (Lao American school). Some time, when I didn't have anything to do, I just went there and read it. To say the least, it wasn't bad at all. Besides knowing about the current events, I could also practice my rusty French too. That wasn't bad, right?
Now, let me go back to the big daddies of Lao intellectual/literary life. First, it was the library of the French cultural center. By the way, the French cultural center itself was located at the intersection of Luangprabang road and Saysettha road. After 1975, that building became the Soviet cultural center. Whether it was of French or Soviet (Russian), I frequently went there for the movie showing. Yes, you could say that the cultural center was also the breeding ground for the intellectual/literary life. In fact, in the next installment, I will incorporate the voice from the radio, the sound from the music and any means to propagate ideas across. To me, what constitutes an intellectual/literary life is not the dull medium of the school environment but the kicking and yelling of the ordinary people like you and me. Since this is not an essay about the intellectual/literary life especially the intellectual one, I won't dwell too much into the technicality of the term. Suffice it to say that anything that nourishes the mind, it is intellectual to me. Looks like this is going to be a long installment if I keep going off on a tangent like this. Yes, I am currently talking about the French cultural library. In regards to this one, I didn't have much memory about it apart from a big collection of books on Fascism and on French literature. Here, the works of Voltaire, Rousseau, Balzac littered the bookshelves. To me, at that time, the books I liked most were the colorful series of cartoons of Tintin and of Asterix/Obelix. For those who don't know, Tintin was a boy detective who was constantly thrown into the situation which took him around the globe. About Asterix/Obelix, the background of the story was the pre historic France which at that time was called 'Gaul'. What made this cartoon so captivating was the surreal strength of these two guys who got the magic potion from a druid in the fight against the invading army of Caesar. As you might have guessed, these two guys always won and, at the end of each book, a banquet for the whole village was always held to the delight of all villagers except for one guy who was always tied for no one in the village could tolerate his monotonous music. About Fascism, books on Nazi Germany were the norm. There were some books on Fascist Italy with its black shirt cadres and its bombastic leader, Mussolini. I also found books on Fascist Japan. Of which, the Kamikaze pilots still impressed me even today. The Lycean loved this library for a variety of reasons namely the close proximity and, most importantly, the books were in French - the language that they were more comfortable (to some, of course) than their own language. In short, the French cultural library contained almost anything you needed to know about the world - good or bad. I think if you know how to pick what is the best for you, your life will be amply rewarded.
About the USIS library, it is what you may call a true library. Located at the first floor of the tall building on LanXang Avenue - not far from Lycee either, this library was spacious and well lit. Its reading place had a lot of elbow room to move around. In another word, you could even find a quiet corner and take a long deserving nap there. The books that stuffed on the bookshelves were a combination of fiction and non fiction. Whatever it was, it all praised the virtues of the U.S. and the free world. Though most of the books were in English, there were some Lao books translated wholesale from the English books. Those books were mainly of fiction type - short stories to be exact. This USIS library attracted not only the students and the educated class but the public at large too. I guess what people liked the most about this library were the newspapers from both Laos and Thailand. The Thai newspapers, in particular, held a big audience here. Their sensational headlines either in the scandal of sex or the violence of crime captured the attention of the public. Besides, their newspapers were thick covering all sorts of news from entertainment to sports and from politics to pure gossip. Given that they were good at dramatizing the stories, their newspapers were qualitatively better with the innumerable graphics scattered all over the pages. Apart from the reading stuff, the library had a film showing room. I remember that my first contact with American football was through the introduction of this library. Frankly speaking, I found American football was just a bunch of wrestlers heaping on one another whenever one had the ball. In summary, the Lao intellectual and literary life was greatly enhanced with the information available in the books either from the bookstores or the libraries. Really wonder that if more Lao were exposed to that kind of things and making use of them, we could have made our country alive with the intellectual and literary discussion as the presumably golden era of Lao intellectual and literary achievement at the time of Chao Souriyavongsa.

