A Harrowing Day of History

Sunday began as a rainy day in Vientiane, a rarity in what has otherwise been a drought-laden dry season (so much so that the slow boats I took three years ago are not running due to low water levels in the Mekong). The rain was short lived though and soon gave way to sunshine and (thankfully) cooler temperatures!

It was a pretty laid back day for me, as I spent the morning catching up on a few things I needed to deal with online (like making some plans further down my trip).  As I sat there working, I worked out a bit of math in my head, realizing that sticking around another day in Vientiane could seriously impact my ability to do much of anything down in southern Laos as I now had precisely oneweek before arriving in Bangkok to meet my family.

I began to investigate options for heading to either Pakse (pronounced Pack-SEY) or Savanakhet, two southern towns along the Mekong River, with Pakse being closest to everything else I wanted to do. It turned out I could take a sleeper bus that would do the trip to Pakse in 10 hours, but it only left at 8:30pm. It was either leave that night or spend an entire other day in Vientiane.

By chance, I ran into my roommates for the day, who, luck would have it, were also thinking about leaving that night! That was all the motivation I needed and I quickly returned to the travel agent where I succeeded in obtaining the very last ticket on said sleeper bus.

But what to do with the rest of the day…I had some interest in visiting the Lao National Museum, which had been closed for lunch when we stopped by the day before. It was a two story structure with the first floor dedicated to Lao pre-history, covering everything from the discovery of dinosaur fossils in Savankhet province, to the ancient Khmer civilization, whose empire stretched into southern Laos.

The second level primarily dealt with two aspects…the French colonial days (billed as French colonialists), who received two dedicated rooms, and the secret war waged by the Americans (billed as the American Imperialists…see a difference there?), who received three dedicated rooms. Though the French were certainly not shown in a nice light, they looked like saints compared with the way the Americans were portrayed.

Before me sat a multitude of images; children missing limbs, monks bandaged from head to toe, Buddhist Wats smashed to smithereens, all victims of the American bombardment. Displays showed actual remnants of bombs dropped while detailing the extensive effort that still goes on today to clear Unexploded Ordinance (UXO). Displays did not look kindly on a puppet government the U.S. established and supported. It was a harrowing experience, to say the least, causing one to wonder how the folks in Iraq and Afghanistan feel about us. It’s so easy to just go to war and forget about the human sacrifice associated with it, both intentional and, even more important, unintentional.

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