By Li Na
At the end of September, I did a small tour of Laos for a few days. Although the skimming, but I got some fresh, novel impression. Coming from China it was interesting to see the similarities and the not so similar images of a “Communist” country.
Looks like being in China!
In Vientiane, the capital city, especially when travelling from the urban to the rural areas, you can see a lot of eye-catching Chinese Images . Large-scale construction sites, “quality first, safety first,” the Chinese slogans written on the wall of the site. “Yunnan Building Group,” the name of a huge Chinese banner hanging over the site. BANK of CHINA building stands a new. Various names of the Chinese building materials company stores everywhere. Row upon row of small shops, small stalls filled with Chinese goods.
The streets of men and women wearing a lot of red T- shirts. Why do people love to wear red? With the red country? Or by the impact of China?
Back to the hotel, opened the TV, two of a few channels are soldiers in the show. Some military actors in the singing, the background is a line of troops marching on. Reminiscent of the many Chinese military departments’ Sing and Dance performance. Laos soldiers singing songs, melodic with a beautiful traditional style. The male singers were looking too soft, which makes the whole show was not masculine enough.
The white government building is surrounded by garden, iron bars fence. One side in front of the building, a huge picture stands on ground, it is the great leader of the party in uniform, waving to his country.
The government and some important institutions are in broad streets clean and tidy, with trees and flowers clustered. The “Victory Gate” stands in the middle of Lanexang Avenue, which was built by the Lao architects who Inspired by the Arc De Triomphe in Paris. Many French-style architectures has emerged as a historic mark of the French colonies time.
Public Bus To Luang Prabang
I took a long-distance bus from Vientiane to Luang Prabang, a tourist town in the north of Laos. Some Chinese characters jumped into eyes all the way from time to time ….. Yulin Dog-meat Restaurant, Chengdu Flavor Restaurant, Chongqing Restaurant, Chongqing Hotel, and many Building materials store signs. It is in the demolition and construction everywhere. Construction waste is piled up on the roadside.
Long-distance bus gradually ran away from Vientiane into mountainous road, stopped at one of the small villages for a “tea” break, and then ran ahead. In the mountains of the tropics, green everywhere, streams were gurgling. But scattered and piles of garbage along roadside dotted between the green mountains, very unpleasant.
The drive was long along winding roads without a stop for hours. The driver smoked in the bus, because he was very tired in long-distance driving of course.The bus however, stopped a couple of times for a rest. Passengers went out of the compartment for fresh air, stretching limbs, went to restrooms. At the same time, they always took their garbage out and threw into the roadside green valley, or threw them in green bushes with beautiful wild flowers nearby the residential houses. They felt no pity for the green beauty.
These scenes, look like in many urban and rural towns of China from 1980’s to the beginning of this century, .
The Red Flag Flying Everywhere!
In Laos, a strange sight can be seen everywhere: ordinary houses, hotels, restaurants,a red flag flying on their roofs or on their doors. The flag’s pattern is a golden sickle crossing an ax on it. Asked to know, it is the party flag of Lao People’s Revolutionary Party. This is the pattern of Chinese Communist Party’s flag and the former Soviet Union’s flag too! No wonder so familiar to me.
It turned out that Laos is a country that is governed by a communist party. It is the one of five such countries in the world. Lao People’s Revolutionary Party was established in 1955. It has been only one party in power, who declared against multi-parties system and pluralism. Ben Young-Vorachie, is elected the CPC Central Committee General Secretary in early 2016. In recent years, as the pro-China camp within the party has been in power, and then the tendency of the country has changed from pro-Vietnam to pro-China. This is why we see in this land, so many Chinese scenarios.
Memories of a long bus journey
During the 12 hours long winding bus journey, three events made me surprised and attracted admiration.
The first. A sudden traffic jams came to the mountain road. In that evening. large and small vehicles had to stop one by one closing to the right side of the queue. My friends and I do not know what happened as no one could talk English and Chinese in this bus. After waiting for about 40 minutes, on the left side of the road came to a long team vehicles slowly. After another half an hour, our side of the vehicle was slowly start up. Had driven a section of road, we saw a few workers were cleaning up the road that blocked by the debris flow. Two-roads’ vehicles drove passed in turn, orderly, no one shouting command, there was no dispute. During the traffic jam, the passengers were out and in the bus, or chatting, or rest a little, no rash words,their expression were peaceful and quiet. My friend and I had quite a burst of anxiousness, we thought some accident happened in front of us, and we were afraid to had to spend the night in the bus among the dark mountains!
The second event. A few hours after the traffic jam, we encountered a heavy rain with storm. The dark mass of the clouds covering the winding road, the bus had to slow down, which made the original 9 hours into a 12-hour drive. I noticed there was a 3- 4-year-old boy, who was always glad. He always talked with his young parents in addition to his naps time. His laughing, his childish lovely voice cheered up such a long boring journey. Never heard him cry, nor heard his parents loudly coaxed or reprimanded him. Only a burst of surprisingly violent thunder scared him crying for a few while. Arrived at the destination finally, we shared a “Motorcycle-taxi ” with the boy’ s family. I so admired the young parents and the little boy that I extended my thumb to praise their little son. The young mother rewarded me with a beautiful smile with merge pairs of hands.
The third event. Our bus, twists and turns, circled up and down over the mountains and stopped at every station. In some stations, only one passenger got off. He or she said good bye to the driver cordially and then went out of the bus going into a small village. See this touching scene, I could not help thinking of an old film named “One Person’ s Station,” and coming a memory about a Japanese train retained a station for more than a decade just for a school girl.
The Party and the Buddha hand in hand to build harmony?
In this developing Asian country, you not only see the dirty and chaos in the demolition, but also feel a kind of harmony and quiet beauty. People friendly, simple, honest, quiet. Even in the tourist attractions, people have not seen a chaotic selling, rising price and fraud. “Motorcycle-taxi ” is legitimate business, the basic unity of the price list posted in the streets.
In Luang Prabang, magnificent temples open free of charge, everyone can enter and visit , or sit at the monastery clean stone or wooden tables and chairs to have a rest. One large monastery charges, a notice posted beside the gate to tell the reason. The monastery needs repair. How much money comes from government’s funding, but how much it still lacks to complete the project. Please visitors understand and give a helping hand .
The temple does not have shops to do business. However, every morning there is a ceremony: monks is queuing in the streets, a long line of people kneel down to offer prepared food to the monks.
People are quiet and polite in public. Most of women show their greeting or thanks by merge pairs of hands with a smile.
Resplendent temples, modern clean streets, poor people’ s shabby houses, flags of the ruling party flying around, a moderate calm civilian population. In this country, why do these situations present an atmosphere of harmonious co-existence?
There is such an explanation: The Lao People’s Revolutionary Party put the Buddhist doctrine of good deeds such as pure heart, piety, abstinence , mutual aid into the party’s political philosophy and policy together, such as loyalty, dedication, disciplined, serve the public and so on. The Buddhist religion plays an important role in the social life and has great influence on it. In this case, it narrows the distance between the ruling party and the Buddhist believers, consolidates the party’s ruling foundation and promotes social harmony.
* The writer is a retired Professor of Chinese Language and Culture from Beijing.