Laos (Vientiane): Learning about UXOs – by Caleb

Today we visited the COPE centre beside the Centre for Medical Rehabilitation. This is where people go who have had a bad experience with bombies or have had an accident and need artificial arms and legs. We watched a documentary called “Surviving the Peace” which was about the bombs lying all over Laos and the damage they cause. They are a huge safety hazard.

What I learned was that 2,000,000 tons of ammunition was dropped on Laos during the Vietnam War and it was the most heavily bombed country in the world. Even though Laos was neutral when the Vietnam War was going on, when pilots of the fighter bombs could not reach their targets (for various reasons such as weather, or they couldn’t find them) they would drop the bombs over Laos because it was not safe for them to land with their plane filled with ammunition.

The U.S. had signed an agreement that Laos was neutral and not part of the war, however, the US actually targeted Laos and bombed parts of the country because Laos was communist and they didn’t want communism to spread. This went directly against the treaty and should be considered a war crime.

After the bombing, the U.S. did ask if they could help to clean up the damage, however, Laos often refused because of the feeling that the U.S. was just seeing this as charity work.

Each cluster bomb case that was dropped contained up to 680 “bombies”. The cluster bomb cases had fins so that when they dropped they would spin which would arm the bombies inside. At a certain point the cluster bomb cases would split letting out a shower of bombies over a large radius. When the bombies were dropped they could spread to an area equivalent to 3 football fields. Each bombie was meant to explode on impact and each one had a killing radius of 30 m.DSCF9151

It is estimated that 10-30% of the bombs dropped did not explode, which left several million bombs in the ground, undetonated. These unexploded ordinances (or UXOs) are made of metal, which is worth a lot to the Lao people. Children buy cheap metal detectors and go out searching for scrap metal that they can get money for. They often come across bombs and when they pull them up they explode and they lose their lives. Other times, children come across bombies and use them as play toys – then they explode. People use the metal for a variety of things: as animal troughs, supports for their homes, dishes, farm tools, etc.

The UXOs are preventing the country from getting out of poverty because the farmers are unable to plow huge sections of land due to the bombies. Farmers live in fear every day that they will step on a bombie while they are working. As an example, one man was building a fire behind his house. He was unaware that there was a bombie under the ground and he’d walked in this area many times before; but on this day the fire reached the right temperature and the bombie exploded. He lost his sight and it damaged his hands and legs. He was in the hospital for a month and they thought he would die. Now his wife has to work in the field because he is unable to do so. This is so sad because they are risking their lives every day to go out and tend to the crops so that they can eat.

China (Nanning): Last Stop in China – by Clay

We arrived in Nanning for our final stop in China. We got here from Guilin by high speed train (we topped out at 207kph) and it only took 2.5h to get here. The journey was relatively uneventful, although the whole personal space here seems to be a lot smaller than back home. People just seem to bump and smash into you and don’t say “Pardon me” or “Excuse me” or anything. Same goes for their devices. Maybe it’s just me but I keep my phone or laptop or iPad relatively low so I don’t disturb others but not so much here. On the train people were chatting loudly into their phones, playing games on devices quite loudly and one girl was even singing along to her Chinese pop tunes right behind me. I guess it wouldn’t have been that bad if she stayed in tune but no luck there.  DSCF8970

We had very minor trouble finding our hostel. We booked at the “Green Forest” hostel but apparently they’ve changed their name to “Traveling With” hostel. Apple maps shows Green Forest, the taxi driver had no clue, but at least we had the address in Chinese. We drove past and managed to find signage for Green Forest.

We walked into a grotty alleyway (our accommodations seem to revolve around these filthy dirty passages) and we saw the entrance to the hostel – and to borrow a line from Kung Fu Panda 2 – “Ah, my old enemy…stairs!” Turns out the hostel was on the 3rd floor of the building and there was no lift. I, of course, am carrying my pack, my guitar, and the 80lb duffle bag. The place seems to be run by teenagers who speak very limited English, though one girl seems much more proficient that the rest. Their inexperience is showing through their difficulty in making change when we pay for things, not bringing a stir stick or spoon when we ask for milk or sugar for our tea, and other minor things that a few training sessions would likely take care of. To be fair they do have an English sign posted stating that they are still developing and in the progress of getting their business set up. On the plus side they have a very decent pool table with a slate top so the boys were quite excited about that.