Hakphaang,
Kongkeo Saycocie

Part 22
Sabaydii,
Today, I will talk about the Lao publishing world, music industry (if I may say so) and radio broadcasting. About the first one, there were two daily newspapers: Xat Lao and Vientiane Post. Since I wasn't much into reading the newspaper, I remember only one column published in Xat Lao. that column was called 'BunHa HoiPaed' (miscellaneous problems). That daily column was written by Ai Outhin Bounyavong under the pen name of LengPhuPhaNyeun. I don't remember what it was like but it hooked me on, maybe with its mild satire or just the author's wit. In general, Lao newspapers of any period were kind of dull. To spice it up a little bit, they even published an installment of a long novel - very much like a magazine. If I remember correctly, the newspaper had only eight pages. If you took out the ads, you would have less than two third to read from. That means a typical person would spend at most half an hour to read the entire newspaper. I, myself, just skimmed the headlines and was done with it in less than five minutes. Yes, talking about Lao newspaper, I would say that there is much to be desired in terms of contents and coverage. Wonder if Lao Nyai, a premier newspaper of the forties, still existed, how would it fare among the Lao readers? Would it stand the test of time (more demand from the readers, and most importantly, the restriction on the freedom of speech)? Or would it be degenerated into a mere mouthpiece of the power-that-be? By the way, newspaper was such an unprofitable business that if you didn't have the power-that-be supporting you financially, you would be bankrupt as soon as you set one foot in. Given that some writers namely Ai Outhin could still inject some sense of journalism into their writing were a testimony to the indomitable Lao spirit.
About the magazines, most were published in a monthly basis. One like Phainam even attempted to go with a biweekly publication. That showed how receptive the public to the magazines which, in general, were qualitatively better than the newspapers. The important thing was that most of them were self-supported. That was why they had more leeway with their writing. Besides, since all magazines were of a literary bent, they were less prone to censorship. That was why you could see more life in the production of magazines. Yes, there were some writers who went into the publication of books but they were less successful. In another word, the subscription basis spelled the success of the magazine while the lack of it limited the growth of book publication. As I noticed, our people didn't like to read that much. It would be an anomaly if you went somewhere and saw a row of books or even a couple of books in the living room. It wasn't that books or any reading material were so expensive that we couldn't afford. On the contrary, it was our habit of not attaching any significance to it that kept the publication from taking off, and at the same time, plunged us into a deeper intellectual vacuum. Still, there was a sign that the Lao publication would take off. Subscription to the magazine was on the increase and a plethora of Lao magazines began to appear in the bookstores. I think that if this process was to continue for a couple of years more, a sizable reading audience might have a chance to be established. With the arrival of the new regime in 1975, we -as a country had to start from ground zero.
Of the intellectual/literary Lao world, music industry was the most promising one. First of all, I would like to make it clear that it had less to do with the money making but the receptivity of the public. Given that the medium for this music industry was the air wave, you needed only a radio set to receive its signal. Moreover, you didn't need to be literate to be its beneficiary. What you need was only ears to listen to it. Here, it applied to both the music and the news broadcasting but since the latter was far less than enticing, the music reigned the airwaves. In Vientiane, there were about three or four radio stations. They were the national radio station, the armed forces radio station, the communication radio station and the police radio station (not so sure about this one). Of the four, the communication one broadcast the longest hours, and I would say the most popular one in Vientiane. I, myself, usually listened to their program until their closing hours at 11pm. The national radio station usually stopped broadcasting at 9:30pm or 10pm at most. Besides, they had a long transmission interval in the afternoon that really pissed me off. The programs that I liked to listen from this station was Lakhorn LaoDeurm (the Lao classical play or soap opera), Lakhorn VithaYu such as KhuamHakChaoYuSai (where is love?), PhelTamKhamKho (song as you requested) and Lakhorn Sanh (short play accompanied by the music theme). Of the first, if you were patriotic like I was, you would be enthralled by the interplay of Lao classical music and instruments like LaNath, Gong, Kong and KaChub. Besides, the story itself was of a prince, princess and Yak (evil doer of a monstrous size). I, myself, was so in love with it that I would skip anything just for the sake of listening to Lakhorn LaoDeurm. In fact, my whole family was hooked to this program that all of us would gather around the radio set every 8pm (or 9pm?) on Tuesday. Of the two KoSok (disc jockey) I liked to listen to the most were Phomma Somsouthi and Chanthala Outhensakda. The former was of a legendary status nationwide because of his golden voice. As for the latter, he was a singer whose famous song making fun of the single female who, despite of old age, didn't get married yet as if she were waiting for someone special. In case that you want to know, this song was entitled 'Sao Thouth' (old girl). Roughly speaking, the national radio station tended to play the Lao Sakol (pop music) song while the communication one went with the Lao Banna (country song). Of the Lao Banna, the hit songs that came to my mind were 'XotTangLang XataTangLang' (something like that is fate) by KhamToun Vongsanith and 'SaoSeuaLai' (girl in a striped blouse). As I mentioned before, the famous disc jockey at this station was Chan Peu. Too bad that the transmission signal of this station could be received only in Vientiane otherwise Chao Peu and Lao Banna song would have a national audience. I need to mention a little bit about the armed forces radio station. There were two things that came out good of this station. One was the morning song at the start of the broadcast early in the morning and an illustrated history book which I got from listening to their station. Of the first, it was the patriotic song that went like this:
Lao people love the country and its people
No one loves us more than we do to one another
LanXang will live forever
If we give our lives to it.
Of the second, the pictures of Lao soldiers wearing the red outfit engaging in a battle with the Siamese during Chao Anou's war of independence made me want to go back in time and join Chao Anou's force. When I thought of that illustrated history book, I still wonder how the power-that-be allowed this kind of book to be published given that their power was dependent on the support of Thailand as well as of the U.S. From this point, I concluded that, in any regime, there were some who were more independent minded than the others. Because of them and the Lao blood in some of our leaders, this kind of book came into being.
Now, let me talk about our music bands and their singers. I remember that I once attended the song contests from various bands across the country. This one was held at Audience Rama movie theater. I don't remember who won but I did remember that the atmosphere was electrifying. Of one band that I remember by name was SaiNamKhan - a band from Luangprabang. After that contest, their songs were played in the radio stations across the country namely the national radio station at Vientiane. Now, if you ask me: what were the well known bands or singers at that time? I would say that they were of these big three: the band that Voradeth and William Ditthavong belonged to, NoumSangKhom (society youth) led by Ai KhamLa Nohkeo and Ai Silavong, and ThaHarn LabAkartVangVieng (the paramilitary troop from VangVieng) led by Ko Viseth and Ko Keokampha. Of the first band, they were tremendously popular with the city folks namely the youth. 'Sao Lycee' by Ai Voradeth was at everyone's lip at Lycee. Another one was a song by Ai William. I don't remember the title of this one but it goes like this: dressing like a Hippie - showing the belly butt and when dancing, don't you talk about LamVong but swinging and jumping. Of the second, the most memorable one was: PhatThaNaKhone (the one who developed the country) by Ai KhamLao NohKeo. In a nutshell, this song dreams of developing our country to a level equal to New York and Paris. From Ai Silavong, the most touching song to me was 'Thakek' - my dad's and the Saycocie's hometown. I had a chance to see this band concert a number of times: about three times at PhonKheng - the headquarter of the defense department and another time at the lottery headquarter. By the way, since no one was allowed to enter the compound of the defense headquarter, the concert was held at the psycho warfare compound which located in front of the defense one. I think what attracted a somewhat large audience was the famous two clowns whom I remember only one of the fellow names _Sutsie Wong ('Wong' in Lao means a hole like Kheo Wong 'losing tooth or a big space between teeth'. By the way, since this guy lost some front teeth, he adopted to have 'Wong' in his stage name. I would say that everywhere they appeared, they drew a big laugh from the audience. In another word, they were the sole kings of Lao comic acts. Of the last, Ko Viseth was not only popular with the Lao population at large namely the country folks but with the Thai as well. His well known song was 'ThaiDam LamPhan' (the lament of ThaiDam). When the band went to play in Thailand, they discovered one more germ: it was Ko KeoKamPha. They said that his voice was a combination of the sweet voice of Suthep Vongkamheng (the greatest Thai singer ever lived) and of the smooth/melodious voice of Sarin Nanthanakhone (the one who sings the immortal HeuanPhae song). Yes, if only the old regime lasted a little bit longer, we might have discovered a singer comparable to the Thai. Who knows, right?
Now, about the individual singers who made a mark in the Lao music world, they were as numerous as the sand on the beach. Here, I will only cite a few that was synonymous with the period bygone. The first one was Ai KhamTeum Sanoubane. Most would say that he was the king of Lao music world. His songs spanned over a decade and always were at the forefront of Lao songs. To my mind, his number one song of all time was 'HagHengNunMeeChomJai' (if that place has my love). Even today, if you have a chance to visit Vientiane, drop by the eating place where they have a number of fish pools on the way to Dongdok then you will hear the voice of the bygone era. I would say, though over twenty years have gone by, his voice is still as golden as before. The second one was of Euay ThanTaVan or KanThaVan - her real name. Her song 'SongPhalKong' (the two shores of the Mekong River) made her a darling to both Lao and Thai people. Because of that song, she was called ThanTaVan (sunflower) presumably by the Thai. The third one was of Ai Bounthieng Manivong. This one's voice was very much like Thanin Intharathep - another great singer from Thailand. One of his famous songs was 'HagLokNeeMeeHoutSongQuon' (if this world has only the two of us). Lastly, it was of BangOne. I, myself, would say that her voice was the most beautiful of all Lao female singers.
As you see, Laos of prior 1975 was rich in arts and culture. If it weren't for the fate of the country, Laos might have experienced a new golden era reminiscent of the years long, long gone by…

Hakphaang,
Kongkeo Saycocie

Part 23
Sabaydii,
There is one unique singer whom I almost forgot to mention. Vientiane people knew him as the blind singer. Even to this day, I don't think many people know his real name. Only later did I know that his name was SaiThong. Still, for over three decades, he has been wandering all over Vientiane playing the requested song. I, myself, saw him perform at 555 playground (before it was rebuilt and then changed its name to Chinese playground or something) by the Mekong River. I would say that he could tune his guitar to any requested song. In case that he didn't know or wasn't sure about the song, he would have the requestor hummed him the tune and from there he would make up the rest of the song. As I noticed none of the requestor came away with a disappointment. As a token of appreciation, both the requestor and some of the audience placed some small bills in his can. At times, when no one requested any song, he would play his own tune - the one he composed himself. What was most impressive was that he could compose an impromptu song with a mere honking of a horn, a squeaking of a flying bird or the cry of a baby. By the way, the songs that he composed himself were replete with earthy humor. For example, in one of the songs, he wrote that he was so happy getting married. Then, when he went to bed with her, he found out that she was carrying a baby inside her belly. On that day, when he was ready to leave right before noon, he had amassed some fortune. Leading the way was his companion dog who was as boisterous as he was. All the way to the street, one would constantly hear him call for a walking space. Out of courtesy, drivers and pedestrians would give way to him. Yes, just seeing his wide smile for any sign of kindness did make a day for most of Vientiane people. Still, at times, people were rude to him. Worse yet, he was robbed. At least, that was one of his songs was talking about.
Right before the arrival of the new regime, our blind artist had a chance to show his talent at the communication radio station. Chan Peu was the host who, difference in style (Chan Peu was a little bit serious while Ai Saithong was beaming with life), was still able to bring out the best in our hero. On that day, Ai Saithong made joke, laughed heartily and made a lot of bang for his songs. Then, after 1975, nothing was heard from him. I thought he might have fled the country like some of our countrymen. In fact, he did try and here is the account that was on the lip of everyone in Vientiane. Ai Saithong with the help of a floating device took off from Pak Pasak on one rainy night. Unfortunately for him, the swift current instead of taking him to the Thai shore brought him back to the Lao shore somewhere near LanXang hotel. Strongly believed that he had made a way to Thailand, he bellowed out these famous words: "help me. The cruel LaoDeng are going to kill me." Still dumbfounded by his incredible feat (crossing the Mekong River blindly?), the KongLonh (the village guards) replied: "Ai Saithong, you are not in Thailand but Laos, Ai." In fact, his escaping story was so famous that even a Thai writer wrote about his daring exploit. From that writing which was as recent as the nineties, I came to learn that Ai Saithong was still a vagabond artist exchanging the requested song for the crumb of money. The difference was that he could not afford to roam the width of Vientiane any more. In another word, old age and a hard life had taken a toll on him. Now, with a family to feed, he picked a certain spot in downtown Vientiane in the morning and would only take off when the sun was hiding behind the tall trees. That is the life of one of our artists whose song has uplifted us and whose life reminds us that fate might have its way, but it will never defeat us as long as we still have an indomitable spirit.
Before I leave the intellectual/literary life, let me talk about the Lao movie industry. Yes, this industry was still new to the scene though it had been around for quite some time already. I remember that I watched Lao movies before in Savannakhet in the sixties. Maybe, because the market was so small, or maybe we weren't in a position to produce a quality film yet, they stopped making films for quite some time. Then, out of nowhere, in the early seventies, Lao films were made. Two of the films I watched were 'Seua JomDoy' (tiger of the hilltop) and another one which I didn't remember the title. Suffice it to say that the latter was about an officer who was hurt in a fight with the bad guys and hid himself under the heroine's cabin. Then, with her caring, he was well again; and of course, fell in love with her. Too bad that I don't remember any more of the story. After all, it was such a predictable story line. About the first one, it was purely a copycat of the Thai movie format. That is action style movie which PhaEk came out as a winner. The difference, if there is one, is that the bad guys in this case were the AiNong. This one was shown at Audience Rama theater with a somewhat mild reception from the public. That was the movie theater was packed for a day or two and it went on for a week before it was stopped showing. About the second one, it had a somewhat warm reception from the public for a little bit over a week before it too got booted out. By the way, it was shown at Bouasavanh. I would say both PhaEk and NangEk were good looking. Only if they had posters of them, not a few teens would hang their posters in their bedrooms too. There was one Lao movie I didn't have a chance to see. I guess it was called 'MeuaSinhKhouanMok' (after the fog has dissipated). I remember that, at that time, I was at Thadeua so making a trip to downtown Vientiane was hardly conceivable. Besides, I had no money to afford both the trip and the ticket. In fact, if I remember correctly, it was a LaKhorn broadcast daily at the communication radio station. Therefore, when it became a movie, I badly missed it. First, it was a love story. Second, the song by the same name was the song I liked the most at that time. Long before I left Laos, I heard that the new regime produced a movie too. Believe it or not, one of my female friends was a NangEk in that movie. Her name was KhamSengDeuane. I think if I have time, I will talk about her in the later installment.

