MontanaRon

Just another ordinary English teacher eclectic expat blog about nothing in particular.

Tag: environment (page 1 of 2)

Covid in Laos

There hadn’t been any confirmed cases of covid-19 infection in Laos up until about a week ago when a couple of people were found to have the virus. Since then, six more people have been infected, and all of them are related, in some way, to the first two cases. Just about everything has shut down, though, including bars, restaurants, gyms, movie theaters, and other entertainment venues. Even the two “mom-and-pop” restaurants in front of my house have closed. And, most amazing, the karaoke just across the road has shut down. Ahh, peace and quiet in the evening for a while, unless the neighbors decide to crank up their music, which they did last night. Luckily, I’m pretty well stocked up on food, so I’m staying at home, except to go jogging in the morning and maybe take a bit of a walk in the evening after the day’s heat has gone down a bit. (Lately, it’s been around 100 and will be for about the next three days.) To the heat and the virus, add in the horrendous air quality of late (> 150), and Laos is not the most pleasant place to be right now.

Vientiane College shut down, along with all other schools, a couple of weeks ago, so I’m on extended vacation at the moment (paid, thankfully). Our next term was supposed to start on May 7th, but that increasingly looks unlikely. Hopefully we won’t be out of commission for too much longer after that. So, I’m just sitting at home, watching movies and TV shows, doing a bit of digital art, playing online games (Lord of the Rings, Eve Online), reading and drinking beer. What’s a guy to do? We’ll get through this, but it could turn out to be rather boring after a while.

Oh, one other thing is that in the middle of April is arguably the biggest holiday of the year in Laos, the Lao New Year (Pee Mai Lao), but, because of the virus, the government has cancelled all of its holiday events and advised people not to gather in large groups for celebrations (this includes weddings and birthday parties). I’m really curious to see how many people follow through with that. I suppose there will be at least a small party out on the farm where Nai’s sister lives and where I used to live. I’ll go out there for one day (out of the three that comprise the holiday) and be sure to social distance myself from the others. How much they’ll do the same, I don’t know. If things get out of hand, I’ll boogie on out of there and go back to my house.

So, in finishing, I hope everyone stays healthy and safe. Catch up on your reading or gardening or whatever and wait it out. More later.

Waterlogged Laos

“ain’t seen the sunshine since I don’t know when.” Living here in waterlogged Laos, I’m reminded of this line from Johnny Cash’s Folsom Prison Blues. Virtually every day since the cave rescue near Chiang Rai, Thailand, it’s been raining–not heavily, mind you, but steadily. There have been a few heavy downpours, but mostly it’s been a steady drizzle or moderate rainfall.

The recent disaster near Attapeu, Laos, has been followed by reports of numerous rivers in the country nearing or above flood stage. Unfortunately, the Vientiane Times stories are behind a paywall, but here’s another view from The Nation, a Thailand newspaper.

The mighty Mekong is near flood stage in some low-lying villages near Vientiane, including Sithanthai village, where I used to live. Nai told me the river is getting near his sister’s house in the village, and I asked him to take some photos today when he goes there. If he gets any good ones, I’ll try to post them. I’m a bit worried about one of his other sisters, who has a house very near the river. I assume she and her family have evacuated. I don’t think the situation is as bad as it was back in 2008, yet. Here are a few photos from back then that I took.

Nai surveying flood

Nai surveying the flood waters at his house in Laos.

Children playing in flood waters

Children having fun in the flood of 2008 at Nai’s house.

And this one is from Nongkhai, Thailand, just across the border.

The Weather Underground forecast for Vientiane is calling for 1/4″ to 1/2″ of rain daily through next week. The forecasts are highly unreliable, though, so we could get more rain than that, or, hopefully, less. There was a steady drizzle overnight, but right now the rain has stopped. We live a few miles from the Mekong, so it’s highly unlikely that the river would reach us here.

Like I wrote, I’ll post some photos here if Nai gets any, and if the situation is still bad this weekend, I’ll try to ride out to the village to see what’s going on and to get some photos of my own. Stay tuned.

More Gunk in the Air

Here are a few more sunsets that we had over the past few days, and the sunrises are equally picturesque. The second photo shows some clouds in the evening sky, and, in fact, we finally had a bit of rain the day before the shot was taken. It was a very small amount, barely enough to dampen the ground out here, but Vientiane received quite a bit more, enough to create some large puddles. Any amount is welcome, of course.

Sunset

A nice sunset from last Sunday evening. Clouds! Rain! But not much.

Red sunset

Another crimson sunset behind the temple across the road from the farm.

The beautiful beginnings and ends of day aren’t without drawbacks, though. The sun is very red due to the haze in the atmosphere, which is mainly being caused by farmers burning the stubble off their fields in preparation for rainy season planting. I smelled smoke the other evening and stepped out onto the porch and noticed a heavy smoke cloud drifting in the fields near the house, caused by someone burning a nearby field, either across the river in Thailand or here not far from the house. Not pleasant at all. Hopefully, the burning will cease and the haze will clear soon.

