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High Water in Vientiane

I went into Vientiane a few days ago to see how far the Mekong was from topping the embankment (levee?) that was constructed after the big 2008 flood. It has quite a way to go before it gets that high, but it is flowing through some sluice gates and other channels to flood the park that’s on the city side of the road that runs along the top of the levee. I watched a video of the effort to pump water out of the area, and you can watch it on Facebook here.

Though it’s not going over the embankment, the river has flooded the new addition to the night market in that area. Here are the new vendor stalls that sit, usually, right above the river. Someone who did the planning must have thought that the river would never get this high again. Tell that to all the sellers who had to move their goods to higher ground.

flood

Night market vendor stalls under water

flood

More night market stalls under water.

We had no rain yesterday and there’s none in the forecast for today or tomorrow, but the water level is forecast to keep rising for the next few days, according to the Mekong River Commission daily bulletin. (If you click on their link, check out the Nongkhai report–it’s only a few miles downstream from the old place where I used to live and is much more relevant than the Vientiane report.)

The river has crept nearer to the old place, but it’s still safely below the houses. However, if the water does get higher over the next few days, that situation could change. Thankfully, many of the houses are built on stilts or on foundations that are several feet above the ground. More later.

Flooding on the Farm

So, I did make it out to the old place where I used to live, out on The Farm, to see what the extent of the flooding is. It’s not nearly as bad as in 2008; the water has quite a way to go before it reaches the houses, and, unless we get a region wide typhoon, I expect the river level to begin falling. (Update: I just talked to Nai and he told me that China is releasing a lot of water from their upstream dams due to heavy rain farther north. I’d forgotten about that factor, so the threat of further, heavier flooding looms.)

We had a lot of rain a few days ago, but none yesterday or today. Today is joyful–it’s been nicely sunny all day for the first time in a long time. We’ve had a few bouts of sunshine, but only for a couple of hours at a time. Maybe things will start to finally dry out. Here are a few photos of the flooding.

normal crop land

This was taken in January, 2015, during the dry season, and it shows what the crop land usually looks like in a view from Nai’s sister’s house.

flooded field

This is what the field looked like a few days ago. Not as bad as in 2008, but the crops of chili peppers and marigolds (used in the Buddhist temples by worshipers) were wiped out.

drainage channel

Just up the road is this drainage channel from the rice fields. This was taken during the rainy season in July, 2016. There is normally much less water flowing through here during the dry season.

drainage channel

Here’s the channel a few days ago, engorged by the river.

This is our front yard during the heavy rain we had this past Thursday. All the sun we’ve had today is starting to dry it out, making for easier navigation for motorbikes.

muddy front yard

The front yard was a soggy mess after heavy rain on Thursday, Aug. 30. It’s starting to dry out. I’m glad I didn’t have to ride through the muck–the school is still on break. Back to work on Sep. 13th.

Early Morning Showers

Another day, another morning rain shower. Much of the rain during the monsoon season falls at night and continues into the early morning. So, my attempt at staying in some semblance of shape by jogging has suffered. I usually do a couple of miles around 7 or 7:30 a.m.; any later and it’s just too hot, and the traffic on the road picks up as people start heading to work in Vientiane.

There’s still a lot of rain ahead of us, but I think we’re over the hump, past the mid-point of the monsoon season. Hopefully. The Mekong has slipped over its banks in some areas near Vientiane, including at Nai’s sister’s house, where I used to live. The river has flooded the family’s crop lands, but, luckily, it hasn’t reached the houses yet. It’s not nearly as bad as in 2008 (see my previous blog entry), though I haven’t been to the old place to check it out. Right now, blue sky seems to be breaking out, so if it stays nice, I’ll try to get out there to take a few photos. In fact, our usual rain shower was pretty short, so it looks like I might be able to take a jog this morning after all. Better get going.

P.S. The schools’s on break until Sept. 13th, so I’ve got all this time on my hands. Just got back from a short stay in Bangkok. Not much to say about the trip, but maybe I’ll write up a short post about it 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.

Winter in Laos

Ahh, it’s the best time of the year in Laos, and in most of South East Asia, I suppose. The winter months give us almost perfect weather–highs mostly in the mid- to low-eighties and lows in the fifties to high-forties. Those low temperatures can seem quite chilly if you’re used to much higher temperatures. If you spend winter in more northerly climes, like Montana, they might feel balmy by comparison.

Overcast, rainy weather is usually not a problem (it hasn’t rained since October) and the haze-free skies are a delight. That will end in February when the farmers start burning the stubble from their fields, here and in many areas of S.E. Asia.

If you ever get the urge to visit Laos, now is the time to come if you want to enjoy the country under optimal weather conditions. Here are a couple of photos from recent mornings, my favorite time of day.

morning light in Laos

If we have a decently-colored sunrise, the trees and the neighbors’ houses take on a beautiful color. This view is looking out my living room window towards the west.

morning fog near Vientiane, Laos

This shot is looking out the kitchen window towards the north. We don’t get a lot of heavy fog since we’re not near the river, but it’s not unusual to get some. It burns off quite quickly.

Rainy Season Arrives in Force

The days and weeks of rain are definitely here. We had a couple inches of rain last Sunday, and there are about four inches in the forecast for today and tomorrow. It’s been raining steadily since last night, and everything is quite wet, of course.

It’s cozy and dry inside the new house, but outside it’s a different story. The house is built up from the ground by a couple of feet, so parking our motorbikes in the large kitchen area out of the rain (and away from potential thieves) is a bit of a chore. The owner first built a wooden ramp that we used to get the bikes inside, but it was too narrow. The first time I tried to ride up it, I fell off and my bike fell on top of me. Fortunately, no damage was done to either the bike or me. Nai tried to ride up it, but he had a heck of a time getting in the door.