Hakphaang,
Kongkeo Saycocie

Part 24
Sabaydii,
My grandpa had a brother who was married to a Thai from central Thailand. As you know, I was not in good terms with simply anything Thai, I was appalled to live next to her. Yes, their house flanked mine from the side of the road so, like it or not, I had to run into my Thai relative on a daily basis. Generally speaking, I had nothing special against her. Like everybody else, I called her 'Yay' (a Thai word for grandma). I knew full well that I had an unhealthy bias against Thai people for the simple reason that they dismembered my country and people to the point they we were nothing but a shadow of the glorious past. Though I tried my best to avoid her - my way of not letting the country past tormented me more than it had been, 'Yay' had a way to make her presence known to me (a poor Lao) all the time. The first thing she did was to always sit by the window from the early morning to roughly nine or ten o'clock at night. Secondly, she turned on the radio so loud that it could be heard across four or five roofs. Most importantly, the radio she turned on was from the Thai radio station. Twice a day, at 8 am and 8 pm, we were greeted by the Thai national anthem. Luckily for me, especially during the schooldays, I was spared of being bombarded by the Thai chauvinist since I had to go to school before 8 am. That was not the case at all on the weekend. Yes, it was my habit to get up late during those days off but since the blasting of Yay's radio and especially the Thai national anthem really pissed me off. I asked my mom to let Yay know that her radio was too loud and it would be nice if she would just turn it down. Yes, as a typical Lao person who was less assertive, my mom said that doing so wouldn't be nice at all. Instead, she told me to put cotton in my ears and just forgot about this little nuisance. Yes, it did work somehow but I still wasn't used to the idea of being desensitized by the Thai dominance on us at all. When speaking to Yay, most of my relative spoke Thai to her. I guess they thought that she didn't understand Lao (her husband - my grandpa's brother always spoke Thai to her) or speaking Thai to a Thai person was just a habit on Lao people's part. Some said that the ability to speak many tongues was an advantage. Maybe, so but in regards to the Thai, if you do so, you are selling your KhuamPenhLao (Lao-ness). Being that Lao and Thai are so similar, the Thai language will ultimately drive the Lao language into extinction. That is the way the lesser languages of the world met their day. Now, given that the new generation of Lao living abroad is less fluent in Lao not to mention that a big proportion of them is more or less illiterate in their own language, Lao is in a serious danger of becoming extinct at our own hands. Also, have anyone noticed that the Lao language our youth speaks is a mixture of Thai words? To bring this issue to the foreground, a columnist in Phainam magazine asked the readers in his column whether it was beneficial or detrimental for us to know, learn and converse in other languages than Lao. Frankly speaking, when I have to write in English, I might be able to get my ideas across concisely and effectively as my own tongue. In fact, in some cases, I can do that better than in Lao. Still, no matter how hard I try, I can not make myself feel the way I do in Lao. In another word, what is really me can not be expressed in other languages other than Lao. Yes, the ability to express myself in English, Thai or even French did do a good thing to my cause but, at the same time, it comes at the expense of my soul. Hope that my fate is not shared by the young generation. After all, you are Lao American (Lao Canadian, Lao French or Lao Australian) while no matter where I am, I am still Lao of Chao Anou. Know what? Back in Laos, I had my brother - Noi written a slogan on a big piece of paper. We then put it across my bedroom reminding us that once we are Lao, we will always be Lao. Want to know what it says in Lao? Take a deep breath. Here it is: Vinyan HengKhuamPenhLao JaSaThitNaen YuNaiKang DouangJai KhongPhuPenh LaoThae TaLothKanh.
During that time, there was another article in Painam written by Ai Outhin that really captured the craze of Vientiane people, or to be exact Lao people. It was nothing else but 'Pheu' or 'Pho' (Vietnamese noodle soup). It was said that if the amount of noodles consumed each day by Vientiane people were laid down in straight line piece by piece, its distance would cover something like the whole of Laos not only once but many times. This illustration just wanted to give you the scope of craze Vientiane people had towards this Vietnamese food. Everywhere in Vientiane, Pho restaurants or just Pho stalls proliferated at every corner of Vientiane. Vientiane people ate Pho as if it were their main dish. They ate it in the morning before going to work. At noon, they ate it again. Here, you should know that, in Laos, the working hours started from 8am to noon. Then, we had one hour of lunch time. The afternoon hour was supposed to start at 1pm and end at 5pm. Most government employees like my dad typically went to work in the afternoon again at 2pm. If that was the case, government employees worked only seven hours a day. I think that was nice. That way, they could afford to go home and each lunch there. Most importantly, they could take a siesta before coming to work again. For some Vientiane people whose houses were not that close to work, they liked to have Pho for lunch, and if still had time, they would even take a nap at their offices. Those who weren't sick with noodles yet, they even had this food again for dinner or supper. As I see, those who ate Pho in the evening were those who just wanted something to eat before the movie showing. Most likely, they tended to have it after the movie. By that time, when the stomach was light, Pho was so enticing. Besides, once you stepped out of the movie theater, you would be greeted by the aroma of Pho floating in the wind right into your nostrils. Yes, Pho stalls or restaurants were so conspicuous around the movie theaters that you were tempted to get a taste of it - hungry or not. At first, I didn't think much about Pho on our mentality, then for some unknown reasons I began to ask questions. How come Pho came to have such a magnetic hold on us, Lao people? More than that, what did it tell me about the Vietnamese on our psyches? Of the first, it did tell me that the Vietnamese elements in us especially the city people were enormous. In fact, a majority of city people in Laos was of a Vietnamese blood. For those who bother to read the history book will find out that, during the colonial years, French colonialists had brought in thousands if not tens of thousands Vietnamese people into our country. They said that it was because they needed help with the administration of the country since the Lao were less learned, less trained or simply because the Lao were less capable of the tasks. Of those Vietnamese they brought in, it fell into two big categories: those who acted as the middle managers (below the French but above the Lao) and the workers working in the mines or plain artisans in various professions. These Vietnamese, as a group, were learned and more energetic so given the green light from the French, they made the most out of their new lives in Laos. Because they stayed in the big cities like Vientiane, Savannakhet, Thakek, Pakse and to some extent Luangprabang, they came to benefit the most from the resources available in these big cities. Of one was the administrative skill. They occupied the civil service or even the military. Of another was the commerce. And last but not least, they made full use of the education. It was said that of the graduates from Lycee de Vientiane, over three quarters were of Vietnamese descents. Because they were fully established in Laos, most of the Vietnamese stayed behind when the French had left. By the way, this account was not in any way to deny any rights of the Vietnamese residents to be fully Lao citizens. What I try to convey is that of the Lao-ness we say we are, how many percent are of the Vietnamese? Pho is just an instance indicating that we might need to think clearer in order that an element of Lao-ness will really have a chance to shine brightly. Or are we satisfied with the way we are as a people and as a country? It is up to everyone of us - Louk Lao Larn Lao to decide!