Smoke drifts over farm fields.

Smoke drifts over nearby fields not far from the house. Where there’s smoke there’s fire, but I couldn’t see where the smoke was coming from. Not a pleasant smell, and it just adds to the hazy skies. Lots of rain soon, please.

Mekong Rising and Red Sunrise

As I posted previously, the Chinese are releasing water from a dam upstream from us to help out during the current drought. Riding into Vientiane today, I noticed that the Mekong had, indeed, risen about 3 to 4 inches. Just a wild guess, but the water level has gone up since last week. I hope that helps out the farmers downstream, especially the Vietnamese.

I’ve put up a photo of a red sunset before, so here’s a somewhat similar red sunrise. Morning and evening, with all the haze in the atmosphere, we’ve had about a month of these colorful risings and settings. About the only time the sun casts dark shadows is when it reaches its zenith, around noon or so. The weather forecast is calling for a small chance of rain this Friday. Hopefully, we’ll get at least a few showers.

Red sunrise

A red sun rises over Thailand and the Mekong River (unseen in this shot) from my front porch.

Mekong Water War?

According to an article on an Australian news site, Thailand is diverting some of the Mekong’s water to refresh it’s own rivers and streams. This is not making downstream neighbors, especially Vietnam, happy at all. The Thai government says that what it’s taking from the Mekong is not having a “significant impact.”

It’s an interesting article that also goes into the regional drought and the record low level of the Mekong River. I rode my motorbike by the Mekong this morning on my way to work, but I forgot to check if the level had risen due to the release of water by the Chinese dam upstream, as I mentioned in my previous post. I’ll try to remember to check it out on my way home today. More later.

Boom or Bust-Dammed If You Do, Dammed If You Don’t

There was an article in the Vientiane Times today stating that an upstream dam in China will increase its water discharge to help alleviate the drought in countries lower down the Mekong River, specifically Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. We’ve got a fairly severe drought going on here in Laos, and the Mekong is at a very low level. However, Vietnam, according to the article, is suffering through its worst drought in 100 years. You can read the article here.

There is a bit of history with this dam. Back in September of 2014, during a very rainy season in Southwest China, countries downstream from China were placed on high alert due to an increase in discharge rates from the dam that could flood large areas of those countries. I remember the warning, but, though the river rose near the house, we never got any flooding. You can read that warning here.

So, through drought or excessive rain, that one dam and others upstream from us, the first ones built along the once free-flowing Mekong, have the potential to play an important part in the daily lives of millions of people living downstream from it. Could China use that as a political weapon? Possibly, but I don’t think it has done so yet.

A Few Things for Your Perusal

Laos Hosts ASEAN Summit

Laos is hosting the summit meeting of the Association of SouthEast Asian Nations (ASEAN) this year, which is quite an honor for the small country. The government has been tidying up the capital for the last several months, painting the lane markers on the roads so that they’re visible, putting up Christmas-like lights on the trees on the main roads and on government buildings, installing new traffic lights and making other less noticeable improvements. The importance of the meeting will be emphasized by the arrival of President Obama in the capital in September. I imagine security will be over-the-top, but I think our school will be on break at that time. I might try to come into Vientiane while Obama’s there, just to record the scene.

Already, though, there has been an increased security presence, with armed military and police patrolling the sidewalks along the main roads, something that was rarely seen in the recent past. I’ve noticed the increase especially along the road that runs next to the Mekong River, one I travel most days when I come to work. There have been groups of three armed (Uzis, AK-47s ??) military personnel meandering along the sidewalks, which are not normally packed with people. I don’t know what they expect to happen, but I assume they’re prepared for anything. They mostly look bored. When Obama arrives, I suppose most of the military and police will be present, or at least it will seem that way. Anyway, congratulations to Laos for being chosen to host this event.

A Better Red Sunset

Here’s a better photo typical of the red sunsets and sunrises we’ve been getting due to the extreme haze lately, mainly caused by farmers burning the stubble off their fields. One of the Thailand news agencies reported that the haze has been caused by fires in Myanmar, Northern Thailand and Laos.

red sunset

I purposefully underexposed this photo to bring out the red in the sun. The color of the sun here pretty much echoes what I see at sunset and sunrise.

