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In LAO today Route 13, is the most important highway in the country of Laos. It begins at Boten in the North of Laos at the Chinese border. It connects the city of Vientiane to Luang Prabang in the North and roughly follows the line of the Mekong River down to the border with Cambodia.   Route 13 passes through the cities of Vientiane, Vang Vieng and Luang Prabang. 

The road then continues at National Highway 7 in Cambodia. Also this national highway leads past all three international airports in Laos,
•  Vientiane Airport, 
•  Luang Prabang Airport  
•  Pakse Airport

Between Boten and Nateuy the Route 13 is at a length of 20 km part of the Kunming-Bangkok Expressway, which is also part of the Asian Highway AH3.  From Nateuy to Vientiane, the Route 13 is part of the AH12 and from Vientiane to the border of Cambodia AH11.

The road is mostly paved, though the pavement is in poor condition at places.  It is also relatively narrow, with sharp curves. There are no markings or lighting on the road. Several daily buses run from Vientiane to Luang Prabang, taking 8-10 hours. This is the great advancement by a Communist regime,  almost 50 years in the making.  The Communists run at two speeds slow and oppressive.  Thats about what speed you should drive on this road when passing Yak, Donkey, Human or Buffalo carts.

PERCEPTION
INSIGHT

Working with these local LAO Low landers and the Mountain people for a brief while,my goals were two-fold.  My feelings went toward advanced education, through scholarships, mentoring and peer groups, for the children, and putting pressure on the Congress for recognition of the part the LAO soldiers regardless of who and how the Low - Med - High played in the Secret War.  Many things came to the surface about ten years ago.  They fall into three categories.  Differences, strategies, and end games.

There is a cultural difference between the Low-Landers and the Hmong. I felt this difference, I  saw some of this tendency to act oblivious, reluctance to change, a language problem, to pressures of those I had work with,  to ignore things, some lacking passion, not very good planners,  and  I wrote once the LAO wristwatch must have 36 hours on it since they had no concept of timing. 

One of the advisors, said, the Vietnamese plant the rice, the Cambodians watch it grow, and the LAO listen to it.  Understandable, rice growing knows no politics, only water and hand labor.  The Low-lander’s, were rice farmers in a landlocked agrarian country, and content to live without politics and just be self sufficient and farm.  Happiness would be if they were just left alone.  “ Who cares who the boss is, I grow rice, I sell rice, I feed family.  A very simple process”.  Typical of an agrarian landlocked culture.  Agrarian means pertaining to agriculture, farmland, or rural areas.

But they weren’t ever left alone...I refer to it as “ Small farmer thinking”, only being in your food source, and missing the big picture. In my metaphoric mind, they missed the big picture because there was no screen, no projector, no TV, no education and no jobs, or other means of survival.   Lao had been under a siege of some sort for years.


A DELICATE SUBJECT
FOR SOME PEOPLE

LAO before the war was a country whose demographics were representative of the people.  I emphasize this quite a bit.  The southern part is low-land, in places water logged, perfect for growing rice which requires flooded acreage and at one time LAO was the world leader in rice production. The folks who settled there were called Low-Landers. This might be the only country in the world “ Where and  who you are known as, is based on how high you live above sea level”.

The Plain of Jars or the middle of LAO was home to the LAO Middle people and the slight elevation up to 1200 feet was theirs and the area received the highest accumulation of ordinance ever by the US. It was a dumping ground for unused ordnance.

The area of mountains from 1200 feet and above belonged to the Hmong and related tribes. These were tough mountain people, fighters and knew every square inch of their land and how to fight on it.  It was closer to the Ho Che Minh trail and that meant the Hmong tribes had the advantage and training began, then the Secret War.

As the war developed there was a definite separation between the Low-Landers and the Hmong.  Really two different personalities,  exacerbated, by the terrain and the empirical dynastic governments, which effected the relationship.  The Hmong were immigrants to the country and came from China, believed by some as far as  India in their migrations.

I best explain it, or try to is that they were on the same side, sometimes, not on the same page, almost fighting two wars side by side.  Dis-in-franchised, individualistic, stubborn at times, but with many differences in culture, depending on where, when, who,  and why. 

•  The Low-landers believed the Hmong to be a lesser race. No written language or records. 

•  The Hmong thought little of the Low-landers as lazy and indifferent.  Simply put a clash of warriors and farmers.  

With some old bad never goes away...In some places today this attitude extends to different tribes as some tribal conflicts never either go away or die off.   It is not spoken of as courtesy, prevails in public, but I have heard it expressed by some old timers, still fighting wars in their minds after a few beers and usually some unwilling listeners.  

On one occasion as a guest and advisor for the group,  after Roberts Rules of Order got trashed,  it was ME... it was not what I was looking for.  I had things to say, no one was listening as it was Beer time.  Sometimes the stories go on and on and as the beer is consumed the noise gets louder... At that point I left.   This was not the group I would nor could support.  There are other challenges and hangups that would have to be eventually worked out, lots more challenges.


SHORTCOMINGS BY OUR CIA
NO EXIT PLAN

My goal was to bring even more of the LAO story to the present, unfortunately there is a another problem.  They believe, that is the fighters against the NVA and Cong were hung out to dry at the end of the war by the CIA.  Partially true, Cambodia, Lao and Viet Nam were all falling apart.  Southeast Asia was totally engulfed, we observed borders, the enemy had none.

This is true and a proper exit plan was not in place.  The Viet Cong, the PRG, the North Vietnamese regulars, the Pathet Lao the Kampuchea supported by arms from Russia, Communist Bloc nations,  and China, The Khmer Rouge in Cambodia,  North Korea and others, even Cuba vastly overpowered the freedom fighters.  It was inevitable.

The refugees escaping with virtually nothing took refuge in internment camps in Thailand till the United States granted “ Refuge Status”.  
Many of those who were Cambodian were not so lucky, for which a second war stated from 1969 to 1975 and escape was difficult, impossible, almost 3,000 million were simply slaughtered by the Khmer Rouge.  L
ittle is ever said about the Vietnamese Cambodian War.


IT IS STILL FELT TODAY
BACK TO THE PRESENT

There are different emotions running around in the room even between those who all came from Lao. Surprisingly, the even partially based on age and where you lived in the old country.  

1-  The Elders who managed to survive the death camps and relocation granted American citizenship and privilege.  The elders want the old customs and food, clothing, and in some cases religion and try to press it on the children. 

This is called heritage and these people have centuries of it.    Some almost 50 plus years later are still fighting the war in their minds.  There are enough atrocities from that era which stretched from the late fifties to the mid seventies to keep it alive.

2-  Those who immigrated and managed to get under the immigration umbrella and really prefer the lifestyle here, and do not really want to associate with the old country. They are Americans now.

3-  The children of the newest 2nd and third generations who feel they are by birthright in the US Americans and adapted well to this style.

4-  The Hmong who follow their traditions closely (they are a smaller but very unified group).  And those cultural differences reflect in their beliefs and a strong centralized community.  There are still enough differences in attitude, beliefs,  and old memories that create small tensions. 

 

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