Hakphaang,
Kongkeo Saycocie

Part 25
Sabaydii,
Today, I will talk about Vientiane in Lao people's consciousness. To illustrate this, let me give you some examples.
First, for those who lived outside Vientiane including the towns and villagers outside the municipality of Vientiane, the city was grand in size and scope. Here, you got to remember that a majority of Lao people lived in the rural areas. Even those who lived in cities like Luangprabang, Savannakhet, Pakse and Thakek; they nonetheless saw in Vientiane as the epitome of Lao greatness not to mention the seat of power and prestige. I, myself, was not unfamiliar with the city life but I still found Vientiane bigger and grander than anything I had seen. Starting with the WatTai airport where there were numerous planes parking, landing and taking off on an hourly basis. Though, in my mind, I always thought that Savannakhet air force base was big but when compared to the one in Vientiane, it lost its luster. Yes, of course, that was after General Ma's failed coup d'etat in 1966. Still, if General Ma, the chief commander of the Lao Air Force, was having his way; Savannakhet airport might rival or surpass the one in Vientiane only in the number of war airplanes but not commercial ones. In case that you don't know, Savannakhet Air Force base at the time of General Ma was the headquarter of the Royal Lao Air forces. There, you could find the famous T-28 becoming the ultimate king of the sky. In Vientiane, it was the terrain of Lao Dern Akat (Lao Airway), Air America, Continental, Thai airway and France airway. Occasionally, at the far end of the airport, T-28 planes would take off. Then, connecting the airport to the downtown Vientiane was the well-paved Luangprabang avenue. Alongside this street lay clusters of new and tall buildings which, by this fact alone, had made Vientiane bigger than any Lao cities I had ever lived. Now, once you reached Seng Lao and Bouasavanh areas, you knew that Vientiane was grander than you had ever imagined. As usual, this area was the most crowded, the most active and the most liveliest section of the city. No sooner than you passed that juncture, you came to witness the grand LanXang avenue which led to LanXang monument and ultimately to ThatLuang - the sacred stupa of the whole Laos. By the way, I forgot to mention one unique landmark of Vientiane. It was nothing else but the seven stories high of the French Cultural Center. This building became like a twin towel or an Empire building of New York City. In my recollection, everyone who came to visit the capital loved to take a look at this tall edifice for it was the thing that they could boast to their friends back home that Vientiane was really incredible. To make it even more dramatic, Namphu (fountain grove) locating in front of the building did add a sense of novelty to the place. By the way, I remember that there was a Lakhorn poking fun at BaneNork KhouaKul (the country boy visiting the capital). I don't remember exactly what the joke was about but it had something to do with the seven stories building and Namphou. In a nutshell, the joke said that the country boy was so at awe with the tall building that he thought it grew out of the sky.
Secondly, not a few Lao of the olden days still view Vientiane as the spiritual center the way Mecca is to Muslim and Jerusalem to Jews. As you might know, there were two disparate groups of Lao being hauled across the Mekong River by the Siamese. The first time was right after the subjugation of Vientiane kingdom by the forces of the would-be-then Rama I in 1776. Then, about fifty years later, the Siamese force of Rama III struck again. It was said that the first wave of Lao forced evacuees was considerable. The second wave, in turn, completely decimated Vientiane kingdom. In my estimation, there are many more LaoViang scattering across the central part of Thailand than the Lao of any kind in the present day Vientiane. At times, we will hear their account being told in some Thai publication namely the Thai arts and culture magazine. Yes, their offspring is now a full fledged Thai citizen working for the Thai government, military, education and so on. Still, what wishes their great-great grandparents may have is now actualized by these Lao Thai. They are coming back to visit the land of their ancestors. Who knows? With the right policy, these Lao Thai might play a role in reviving the glorious LanXang. Yes, once a Lao is always a Lao, believe me or there weren't stories like that of Chao Anou, Chao Ratsavong and Phaya Narinh occurring in the Lao history book. Yes, Lao people might look timid and clawless but they are no less resolute in their quest for greatnes than of any other races. Just to make you realize how attached the Lao of the past to Meuang Lao and Vientiane in particular, let me retell you the story of 'The Lao in Burma':
The Lao in Burma
Sabaydii,
I read an article about Lao people in Burma who fled to Thailand in the early 60s. To say the least, it is a very touching story. Those people are the descendants of Lao Vientiane forced to relocate in the Thai-Burmese frontier. At that time, those outlying areas belonged to Siam. Even now, the Tenasserim area in Burma still have the Lao community scattered everywhere. The Thai didn't trust the Lao to defend their country so they didn't recruit them as soldiers but using them as farmers to get more rice for their troops. The Lao Vientiane, though almost 200 years have passed, they still maintained their Lao identity.
They eat Padaek, sticky rice, and speak Lao among themselves. Let me quote an excerpt from the book "along the Mekong River" (roughly translate from the Thai language): "The Lao community, even in Burma or in Thailand,still maintains their 'Hitt Sib Song Kong Sib Si' which is the way of life of those living along the Mekong River. The old people usually have tears in their eyes when asked about Boun Bang Phai (Lao style rocket festival), Boun Khao Sak or Boun Khao Ji. What's more. They will be sadly reminded when mentioning about the word 'Vientiane'. Though none of them has the opportunity to cross the Mekong River to see Vientiane, they still cherish the hope of seeing Vientiane again in this lifetime.
It won't be exaggerated to say that the word 'Vientiane' has a meaning and significance as the word 'Nirvana' (enlightenment) to them."

Hakphaang,
Kongkeo Saycocie
P.S. They live a very hard life fleeing the persecution in Burma and now have to live in the camp along with the other Burmese minorities fleeing from Burma.

Lastly, despite the changing face of Vientiane during each era, the city is still the focal point of the Lao world. Yes, it is neither Khorat, Ubol, Udon, nor Khonekhaen but the proud Vientiane. You will see what I mean in your lifetime. That is how much trust I have in the Lao spirit and specifically in the LaoViang spirit.
LaoViang anywhere! Come to celebrate your indestructible Lao-ness. Let the world know that you are one of the few best species left behind that neither obstacle nor hardship could break your spirit. May I live long enough to see the resurgence of LaoViang just one glimpse!

