Friday, July 15, 2005

The Public Finance Workshop in Vientiane, Lao PDR

Finally, I have time to get organised enough to post long overdue photos from my trips. Let me start with my mission to Lao in late May. While I was there, I attempted to write some goings on. Like most attempts in this regard, the attempt was aborted shortly after it began due to excessive workload and some degree of laziness. However, I will include what I did manage to write. It is only edited for typos but otherwise remains as I wrote it at the time.

Mission to Vientiane, May 22-25

22 May 2005

I will, as I proceed, omit any work details as that is boring. So all the gaps in the schedule will indicate work time.

Arrived in Lao PDR. Flying into Lao was enough for me to see that I had never been to a country quite like this. Descending into Vientiane, the capital, was like flying into a rural town, not a city. The very friendly and helpful staff from the Lao Plaza Hotel were waiting for me and two others to take us directly to the hotel via a shuttle bus. Riding along the streets showed people mostly on mopeds and tuk tuks zipping down the streets with seemingly very lax ideas of ??road rules.?? But traffic was light enough that the lack of organization seemed of little consequence. The first striking point was that not all the roads are paved in downtown Vientiane.

The Lao Plaza Hotel is a quite lovely place. It does not have the luxury of some countries?? hotels but it is clean, has cable (currently watching a spot of Rugby Union on ESPN), a pool and gym area and other amenities expected of a nice hotel.

On the afternoon of arrival a few of us took the car we have rented complete with a driver to take a tour around the city. This took very little time partly because one of the two tourist highlights was closed on a Sunday. The other place seemed closed too but doors were opened with a spot of dosh. We also drove past an impressive arch. Afterwards we took a walk by the Mekong River until we came to a known local hangout for tourists and expats by the river and enjoyed a Beer Lao, which is quite delicious and some squid and fried fish. Squid and fish because three of our group were Korean and what is beer without squid and fish, really?

Impressive arch

Sightseeing in Vientiane

The Mekong River: opposite bank is Thailand

In the evening we had a light dinner in the hotel. They served up a massive plate of delicious food for a ridiculous price. This country is obscenely cheap ?? US$3 for something that would cost around US$20 plus tax in Washington.

23 May, 2005

Banner announcing our presence

First session of the workshop is about to start and the room is CROWDED! They are bringing in extra chairs to try and fit everyone in. This is great for the conference and is hopefully an early sign that it will be a big success. I have volunteered to take notes of the proceedings which has the added benefit of letting me blog as well. Also positive to note that there is a good representation of women among the participants.

The street outside conferencerene venue

After a full day of presentations, including my own budget execution and control, which I might add, went quite smashing I think, we headed off to the Country Office to do emails for work. Stupidly I left my disc in the computer and I am hoping to retrieve tomorrow when we go back. At six pm we went to a Lao restaurant to meet up with the conference crowd for a traditional dinner accompanied by some traditional music and dance. All very civilised until I squirted a lychee at the person next me by mistake. Oops! I must also mention, if I have not already but the local Lao Beer here is really a fine drink indeed.

The inevitable dinner speech

End of Diary: I quit writing after this as the workload got heavier and I got lazier. For those of you concerned, I did retrieve my computer disc the next day.

The conference attendees - notice lovely skirts worn by ladies! I bought such a lovely skirt myself

And so concludes my mission to Laos. There is a follow up workshop between the parties involved in improving public financial management in Laos that is due to be held in Seoul in September but whether or not I join that mission is very much uncertain at this stage. Fingers crossed.

Currently reading:

"Hell" by Yasutaka Tsutsui