Crop Diversity

I’m surprised at the number of different crops that are planted in the fields near my house. In the panorama photo below, you can see corn, marigolds (made into garlands and used in the Buddhist temples) and other crops (see the photo caption). Right now, we’re in the dry season and it hasn’t rained since I don’t know when. Everything is very dry and the temperature is forecast to be above 100 F (39 C) for at least the next week, with no rain in sight. The house I’m renting is far enough away from the very dusty road that runs through the village that we don’t get too much of the dust. Along the road, however, almost everything is coated with a layer of brown dust. Whenever we do get any significant rainfall, there should be dancing in the streets. But, until then, how many of these crops are going to make it? Most of the farmers here, near the Mekong, have wells that can be used to water the crops, but elsewhere, the dry season rice growers are having big problems with this drought. Hopefully, the rain will come sooner, rather than later.

Crops in Laos village

Some of the crops near the house. Starting at the left, from front to rear, are marigolds, an unknown crop (that’s really helpful, eh?) and corn. Then moving to the right, there is a crop of basil (I think) and another unknown crop. Then, there are a couple of fields, the front ready for planting and the back one with a plant just starting to come up. To the right is another corn crop, and in front of it is a hazy, green something. Again, not very helpful, but I’m not much of a plant and flower guy. Don’t forget the banana grove, also, in front.

banana grove

The banana grove that surrounds the house on three sides is growing and seems to be doing well. Hope it doesn’t block the sky later. And, you might notice the other farmland beyond the banana grove. Many more crops back there, too.

Hazy Days and Nights

I bought a pair of Olympus 10×50 binoculars on my trip to Bangkok back in December, primarily to use for star gazing. I got in a few nighttime sessions and was able to pick out some star clusters and galaxies that you don’t ordinarily see with the naked eye. However, I needed to get a tripod adapter to hook the binocs up to my camera tripod. I purchased one on my recent stay in the United States, so I was ready for steadier viewing.

Unfortunately, the skies have been extremely hazy lately, mainly due to farmers around Southeast Asia burning their fields in preparation for another growing season. I can’t see the sun until way after sunrise as it tries to plow through the haze on the horizon. At night, only the brightest stars shine through the murk, which means that viewing those fainter cosmic sights is next to impossible. The only good thing about the haze is that it makes for some beautiful red sunsets. Guess I’ll have to wait until rainy season to get in some more good nighttime sky-watching.

red sunset

We’ve had lots of red sunsets because of the haze in the atmosphere. This photo was taken from a window in my house. The view isn’t great, but I’d have to walk or ride the motorbike quite far to get a better shot.

A Few Sunsets

My view of the western horizon really isn’t too good here. There’s the wat on one side and a house on the other, both of which intrude into the second-floor photos from Nai’s house I take of sunsets. Walking up to the small road that runs through the village doesn’t offer any better views. I’d have to ride my motorbike a couple of kilometers to some rice paddies where I would have an unobstructed view. It’s hard to predict, though, if the sunset is going to be something special that would reward my ride over the washboardy, pot-holed village road. For now, I’ll content myself with the view that I have.

So, here are a few nice sunsets we’ve had over the past month or so. Please forgive those two buildings that make the scene less than ideal.

Sunset in Laos

Sunset with the house intruding.

Sunset in Laos

Sunset with the wat intruding.

Sunset in Laos

Sunset–where are the house and the wat? I took this one with the telephoto zoom lens, which avoided the two interlopers.

Mountain Hike

Wow, long time, no see! There are various reasons for that, as usual. The spring semester has started here at the university, and we’re using new textbooks for one of the classes. Writing lesson plans for that class seems to be consuming a huge amount of my free time. We’re also having some gorgeous spring weather, so I’ve been spending a lot of time outside.

A few weeks ago, a couple of other teachers and I hiked to the top of one of the nearby hills, a walk I’ve made before, which you can read about here. It’s about a 30- to 45-minute hike through dense trees and vegetation, so there’s not much of a view going up. At the top, however, the view of Yeosu is spectacular. I took this panoramic shot, stitching together 8 individual photos into this single view. Click on the photo below a couple of times to get the large view.

Panoramic view of Yeosu ocean

Panoramic View of Yeosu Ocean

Although it was a bit on the chilly side and somewhat breezy, there was abundant sunshine, and it felt like true spring was just around the corner. Here, Rob and Corrie ham it up at the summit.

Rob and Corrie

Rob and Corrie

There were a few trails back down on the other side of the mountain, but we couldn’t decide whether to take a trail to the top of the next rise or a trail down to the valley and then on to the ocean. Rob and I played rock-paper-scissors to decide, and I was the valley route competitor. I won, so we hiked down to the valley floor. Scattered throughout the hills of Yeosu, and, I assume, the entirety of South Korea, are these little pagoda picnic/shelter areas. Rob and Corrie are enjoying the view from this one.

Yeosu Mountain Pagoda

Mountain Pagoda

On the way down we got a great view of the bay, as did a busload of company employees enjoying the day.

Ocean view

Ocean View

Finally, at the ocean, we stopped at one of the local cafes and had a small lunch. All in all, it was a great early spring day.

The next post will be about my recent stroll through the Yeosu outdoor market. See you then!

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