Hakphaang,
Kongkeo Saycocie

Part 26
Sabaydii,
Today, let me tell you about Boun ThatLuang of prior 1975. I would say that it was the most anticipated festival in the entire Laos. Obviously, Boun ThatLuang was the biggest festival covering two weeks of incessant entertainment. Even before the opening ceremony was held, I had religiously toured Dern ThatLuang (ThatLuang terrace). For those of you who are not familiar with ThatLuang area, I will try to give you a description of it. Situated on top of a small hill (more like a sloped terrain), ThatLuang territory covered an area roughly equal to two football fields. The stupa itself with its clusters of smaller stupas making a perfect square enclosed about one eighth or one tenth of the area. If you come up from downtown Vientiane which is about a mile or two, you will run into ThatLuang big space. To the left of it stood the defense department, the NamPaPa reservoir and the road leading to Dongdok University. To the right, there was no significant landmark. Still, if you came by car heading for ThatLuang festival prior to 1975, you had better take this road. As I remember, the right flank of ThatLuang was used for non V.I.P. cars, buses and taxis. The middle road which led straight to ThatLuang was reserved for pedestrians, bicyclists and, most importantly, VIP cars namely from the high ranking officials in either the government or the military. For me, most of the time, I just walked to ThatLuang so the middle road served me well. There was only a few times that I had to use the right road. I would say that the traffic was awful. You had to wait for an incredibly long time before your car crawled and then stopped again. At times, I would say that it was better to walk the last half a mile than hopping on a car. I remember that the few times I had a chance to ride a car to Boun ThatLuang were because one of my relatives lived not far from the right flank of ThatLuang. That means if we went by car, we could park at his place and save ourselves some parking tickets. Too bad, at that time, we didn't have a car so whatever car we hopped on belonged to others - mostly of our relatives. To the north of ThatLuang which happened to be its rear side was Bane NaKhiew (literally means the rice field of the buffalo). Hard to believe that the north side of ThatLuang was very much like the countryside. The houses were typical of the houses in the village. That meant the roofs were covered with hay, or at most, with SangKaSi (zinc). Besides, most houses had buffaloes grazing at their yards. Yes, just taking a few minutes ride from the north of ThatLuang, you would encounter a Laos that a majority of Lao people lived. What a contrast right in front of my nose! I, myself, had none of the classmates living in this part of the city. I will tell you about some of the classmates who lived around ThatLuang in the later installment. They seemed to be everywhere except the north side of the great stupa. Now, about the left flank road which was known as 'NongBone' road, it was mainly used during ThatLuang festival as the route out of the festival. Yes, you could take this route to ThatLuang but, in my recollection, only a few used this one. I don't know why or, maybe, my memory just fails me here.
Now, about ThatLuang itself, there were two temples next to it. Before, there were four temples surrounding and protecting ThatLuang on all sides. Then, I guess, two temples were completely beyond repair at the hands of the Siamese in 1828. Also, there was a big swamp in front of ThatLuang by the road. Later, it was filled up - maybe at the start of the new regime.
Not that far stood Anousavali Chao Saysetthathiraj (the monument of king Saysetthathiraj). And next to it was SalaPhanHong (the shelter of one thousand rooms). This place was used as a sheltering place for traveling monks coming to ThatLuang festival. On this occasion, the place was mostly occupied. Everywhere you looked, you would see the color of orange pervading the place. Yes, it was the color of the monks' robes that we were used to seeing at the temple. When there was no festival, the place was mostly deserted except when it was used as a temporary shelter for the refugees fleeing the war contested area. Yeah, just seeing the look on the face of the war weary refugees was enough to plunge a question in your head. What was going on? You would ask yourself. How could it be that the most peaceful people on earth engaged in a bloody fight dismembering their own people and country? At that time, I heard a lot about the invaluable service Kom Paxasongkho (welfare department) had rendered to these needy people. As I saw, the most one could get was a blanket, some clothes, a cooking utensil and, possibly, a hoe. It was said that, during the war, a third of Lao population was refugees in their own land. Wonder if my dad didn't take us from Xiengkhouang to Savannakhet in 1960, we might be one of the war victims. Who knows? I, myself, might be one of the faces you were likely to see at SalaPhanHong. Now, for those who are curious about this sheltering place, I just want to tell you that it didn't exist anymore. Not soon after the new regime had taken over, this place was dismantled. I don't know why. Maybe, it reminded the new cadres that it was here that deprived them of the manpower they thought they would get after 'liberating' the area. Or maybe, this place reminded them of the supremacy of Buddhism in this land. Some said that this place was of no use anymore. That was why it ceased to exist. Whatever the reason may be, SalaPhanHong is not really about the place but the idea of generosity, of kindness, and of fellow human being. I think if the new cadres understand this, they will help bring back Salaphanhong in one form or another. Now, before I talk about Boun ThatLuang, let me give a cursory remark on Anousavaly Chao Saysetthathiraj. It was said that Chao Saysetthathiraj statue was by the Chinese Thai who knew nothing about sculpture. Telling you the truth when I looked at Chao Saysetthathiraj statue, I felt nothing. There was nothing in the statue that conveyed Chao Saysetthathiraj greatness. Moreover, when I looked at the face, I saw the Chinese Thai instead whoever he may be. Euay Dara Kanlaya even said that Chao Saysetthathiraj face in the statue did look like the Chinese Thai who sculptured the statue. What surprised me was that, though arguably the greatest king of LanXang, his statue was virtually ignored by the public except of course when there was Boun ThatLuang. I, myself, couldn't help wondering why. If you ever go to Khorat and see Thao Souranaree statue, you will see what a big contrast between the Lao and the Thai. At Khorat, Thao Suranaree statue was treated like an altar. Every day or even every hour, people came to pay homage to it. About a quarter of an hour I was there, I had witnessed a stream of people praying in front of the statue. Does this incident prove that the Thai are more patriotic (to be exact, zealot) than the Lao or does it just mean that the government didn't do a good job promoting the great hero of our country? Or does it even mean that our people are wise enough not to be fooled by this cheap make-over? Whatever it is, Laos as a country should have found a way to honor our great heroes they rightly deserve it. Yes, doing something half-heartedly or plainly ignoring it does say more about ourselves than what others might have said about us. As a Lao, it is our duty to do what is right not only for ourselves but for the next generations to come.

Hakphaang,
Kongkeo Saycocie

Part 27
Sabaydii,
As you may know, Boun ThatLuang is held in the month of November. For the Lao calendar and in every Lao mind, Boun ThatLuang is not in the eleventh month but twelfth. Yes, Lao people call it Boun Deuane SipSong or Deuane SipSong is Boun ThatLuang. When this month comes, Lao people everywhere plan to come and pray at Pha ThatLuang if they can afford to. My dad and I once came to Boun ThatLuang from Thakek as I already told you in the series of Thakek. In Lao people's minds, ThatLuang came to play such a dominant role in the Lao consciousness while ThatPhaNom was reserved for the religious and spiritual role. Now, since ThatLuang figure is in the emblem of the country, ThatLuang will ultimately serve as a national symbol as well as a religious/spiritual symbol for the whole country. Wonder why the old regime didn't make use of this potent symbol of national consciousness. By the way, before I paint a vivid picture of Boun ThatLuang in your mind, let me give you a brief description of ThatLuang stupa. From the history book, it was said that Chao Saysetthathiraj built this stupa by enlarging/aggrandizing the one that had already existed there. I guess nobody knows how long ago the old stupa had existed - maybe, it was there at the time of Khmer influence over the middle of Laos hundreds of years before the establishment of LanXang kingdom. It was also said that the old stupa contained the relics of Buddha such as breastbone. That was why ThatLuang continued to have such a magnetic hold over Lao people across the country and as far as Isan as well. Given that ThatLuang was located at a somewhat far distance from Wat Phakeo which, at the old time, housed Phakeo (the emerald Buddha) and Wat SiMeuang - the presumably LakMeuang (the sacred center of the city), it did tell us that the old Vientiane must be grand in size indeed! Just a little footnote here: when the Dutchman Van Wustoff visited LanXang at the time of Chao Souriyavongsa, it was nowhere else but ThatLuang terrace that greeted him with a grand display of an army of elephants and troops from the cavalry and infantry units.
Remember that, at that time, a radius of a mile or two took the whole day to reach the destination. To stretch it further, when the French explorers stumbled into ThatLuang fifty years after the destruction of Vientiane by the Siamese, they traveled over three days originating from Wat Pakeo. Yes, at that time, Vientiane was in ruins. That meant the distance between Wat Pakeo and ThatLuang was covered with bushes, if not outright jungles. It was also said everything in Vientiane was destroyed except Wat Sisaket for the simple reason that its style was similar to the temple in Bangkok (some even said it was because the Thai troops camped there. That was why the temple was saved from the Thai). With that in mind, ThatLuang must have undergone a severe damage. Still, no account was recorded about ThatLuang at that time. It was mentioned again when the Chinese Ho plundered the city in the middle to late nineteen century. This time they made sure that everything of value namely gold piece covering or hiding in the small stupas were taken. I am not sure whether, at this time, ThatLuang spire was struck in half. With it was gone the really made of gold spire. I have a picture of ThatLuang half decimated, please take a look at my website (http://www.panyasin.net) then you will see how far we, as a people and country, have come. To me, without that realization, we will never know what tasks have been entrusted upon us by our ancestors.

Now, let me tell me about ThatLuang as it exists today. It was the works of the French conservationists. They meticulously pierced in any available information and rebuilt ThatLuang as it was supposed to be at the time of Chao Saysetthathiraj. It was finally done in the thirties and it is here with us as we currently see it today. Now, about the architectural design and its significance, I will give you my amateurish version of it. To my knowledge, ThatLuang encompasses the Lao cosmology of a spiritual center typifying in the main towering stupa protected by the four corners of smaller stupas. Since I last checked the stupa in both the big one and the smaller ones, I would say that they were built on top of the blooming lotus. Yes, to me, seeing ThatLuang is like witnessing a spiritual awakening. As a country and people, it does mean a lot. It gives us direction and a sense of purpose in our quest for a place in the world. Though, we as a people and country, have continuously suffered defeat but if we don't give up, one day we will experience an awakening comparable to a blooming lotus.

