H'mong New Year, that is! Here in central and northern Laos, the H'mong people are celebrating their New Year. We did not get to see the full celebrations (as we walked and walked but could not find the site), but did have lots of quick interactions with the locals in their traditional clothing excitedly celebrating with their families.
This stop on our journey has probably been the most sobering one so far. We first learned about the horrors that this country suffered during the American/Vietnam war in Vientiane, at an excellent museum called the COPE centre (Cooperative Orthotic and Prosthetic Enterprise), which provides physical and practical help for people affected by the war. Laos has been very heavily bombed (apparently more than any other country in the world), and 30% of the explosives ("bombies") did not detonate. As a result, certain areas of the country are littered with UXOs (unexploded ordnances) that are being uncovered every day. The situation continues to be destructive, as people are still maimed or killed by UXOs, cannot use the land fully due to the danger they pose, and have been left with an environment that is still contaminated.
So although we visited Phonsavan to see the megalithic site of the Plain of Jars, it is impossible to visit here without trying to grasp the tragedy of this area. The locals have transformed materials left over from the war into every day objects, and our guesthouse even had an outdoor fire in a cluster bomb casing. Here, the owner showed us a piece of knife blade alongside other materials with "Printed in Ontario" on it, which was alarming, and shameful. Let us not leave out that part of history when we are teaching about this war.
Understandably, there is a sense of heaviness that exists in the area as it continues to be defined by these tragic events. Even at the Plain of Jars sites, there is evidence of destruction from the war. But the site has an application in with UNESCO to be recognized as a World Heritage Site, and so perhaps this will eventually increase tourism and breathe more opportunity into the area. As for the jars themselves (which actually seem like an afterthought after everything else), Troy the history teacher says: "They are especially intriguing because not much is known about them. Site 2 was my favourite because of the surrounding scenery, and the way the jars seemed to be integrated into the natural environment." So there is another large stone site Troy is adding to his list. (We figure that Japanese onsens=megalithic stones in terms of compromise.)
Carrie Sobering indeed
Clare Hansen The whole experience was very emotional.