Part of my role is to visit the 3 offices we have “out in the field”. To Actually spend time in each of the 3 offices it means four full days of driving (between 7 and 10 hours a day) plus 3 days work and a full seven days away from home.
The sites are all near the Vietnamese border 600 – 700km south from Vientiane. This is where the Ho Chi Minh trail was during the war in the 1970s and as consequence in the whole area was heavily bombed. Before my company can plant trees the Battle Area Clearance team has to do extensive reviews make sure the area is safe: finding live ordinance is not uncommon for them. So seeing repurposed ordinance has become commonplace. At my hotel they were decorations up the garden path and out the back of one of our offices one had been turned into a BBQ.
Sepone is a largish small town – there is a mining industry based out of here. There is a reasonably vibrant market each morning, busiest between 6 – 8 am. Here you can pick up a live piglet in it’s woven carry case
One morning I could see the bright colours in the box, and thought the contents were perhaps pom-poms. But on closer inspection they were live baby chicks, some of which had been dyed. I asked my colleagues later if they knew why, but no-one knew.
I wasn’t overjoyed to see the wildlife being sold from the back of a motorbike. It is officially illegal to hunt wildlife in the forests, but in reality there is a booming trade. This trapper had 5 giant squirrel/possum/flying fox animals that the owner of the place we were eating was considering buying.
Some of the places I get taken to eat look a bit dodgy, but I have never had a bad experience and so trust my colleagues judgement. At our other site they said they never eat from the market, because they consider that one dirty. So I followed that advice without question. However in Sepone the market is good and I had breakfast each morning at there. I buy beautiful fresh bread rolls from one vendor, take them to the Vietnamese coffee shop and sit there being watch by the locals as I slowly consume the blackest coffee known to man. I don’t do milk or sugar which is the standard additions to Vietnamese drip coffee – so my coffee isn’t tempered in any way
As expected I have had some interesting meals in my time on the road (as well as some fantastic ones too). One of the meals this time was the locals favourite where we cook the meat/veg in broth, boiling above charcoal fires set into the table. I go very light on meat on the road. I stopped this night completely when the offerings were offal, including maybe some black stomach. Mmm no, I’m fine, I had a big lunch and am not very hungry tonight. Here it is common to bring your own food into a restaurant, if they don’t serve it in that restaurant. However this was the first time I saw someone brought along not food itself, but a family sized rice cooker. He was one of ours and provided rice for 10 or so of us from his electric rice machine
For my colleagues I think the highlight of the trip is that we go through the “chicken village”. Here there is restaurant after restaurant selling flattened marinated chickens, reheated over charcoal. While chickens are the main event, there are also other options on a stick – dried squid, sausages, water beetles, chicken embryos, mmmm no thanks – but the chicken is very good.
Ok, enough about the food.
I did also visit a few villages last trip, where we are doing some work. Watching meeting interactions are always interesting. There is a Village Head whom we talk with, but everyone else also gathers around to find out what’s going on.
The kids are particularly interesting. In one village they sat to one side and lined up one behind each other and groomed each other’s hair
These are villages that don’t have electricity and sometimes don’t have running water. This is real subsistence living.
Our 3rd, most remote office is in TaOy which really is the epitome of a one-horse town. Small (dirty market food according to my colleagues) dogs,pigs and goats sit in the middle of the road – until a large Vietnamese lorry roars through town. My colleague said as we came into town there is no air-conditioning in town. Ok, I thought, it will be just a fan in the guest-house (and it was) but in fact there was literally NO air-conditioning in town. One unit has been installed in the government office, so things are changing.
We went out to our storage facilities to count sacks of fertiliser – which I will not forget due to the 2 bats that flew straight at me as we disturbed their quiet dark resting place. I participated in counting 250,000 seedlings in the facility nursery – no bats here, just random puddles from the watering which had just been done. But I definitely prefer washing my muddy feet to warding off bats flying towards my hair. I won’t mention the 3 inch flying insect in my room or the beetle that ran across my bed.
And to finish a little reality reminder. Not everyone can write here, when our daily labourers can’t write they sign the labour sheet with a fingerprint. Some don’t have birth certificate and know how old they. And these labourers earn about $5 for a day’s work, for example weeding
I DO really enjoy the field trips, excluding the excessive hours driving, but it is also nice to get back to the city.