Satjadham presents:

Not Sleepy

By Soudary Kittivong

Growing up, I came upon random articles about muang Lao.  Often described 
as a "sleepy land" where the people are the "kindest in the world," Laos 
was a mere baby compared to the bustling sister country of muang Thai.  
These descriptions I took to heart, and for awhile I truly believed that 
muang Lao was "sleepy" and had no potential in the international arena.  
And still today, as I read in my Political Science course 139: SE Asian 
Politics, I hear the same thing about this country.  "Among the Southeast 
Asian countries, Laos has little hope for any development," it says in 
one of the texts.  But that "sleepiness" of muang Lao should not be seen 
as bad, necessarily.  And it cannot be blamed for its "underdeveloped" 
status.  Laos used to be a great kingdom, remember.  Were khon Lao of 
that era more or less "sleepy?"  My point is, we should take this view as 
not to be critical, but as a pitiful misunderstanding of Lao society and 
how khon Lao think.

To me, to describe khon Lao and muang Lao as "sleepy" is a fault.  Our 
culture does not strive on structure and time.  Khon Lao have our own 
system of living--and that includes how the country is run.  Because we 
are "sleepy," our natural resources are still untouched and preserved, 
whatever we have left of it after the bombings in the '60s.  Because of 
we are "sleepy," we didn't have an interest in building huge tourist resorts 
or soliciting investments from multinational corporations.  But that has 
all changed now.  Muang Lao has been pushed to by foreign interests to 
open up to more tourism, to build more, more, more.  

Muang Lao needs not hurry to disclaim being "sleepy," or disclaim its 
way of doing things.  I agree that to continue to have some play in the 
international arena, it must have open relations with other countries, 
but it should be wary of the interests of other foreign countries.  
Tourism is not the answer to all the country's needs.  Though it would 
bring in more money, it would be sad if the country were turned into a 
paradise only for foreign visitors, and the khon Lao slaves to the 
industry.  Tourism for muang Lao should only be a side job, else khon Lao 
of all the world would never be able to visit their TRUE uncommercialized 
homeland.  Other countries have also urged muang Lao to expand it 
economic potential.  While I think this would be great, it should be 
careful of countries who may have ulterior motives, such as those who 
still want a trade route into China (like the French during the Indochina 
days).  If muang Lao gives up its land for a bridge across to China, how 
are we sure that it won't become a mere highway for SE Asia?

As khon Lao, no matter what our views, we all long for the day to see it 
in a more stable situation.  We long for the home that we left.  Others 
long for the home that we often hear our elders speak of.  For me, I 
would like to see muang Lao someday alive on its own feet, with its 
people well taken cared of.  But I know I cannot just say this.  I must 
really do something, anything, to ensure muang Lao's future.  What can we 
do?  I ask you.