Hakphaang,
Kongkeo Saycocie

Part 28
Sabaydii,
At Boun ThatLuang, there were five main event categories I would like to touch on. They were the pavilions, the entertainment, the food, the sports and the religious ceremony. Of the first, they covered the whole area of ThatLuang in a circular manner. Yes, they extended from one side of ThatLuang to the next leaving out the middle area for the remaining three categories. The pavilions ranged from the biggest ones to the smallest. Usually, the biggest pavilions belonged to the countries like the U.S. (always the biggest), Japan, and, believe it or not, Thailand. I would say most of the countries that had a diplomatic relationship with Laos had their pavilions there. Altogether, they were numbered over fifteen. Some of our ministries had their pavilions too namely the agriculture ministry. The rest of the pavilions (smallest to the middle size) were made up of companies like Fab (selling the detergent by that name) and the stages for the music concert. After all, most of the pavilions were so-so therefore it would take only a couple of minutes to breeze through their exhibitions. Still, once you were in any pavilion, you had to go with the crowd. I would say that the pavilions were strangely packed most of the time especially between seven and nine o'clock in the evening. By this fact, it did tell me that Boun ThatLuang attracted new visitors every single night. In fact, just by their accent, you were to know that they came from every region of the country. Yes, their accent plus their dress did make ThatLuang a very interesting place to observe Lao people across the spectrum. Here, the Hmong with their distinctive dress stood out the most.
At one time, the U.S. pavilion featuring a space shuttle just captivated the audience. That meant people completely crowed the place therefore trafficking in that area took at least a quarter of an hour. Since space travel was such a novelty in the least technologically developed societies such as ours, people were at awe with the display. Moreover, the U.S. pavilion had a way to stall the flow of human wave by showing films like a hit comedy featuring Tui/Joi right into the pavilion closing hour (about 10 or 11pm). The French pavilion did no less worse. It showed a film on the French Revolution and continuously played many hit French songs like 'Combien Je t'aime' to the young and educated Lao who were infatuated with the French love songs. Great as they were, they were still incomparable when taken the Thai pavilion into account. Yes, the Thai won out not by the grand display of their pavilion but by their LukThul concert. I remember that the ground in front their pavilion was thronged with people. in fact, it overflowed into many pavilions adjacent to it. Roughly speaking, at one time or another, the crowd in front the Thai pavilion amounted to no less than a third of all people who went to Boun ThatLuang on that particular night. This Lao fascination of anything Thai really saddened me since virtually no one watched the Lao concert playing at another end of ThatLuang ground. Being a true patriot, I turned my back on the Thai concert and religiously watched the Lao one until it had to prematurely cut short all of its program for lack of the audience. I remember that one of their songs they played - NaoLom (cold wind) really made me shiver because virtually nobody was within my shouting distance. I guess that, in our country, the only time that it was really cold was during Boun ThatLuang. People tended to dress heavily with their SeuaLenh (knitting coat). For me, I pulled out all of my SeuaLenh my mom graciously made for each one of us. Why did I need that many? It was because I usually went to Boun ThatLuang every single night. Only one time or two that I missed a single day of this great fair. My brother, Ngai, was no less enthusiastic about Boun ThatLuang than me for, to my knowledge, he had never missed a single day. Still, whenever the fair was over, he had to console himself with a saying that went like this: 'there is no party that never ends.'
To me, one of the most memorable pavilions was neither one of the big three but of the Great Britain. First, I had to make it clear that it was not the English pavilion per-se that impressed me (after all, it didn't) but their showing of the World Cup of soccer held in England in 1966. Yes, it was the first time that I had a chance to watch any international match aside from reading it in the newspaper. That year, the English team won the tournament by beating West Germany by the score of four to two (overtime). What was great about the film was that it showed the highlight of all the matches. At that time, there were only sixteen teams qualifying for that world cup. Of those, one team was from North Korea. To my disbelief, this team beat the European soccer power house, Italy, and went on to the second round. It was the first time that any Asian team could go that far in the world cup tournament. In the second round, it did make a lot of splash by scoring the first three goals against Portugal. Unfortunately, it lost that game by the score of five to three. The guy who scored a hat trick (three goals or more in one game) was by the nickname of 'black guy of Mozambique'. By the way, that Portugal team reminds me of this current Portugal team. This time, it has Figo - the gifted playmaker who is as good as Zidane, its French counterpart. I am sure that Portugal will do as well in the 2002 world cup tournament as their third place of 1966. For those who are not in soccer, you won't realize how big the world cup is. Suffice it to say that winning even a single match is the pride of the country. Going to the second round is the most the country can ask from you. Ultimately, if you win the cup, you will send the whole country into an euphoric atmosphere. Watch the upcoming 2002 world cup in Korea/Japan, then you will see what the world is like.

Hakphaang,
Kongkeo Saycocie

Part 29
Sabaydii,
In the last installment, I did mention a little bit about the entertainment. Today, I will talk more about it because it was THE thing most people came to ThatLuang for. Of course, when the Thai concert was held at the Thai pavilion, people specifically came for that one. You might wonder what kind of attraction was there. Apart from the music which was riveting, HangKheuang (the female dancers dressing in a revealing way) was the crowd favorite. Whenever those dancers lifted their skirts, it would draw a big hurray from the packed crowd. At this point, you might wonder what in the world I knew since I had my back turned to the Thai pavilion. As an observer, I couldn't help but glancing at the Thai concert once in a while especially when the uproar seemed to go off intermittently. I would say that the wilder the uproar, the more frequency the lifting of the skirts was. For me, personally, it didn't excite me a bit. Maybe, I was too far from the stage (those who were tightly packed in front must have felt differently, I guess). Or maybe, I just wasn't in it. What I was really in was no other than the movie especially the ones shown by the KhaiYa. They had a full featured movie - very much like the one shown in the movie theater some time before. Most of the time, they would show two full length movies each night. That meant when the last scene was shown, it was well into one or two o'clock in the morning. Also, two movies were going at the same time so you had a kind of luxury here. Yes, Boun ThatLuang was a complete feast to the eyes. That meant if you were a fan of movies like me, you wouldn't miss a single night. By the way, the movie showing was held in the middle of ThatLuang terrace. That way, there was a plenty of seats for all moviegoers. Here, I have to make it clear that ThatLuang has two terraces: a smaller one in front of the stupa where the Thai pavilion was located and the much bigger one by the road. It was at this one that the movie showing was held. Apart from the movie, the entertainment category included the SingSa and LothTaiThang (the motorcycle going around the big tank).
About the food, on either the smaller ground or the big one, a variety of food was lining up everywhere. Of the favorite, there was PingKai (fried chicken) and KhaoLam (stuffed sweet rice in a bamboo container). I would say Lao fried chicken had a special kind of smell that enticed you. What was more its red soaked color was tasty to the eyes. Most people going to Boun ThatLuang would usually buy those two when they were about to leave the fair. At least, that was what my family always did. Thinking back, I couldn't help wondering how we could eat the things we bought at Boun ThatLuang since they were covered with dust (KhaoLam might be safe to eat since it was in the sealed container but not PingKai which was fully exposed to the flying dust). You should know that ThatLuang terrace wasn't paved so whenever there was a movement on the ground, dust flew up in the air. Anyone could see this whenever a car headlight was shining through. Still, we loved to eat PingKai from Boun ThatLuang. You know what we did to get the dust out? We just blew a few puff and voila we could eat it with no more hesitation. Wonder if we can do so when we go to Boun ThatLuang again.
About the sports, there was a soccer match, horse racing, and Lao style hockey called 'Tikhi'. The difference was that this game was played on the ground not the ice and there was no limit to the participants on either side. Moreover, the putt was not small but as big as a coconut. In my mind, I would even say that the putt was the coconut. As for the stick, it was of any long piece that could be hit with. The uniform? One side could wear anything while the other just took off their shirts. By the way, this game was played between Kha Ratsakane (civil servants) and Paxaxon (the ordinary people). Of course, the one who wore the shirt was of the former. There was one thing worth noting that no matter how it played or how good the civil servants were, the game had to be won by the ordinary people. It was said that if the civil servants won, the country would be in trouble either in famine or war. On the contrary, if the ordinary people won, the country would be blessed with a plentiful harvest. In another word, everyone would be happy. As you can see, this game was played just for the ritual purpose. Still, the fact that this ritual existed does tell us that those in power don't take power for granted. In the back of their mind, they are always concerned with the plight of the ordinary people. That is the beauty of Lao ritual of the past. If only our civil servants abided by that ritual, our people would be better served.
About the religious ceremony, it was of two levels. One was of the king to perform and another was of the people. By the way, at the inauguration of Boun ThatLuang, the two took part in the ceremony. Believe it or not, the LaoTheung were honored to lead the procession because they were the ones who occupied this land first. The king's function was just to officially open Boun ThatLuang. I, myself, had never seen the king at close range at Boun ThatLuang. At a distance, I saw him walking in a solemn manner. The big umbrella carrying by a page closely followed him at every one of his steps. On one afternoon, I saw his procession inside the compound of ThatLuang but since it was behind closed doors, I assumed that he performed a religious ceremony there. After he had gone, it was the turn of the ordinary people to go inside and give prayers to our sacred stupa. Though I tend to associate Boun ThatLuang with the entertainment aspect but it was at the religious/spiritual side that really made Boun ThatLuang stand out. There were two ways to measure this intangible thing. First, it was in the decoration of ThatLuang. On this occasion, the entire stupa was covered with the light bulbs. When the night came, ThatLuang was like floating in the sea of fire. Besides, at all time, the entire compound was greeted with the incense, flowers and other kind of offerings. What really impressed me was the way people had towards ThatLuang. They walked into the stupa compound with a complete reverence. Each bowing, each clapping of two hands together and each body gesture did tell me that ThatLuang held such a special place in our people's hearts. It was both the realization of KhuamPenhLao as well as the spiritual refuge. With that kind of understanding, we - Lao people came to celebrate the great stupa with everything we had. Yes, with everything we had!