Oh, I forgot to mention that three of us got our hair cut at a local barber shop in Guilin. The boys were a bit cranky and worried that the barber wouldn’t know how to cut their hair. We assured them that the barbers here would likely know how to cut Asian hair better than anybody. We got in the chairs and they wash your hair by dumping a handful of shampoo on your head and then massage it in using a squirt bottle filled with water. Connor especially liked this part as it was like a head massage that lasted for a full 10 minutes. Then they took you out back to rinse your head, back to the chair for a warm blow dry and then pass you off to the barber who asked what we wanted done. I saw this young fellow who worked there with a chic hairstyle very similar to the boys’ so I pointed to his head and then pointed to the boys’ heads. He smiled and started cutting.

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After the cut they washed, rinsed and blow dried again. Connor said that he would definitely come back the next day to that barber shop for another cut – everything except the actual cut. In other words he really liked the head massage! A few locals have commented that we have two handsome boys and I tend to agree. Of course, I am their dad so I’m biased.

China (Yangshuo): Moon Hill and Golden Water Cave – by Clay

Our move to The Giggling Tree in Yangshuo has been good and we’ve gotten to do a few things locally that are closer than our last hostel.

We’ve been doing a lot of walking and biking, most recently to scale a site called Moon Hill. It’s called that because it used to be a cave but it has gradually eroded into a hole in the mountain that looks vaguely like the moon. It had rained torrentially the night before so the host of the hostel warned us that the bike trails would be muddy and hard to navigate. We, of course, decided to try it anyway and it wasn’t all that bad until we got to the place where we cross the river and we saw this:

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Yes, that’s the road where the river is supposed to go under but is flowing over top instead. Some local lady decided to brave the walk but we weren’t as confident.

Moon Hill was all steps but they were carved stone, under a canopy of trees so the sunlight didn’t actually dry them so they were slippery beyond belief! The hike was pretty arduous (we stopped to rest about 6 times) and Barb said it was good practice for our hike up to Machu Pichu when we get to Peru. Unfortunately, EVERYTHING is practice for Machu Pichu as far as I’m concerned. I must have gone thru about 2L of water just climbing up the silly thing!

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Coming down was almost as hard but seemed to work the calf muscles more than the quads on the way up. Doesn’t matter, my legs hurt for two days afterwards anyway.

We stopped at a local eatery. We couldn’t understand a thing on the menu but they had pictures so I pointed to stuff that looked somewhat familiar and indicated how many we wanted. In the end it turned out alright with us getting a chicken dish, an eggplant dish, a bean cake dish and a big bowl of rice for everyone to share.

From there we biked down the highway to the Gold Water Cave where we had a tour of the caves (over 5km of caves with new passages being discovered daily) but we obviously didn’t walk them all. Our guide was supposed to be English-speaking but it was limited so I think we got the shortened, less-detailed version of the tour. Part of the tour included a visit to the mud baths. Apparently it’s supposed to have minerals and be very therapeutic both for the skin and for your general health. I wasn’t so sure about that though. We changed into our swim suits and stepped into the mud bath pool which was pretty cold. It was squishy underneath the feet, smelled like sulphur (and worse), and the little floaty bits gave the overall impression of a sewer. However, when in Rome…

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From the mud baths we rinsed off and followed the cave path to the hot springs. We tried to get a picture but all we got was white mist so I won’t include one here. Apparently the temperature got as warm as 40C in the warmest pool. The water was clear and still smelled of sulphur but much less so and was a nice contrast to the mud bath. The only downside were the masses of people in the pools with running, screaming children everywhere and the parents all ignoring them like that was the norm. Caleb and Connor were looking at them like “we would NEVER be allowed to act this way in Canada or anywhere for that matter”.

We left Yangshuo shortly after that to head to Guilin, a very clean (compared to Beijing) but touristy town who’s main industry is shuttling people by boat to — Yangshuo! We checked into This Old Place International Youth Hostel and walked around for a bit. We discovered that there is a pedestrian Night Market nearby that runs every evening from 1900-0200. In fact, the whole area where we are staying is well lit with multi-coloured lights and looks quite pretty. Here’s a couple of night shots at the market.