Hakphaang,
Kongkeo Saycocie

Part 30
Sabaydii,
I remember that I was once an apprentice at the exporting/importing company located at the corner next to Bouasavanh. My dad thought that it would be a good idea if I could get some experience working at the office and make some money too. At that time, I must have been sixteen or seventeen at the most. Since this job was during the summer and one of my relatives was working there, I thought it wouldn't be a bad experience at all. Indeed, it wasn't. I recalled that what I had to do was only crunching some numbers and voila some easy money. Yes, it really felt good to make some money and therefore helping your family. In fact, every Kip I made, I gave it all to my mom who took care of the family expenses. You might ask whether I didn't have any need. Yes, it was very little compared to what my big family was facing with the only regular income from my dad. Yes, I liked to go to the movies and buy books once in a while. Still, for some unknown reasons, I didn't keep any for myself. Maybe, I knew that whenever I was in need of money, my mom wouldn't say 'no' to me. Of all the kids, she loved me very dearly. Moreover, both of my parents had set a very high expectation of me. In another word, they strongly believed that I would be the one who carried the torch of the Saycocie family. I still remember that, while still going to Lycee de Vientiane, I did make my own plan. I figured that I would be graduating from this school when I had turned twenty two. Then, after another eight years, I would have gotten a ph. D. After that, I would work for the government. Hopefully, with a complete dedication to my country sake, I would one day hold a high position in the government. It was always my deep wishes to direct the country course. I know it was childish of me but it was what kept me going foolishly or not. In general, what I had in mind was not different from what my generation was nourishing in their hearts and souls. What we feverishly wanted was to serve our beloved country and, if needed, we would sacrifice everything even our lives for this sacred cause. With this kind of maddening logic, we were caught in the world of politics when the new regime rushed in to replace the old one. Which side would we side with or just drift along with? For some who had made up their minds, I had nothing but a complete respect for them. For me and others like me, this watershed event has haunted us ever since. Was there a place for us which we could wholeheartedly call home (as one of Soudary's poems once put it)? It is not going to be an easy question to answer. Love and hate, pride and prejudice all constitute to make my generation a beaten generation. Still, in our collective minds, we have never thought of ourselves as being subdued. Yes, only time will tell what we really are in the end. Let the band play on, my generation will both cry and smile until we have nothing to shed any more.
Before I go to the events post 1975 or even post 1973, let me talk more about life before those periods. I remember that I used to take some math classes held at HongHian Chao Anou during summer. The class itself was okay but the school bearing the great Chao Anou's name was quite pitiful. In another word, the school was in bad shape in both the building and the materials namely the desks, chairs and blackboards. Apart from that, this school had a lot of shades from the naturally grown trees around the school. Besides, this school had such a big front yard that was bigger than the school itself. It was here that the students played soccer and whatever game they could come up with. What I liked most about this school was that I sometimes could watch the soccer match played at the national stadium without even paying for a single Kip. Yes, as it had been known, this school side was bordering with the national stadium. If you were just at the second floor of the school, you would be able to view the soccer field easily. That was what some soccer fans did at times. By the way, the national stadium was kind of small and so did its wall. If nobody guarded the wall, you could easily climb on top of it and jump over at the other side. Moreover, there were only two stands alongside the field. That meant behind both goal posts there were empty places. It was at these empty places that soccer fans could get in without the tickets. When the match was on, the most this stadium could hold was four or five thousand people. At one time or another, when a big name team from other countries came to play, the surrounding area was packed. Because the stadium was by the road, people just parked their cars, trucks or buses in the streets and stood on top of them. Since I don't have much time today, I will continue the story in the later installment.
Until next time

Hakphaang,
Kongkeo Saycocie

Part 31
Sabaydii,
Let me continue with the national stadium for it was the place that held a lot of cherished memory to me. For those who are not familiar with Vientiane, the national stadium was in downtown area. An important landmark next to it was the national radio station and not far from it was HongHian NatTaSin (school of traditional dancing). Sharing the space of the national stadium was basketball/volleyball stadium and the tennis court (I guess it was the only one in Vientiane). I would say that, of all sports, I madly loved soccer (the Lao and the rest of the world except the U.S. call it football or 'TehBanh' in Lao), basketball, volleyball and TehKaToh in respective order. During the soccer season, I would spend the whole afternoon at the stadium watching all the soccer matches. Moreover, when they had matches in the morning for the second or even third division team, I even watched a big chunk of it. What I loved the most was the match between the armed forces team and the Dongdok team, or at a later time, between the armed forces team and Lycee team. The latter match was to last only a year or two while the former match went on since the first day I had been in Vientiane in 1972 to the year I left Laos in 1981. The armed forces team either of the old regime or the new one was virtually the same team apart from the key players who left the country after 1975. Of the armed forces big names was Nudam (black mouse), SengThong and Deth. Later, they added another big name like Phengsavanh. Of the Dongdok team, there were Vatthana and Oudom. What was interesteing was that when these two above teams played one another, a troop of soldiers and a caravan of Dongdok students would flood the stadium. All the cheering truly made the game very memorable. I almost forgot that there was one outstanding player by the name of Uppekha. I would say that he truly represented Dongdok for, to my recollection, he played for only the Dongdok team despite all the enticement from other teams. At Bane Sisavath, we had a team by the same name playing for the first division. I forgot the goalkeeper's name who always wore number zero. He was also the number two goalkeeper in the country. At the forward spot, we had a great player by the name of DouangDee. The Thai media liked to tease whenever our team didn't fare well against the opposing team. They would say that the Lao team didn't have a good luck as the name of DouangDee was.