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This particular hostel doesn’t have a guest kitchen so we’re pretty much eating out at restaurants all the time. We’ve managed to try a couple of local places, again not knowing anything but ordering blindly and hoping we hit upon something that we like. So far it’s been pretty successful. We even went to a place that specializes in roast goose so we had that one night and it was amazing!

China (Yangshuo): Another Culture Experience – by Barb

Yesterday we had a fun cultural experience of going to the “Impressions Show” on the river. It was VERY expensive but it came highly recommended. The show was designed by the same man who put together the opening ceremonies show for the Beijing Olympics. A small van came and picked us up along with another Chinese family at 6:30 and we drove through the “streets” of town, swerving around people, bridges, and tuk tuks. Once there, our driver said something to us in Chinese. Fortunately one of the men in the other family could speak a bit of English and he told us we were to follow the driver to get our tickets for the show. Well, that was a feat! The street was packed with thousands of Chinese tourists all shoving their way into this same laneway where you get your tickets. You just have to push your way through. Once we had done that our driver handed us a piece of paper, which we had no idea what to do with! The same helpful man said we could follow him to get tickets. We again swerved and shoved our way through the crowds following a large #8 sign and our helpful Chinese man. The #8 stopped and everyone RAN to get their tickets. Helpful Chinese man took our paper and fought his way in to get our tickets as well as his! Then he told us we had to go to the seating area and find our seats. I wasn’t sure where the boys were supposed to sit because there were no numbers on their tickets but as we got closer the Helpful Chinese Man stopped and picket up 2 folding wooden chairs for his 2 boys so we did the same. Then we fought through another crowd of people to get to our seats. Fortunately we were sitting beside the helpful Chinese man! The boys had to put their wooden chairs and sit where our feet would normally go – a little cramped for Clay but I managed OK!

When the show started no one stopped talking. Of course we couldn’t understand anything because it was all in Chinese! I had read a summary of the story ahead of time and explained it to Clay and the boys but even with that we couldn’t really figure out what was happening! It was quite amazing though. We were all sitting on raised seats looking out over a section of the river in front of the beautiful karst mountains. When the show began the lights went out on our side of the river and lights lit up the mountains. About 600 famers and villagers are used in the show and they come out with their flat fishing boats and fishing nets and move to music. It was really something to see.IMG_0186

As it came toward the end I was a bit worried about how thousands of us crammed into this small space would get out but when we were about 10 minutes from the end it became clear it wouldn’t be a problem = as had happened with another show we saw, the Chinese just started to get up and leave – I guess they were also worried about getting out – so if you wait until the end there is hardly anyone left! It was very pricey but definitely a memorable experience!

China (Yangshuo): Visiting Moon Hill and the Golden Water Cave – by Caleb

Today we went to the Golden Water Cave and Moon Mountain. Moon Mountain is a mountain with a huge hole in it. It got its name because the hole is shaped like a crescent moon. We had to do an hour long hike up the mountain to the hole. On the way up we kept making fun of the signs. They said things like, “Caution, rainy days is slippery” aDSCF9135nd “Beware of slipping!”. The view was excellent at the top of Moon Hill and there was a 74 year old lady selling sprite from her little Styrofoam cooler at the top (so we had to buy 1!). It was great but I don’t think I’d be interested in going again. It’s one of those one-time see sorta’ things.

The water cave was great as well. We had an English guide (thank heavens!) to show us the five km long cave. My favourite parts were the mud bath and hot spring. The mud bath was amazing! I got filthy dirty but I had so much fun. Scientists have shown that mud is good for your skin. They have shown that it makes your skin smooth and relieves aches and pains. Also, in the mud bath you can lay back in the mud and spread out your arms and you will float! Seriously! My dad who is 230 lbs laid in the mud and he floated up to the surface. It was great!DSCF9118

The hot spring was my favourite part of the cave. A hot spring is pretty much water that has been heated up by an active volcano and it comes up to the surface. The spring was 30 cm deep and about as hot as a hot tub. Beside the hot spring was the “ice cold” spring that felt freezing after you went in the hot spring.

Overall, Moon Hill and the Golden Water Cave were both great experiences and I’m glad I had the opportunity to see them.

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