By the way, there was another player who received all the praise from the Thai media. His name was SomNeuk - a goalkeeper. The Thai media nicknamed him 'MeuKao' (the glued hand) since hardly no ball was allowed to pass through his hands. This guy played for FaiFa (the electricity team). No wonder when they made up a national team at one time or another, they represented the country well. They regularly beat Singapore, tied Malaysia and at one time, defeated Thailand in their own soil. In another word, we could compete with any team in South East Asia teams. By the way, we had never beaten or tied with Burma - a soccer power house at that time. I would say all the credits for turning the national team around was nobody else but a Hongkong coach who knew how to make use of all the available talents. Unfortunately, when he left, the national team just didn't fare that well as before. Vatthana, Oudom and SomNeuk even followed him to play in HongKong. I am glad that I did witness the glorious day of Lao soccer. Only if our country wasn't impoverished, we could hold a tournament and show our fans that we could beat countries that were far bigger than us.
Before I move on to other sports, I would like to add one more thing. A national soccer championship was held in Vientiane. This tournament was attended by teams from many provinces namely the big ones such as Savannakhet, Luangprabang, Pakse, Thakek and Paksane. As anticipated, the two teams that reached the final were from Vientiane and Savannakhet. Since the Vientiane team was virtually the national team, the team from Savannakhet was a no contest to them. This lopsided victory (the final score was something like close to half dozen to nil) really distressed me for I thought that the Savannakhet team could make it close. Maybe, the team from Savannakhet was at awe with big name players of Vientiane team or maybe they didn't have any talent left since most of the promising ones usually came to make a fortune in Vientiane where they had a good chance of playing for the national team. I remember that one of the Luangprabang players, a raw talent and a bravado goalkeeper, stayed behind after the tournament. Later, he was included in the national squad, if I remember correctly. Some of you might ask if I played for any team. I would love to but I was too slow to make a team cut. Besides, I was too self-conscious and too learned to be a good soccer player. I will have more to say when I am talking about the post 1975 regime.
Of Basketball, there were three teams that truly stood out. They were the armed force team, the Philippines men team and the Dongdok team. For the Philippines men team, it just played on a special occasion. Though exclusively composed of the working Philippino in Laos (I don't think that they had much time to practice), it was quite good. In fact, it could compete with any of the best Basketball teams in Laos. That meant the armed forces team and the Dongdok team. Like in soccer, whenever these two teams competed, the stadium was electrifying with the cheering fans from both sides. At times, I felt like the place was going to crumble. The stadium especially the seating section was made of wood. Whenever the pounding of the feet against the wood occurred, it made a really deafening noise that I felt like the place was shaken by an earthquake. In another word, this basketball stadium was very much like the high school stadium in the U.S. That was it could hold less than a thousand souls at one time. I would even say that this stadium wasn't even bigger than the movie theater like Audience Rama. Anyway, despite its meager size, it was the place to be if you wanted to see the giants of all Lao gathering at one place. Yes, both of the team players were very big and tall in Lao standard. Most of them stood at six feet tall and weighed close to one hundred and eighty pounds. The irony was that most of the armed forces team was of Chinese ethnic. Though they played well, it was not something that you associated your armed forces team to be. I guess that they didn't care since their goal was to win at any cost. Thinking back, I couldn't help but sensing a deep enmity between the military people and Dongdok students. Their heated rivalry seemed to go beyond sports. I guess that I will leave this issue to the social scientist.
About Volleyball, there was a tournament similar to the soccer tournament. Unlike Basketball in which players were fair skinned, Volleyball players had dark skin. Maybe, they played outdoor under the sun; or maybe, it was the game of the ordinary people namely the foot soldiers. I had a chance to watch the national Volleyball tournament participated by most provinces. As it turned out to be, the good teams were from the big and urban provinces like in the national soccer tournament. The teams that finally made it to the final were also the same two provinces: Vientiane and Savannakhet. Though Vientiane finally beat Savannakhet but the score was very close. If only Savannakhet team had more experience playing against the tough team like Vientiane team did with the international competition, it stood a fair chance of beating Vientiane team. I regularly saw Savannakhet people play Volleyball while in that city (mainly the military men who were stationed close to my house), and I would say they were as good as those who played for the Vientiane team.
Lastly, about TehKaTor, this game was usually held at Boun Wat. I remember one guy who represented Dongdok team. He was so good that his team won in any tournament that I watched. Later, he became my physics teacher at Lycee de Vientiane. By the way, some of you might not even know what TehKator is. This game is played very much like Volleyball. The difference is that you use your feet, knees and head to play with TaKor (kind of a bamboo ball half the size of the volleyball). Each team is composed of three members. When the great teams play one another, you just can not help but holding your breath. The game was fast as a lightning. I would say that, of all sports, this sport demands the most of the players. That means you have to act fast, think fast and, the most important thing is, you use your whole body except the hands as a weapon. If you want to see the climax of the game, watch for the play when the forward of both teams goes at one another across the net. One tries to spike the ball into another zone while another tries to stop it in mid air. The perfect picture is reached when the ball just hangs in the air with the feet of both forwards acting as an attacking force and a counter force. The one who lets go first will dictate where the ball will land. This is one of the many beauties of the game. Go see this game at Boun Wat anywhere in Laos, then you will see what I mean.

Hakphaang,
Kongkeo Saycocie

Part 32
Sabaydii,
Today, I will talk about the boat racing in Vientiane. At one year, it was the most exciting time since there was a participant from Cambodia. They brought their own crew and boat. What made this race unforgettable was that the Cambodian crews who sat at the half end of the boat stood up (in fact, they were kind of kneeling down) and rowed from the starting line to the finishing line. That was a distance of three or four miles. Seeing that, Lao people were just at awe with this feat. Luckily for us, we had two boats that could compete with the Cambodian boat. They were the boat from Wat PhaKeo rowed by Luangprabang people (presumably, they were the guards of the Luangprabang palace) and another one was a boat named 'Heua Ee Hong' (the swan boat). The latter boat was a champion everywhere it participated. The way it glided on water was like a swan flying. In that year, to the delight of us all, the boat from Wat Phakeo won the race over the Cambodian boat by the hair line. It was such a photo touch finish. Luckily, on that day, I was camping by the finishing line so seeing the Wat Phakeo boat beat the Cambodian counterpart in the very last second did bring an overflowing of emotion from me. Yes, I jumped up in the air and did a high five with my brother. In fact, we earned every bit of happiness since we had to come to the Mekong River early in the morning and stayed with our spot until almost all of the light was disappearing from the horizon. That meant we had to eat there and spend most of the time thirsty for water. Yes, it was scorching despite an umbrella over our heads. When we went home, we were kind of dizzy because of our extended stay under the hot sun. By the way, in the morning, they had a boat race for the women so time was kind of flying by since we had things to hold our attention all day long. Too bad that I don't remember what our female boat racers sang after each race. Whatever it was, it was mild compared to our male counterpart. Besides, taking out the offensive sexual language, our female had virtually nothing interesting to capture the audience's ears. On the contrary, the male counterpart had a full arsenal of options. Not only that they used the foul and obscene language, they also made use of the sexual body parts to draw the attention from the audience. That meant if you were a female, you had better stay away from these foul mouth boat racers or you would be blush to death. Yes, for the spirit of the boat racing festival, virtually anything was permissible. That was the Lao spirit - the fun loving spirit.
Now, let me talk about my cousin's wedding which was held at the countryside. His name was Ai Deng, an engineer, who worked for KaSual YoTha (the transportation and public works). First, he was to station at that village for a couple of months until the road had been finished. Then, for some reasons, he ended up loving a village girl and decided to settle there. What was fascinating about this wedding was about the village itself. Yes, the whole village came to this wedding - very much like a village fair. Everyone brought something with them to the wedding like live chickens and live ducks. When the evening had kicked in, the whole village was pitch dark except the wedding place. As you might have guessed, there was no electricity in the countryside. Living my whole life in the city, I realized that life without electricity was like living in another world. People would tend to go to bed early so everything was kind of eerily quiet. I also remember that I had another chance of witnessing another wedding of my relative at the countryside. This one was weirder since we had to eat eels which some claimed that they were the best fish as the saying went: ' the best meat is dog and the best fish is eel.' Telling you the truth, I didn't touch a bit of the eels for their sight reminded me of the snake which I was so afraid of. Since the last incident, I told myself not to attend the wedding at the countryside any more.
There were two more things I would like to add to the events before I talked about the watershed peace treaty of 1973. One was my determination to learn the dictionary by heart. It was the French-Lao dictionary that I was talking about. Each day, I would memorize at least ten words starting from the first entry with letter 'A' to the last entry with letter 'Z'. Though learning language by this method was not productive since I tended to forget the words I had earlier acquired, it did turn me into a good speller. At Lycee, we had dictee (dictation) as one of the subjects. Believe it or not, I always got the highest scores that even the best French speaker in class even wondered what in the world I was so good at dictee. Of another event, I at one time went to TakBath (give alms to the monks) at Wat OngTeu - the official temple of the old regime. What I mean by the word 'official' was that this temple was used by the government officials including the military and police to swear oath to the country. Generally, Wat OngTeu was the place where the high ranking officials from the government came to TakBath there. As part of the civil service, my dad did take part in the official TakBath. To make sure that we wouldn't be a laughing stock, my mom had prepared the best food for that event. Yes, we had the best KhaoTom and the best KhaoNom which I was even tempted to steal it from my Kanh (bowl). Whenever that unwholesome thought arose, I had to remind myself of my mom's words that went like this: 'if you take KaoTom from the Kanh, KheeKark (kind of itchy things) will spread over your head.' With that scary caveat, I dared not make my hand grab onto the delicious KhaoNom. By the way, what I liked most about TakBath at Wat OngTeu was that people dressed very handsomely. The guys would wear PhaSaRong (kind of robe which you have to wrap in a way that it was like a trouser) while the ladies would wear a beautiful Sinh (long skirt with a decorative pattern on it) and had a perfectly matched PhaBieng (a piece of long cloth laying across your shoulder). Yes, TakBath at Wat OngTeu was a solemn experience but, at the same time it was a very rewarding one. By the way, I almost forgot that at the end of TakBath we had a SongNam (dripping water for our deceased family members). Each one of us would bring along a small bottle. When the monks had finished the first part of their preaching, we would select a spot (most would just use the spot they used to TakBath) to lovingly pour water onto the soil little by little until the final word of the monk's preaching was heard. I, myself, would say that this kind of act was beautiful. It did not only make us reminisce about our departed ones but it opened our hearts to the world of humility, compassion and kindness. I will have more to say about the effects of Buddhism on our people and culture later. After all, this Buddhism influence is what makes us the distinctive Lao. I guess that you will have to wait and see what I mean later.
Until next time

Hakphaang,
Kongkeo Saycocie