So, we asked the owner to come up with an alternative, if he could. He piled up a truckload of dirt that is much easier to get up and get into the house. (See the picture I took in a prior post. Look to the left side of the house, in the back.) Unfortunately, when it rains the dirt turns into a quagmire of gumbo. When I came back from work last night, I parked the bike outside and went in the house through the front door. First, though, I took off my wet shoes (I forgot to take my sandals with me) that got soaked from riding to the house through the sometimes-heavy rain. Luckily, I had my poncho with me, so I didn’t get too wet, except for the shoes. I went to the back area and put on my sandals, unlocked the back door, went back out the front door, grabbed the bike and pushed it through the gumbo, giving it some gas in second gear to help it along, and up the dirt into the house.

Unfortunately, my sandals got caked with at least two inches of mud on the bottom, so I felt like I was walking in high heels. The motorbike tires were in equal straits. I cleaned the sandals this morning, but the tires will only get clean as I ride to work today.

Nai’s going to ask the owner to try to come up with another solution. The wooden ramp would work fine if only he’d make it wider. The owner, Kay, is a great guy, so I’m sure he’ll come up with something. Until then, we’ll just have to hope for some sun later in the week.

Muddy path

This doesn’t look too bad, but it’s very soft. It’s not like quicksand–it’s more like “quickmud.”

Muddy tire

This will be rough riding until the mud sloughs off on the paved road. Until then, though, going out and down the back ramp is going to increase the mud build-up. Hope I don’t get stuck!

My First UFO

It’s been very hot this week with high temperatures around 100F (38C) and the humidity has been high. Some mornings I wake up and I’m already sweating. Until last night there had been no sign of thunderstorms and rain, which would cool things off a bit, for a while. But, we had a very violent storm come through from the north yesterday evening around 7 o’clock. There was little rain, but lots of high wind and lightning. I thought the roof of the house was going to get torn off, and, though there were no nearby strikes, the lightning was flickering all around us, enough so that I probably could have read a book by the light.

I sat on the front porch, which faces south and was somewhat sheltered, enjoying the relative coolness that the storm brought. As I watched the clouds zipping along, I noticed a pale, silver wedge, shaped like a boomerang and somewhat blurred, going in the opposite direction, toward the north, against the strong wind. It couldn’t have been at a great altitude because it reflected the lighting from the street lamps. It raced past almost directly overhead and became obscured by the house. I thought about running to the back of the house to see if I could catch a glimpse of it, but I remembered the back door was locked and it would have taken some time to get my keys and unlock the door, by which time the object would have been long gone.

What was it? It came out of the south from the general direction of Thailand. Is the Thai or Lao military testing a flying wing? Just kidding, as neither of them has the resources, the technology or the know-how to even begin to think about doing something like that. I don’t have a clue about what the object was, so I’m going to chalk it up as my very first glimpse of a UFO.

Calling it a UFO doesn’t mean it was some kind of extra-terrestrial space craft; it just means that it was something flying that I couldn’t identify. A flock of birds, maybe? A rogue cloud? Some kind of weird lightning? I give it a shoulder shrug. UFO.

Drawing

This is something I drew in Photoshop earlier. It kind of resembles the object that I saw. Same brightness,
blurry look.

The End of Rainy Season

It’s my favorite time of the year in Laos. Rainy season is over, more or less (see below), the skies are mostly clear and sunny, and the temperature is becoming milder by the day. I hope to get in some star gazing soon; it’s been months since we’ve had good viewing conditions.

Now, after having said that, we’re right in the middle of a torrential rain shower, probably one of the last we’ll have in a while, I hope, though a few light showers here and there would be nice as the dry season intensifies. Rain is in the forecast for tonight and tomorrow. I just hope that I can make it home from work before any more heavy storms pop up this evening.

I’m going to try to get up some photos from the past several months, photos that feature the rain and some that highlight other events, so stay tuned all two or three of my readers. LOL

Rainy Season?

A couple of weeks ago, after a week of clear skies and hot days, I began to wonder how short the current rainy season might be. The Mekong, rising steadily before, began to recede, little by little. But, of course, rainy season wasn’t ending early. It proceeded to rain quite heavily for a few days, turning the dirt road of the village into a quagmire. However, it’s now been another week of clear skies and plenty of sunshine. Thankfully, the road has dried out, but that means I have to ride through a cloud of dust when I go to work. We’ve had a few nice sunsets, shown below. Nothing spectacularly beautiful, but there are usually some awesome sunsets at this time of year, when a break in the rain allows for it.

Speaking of breaks, we’ve got a long one coming up at the school. Right now we’re doing final grading, filling out reports, planning for next term, etc. This term ends on August 4th and we don’t start again until September 12th. We were originally supposed to start on the 8th, but the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said we wouldn’t be good to go until the 12th. Why? President Obama is visiting Laos sometime during the week beginning on September 5th, so security will be insanely heavy and many roads will be closed, I presume. I’m going to try to get into the city to see him, but most likely I’ll be unable to get anywhere near where he might be giving speeches or whatever. I might rent a cheap guesthouse room in the city that week to increase my chances. I’ll let you know what happens.

Sunset

Sunset

drainage channel

This is a small (usually) drainage channel from the rice paddies to the Mekong. During the rainy season, though, it becomes quite a torrent. As the river rises it will fill this entire ravine.

An Exciting Life-Not

Boring

What does it say about my “exotic” life in another country when the most exciting thing to happen in the last several months is that the local authorities finally decided to bring in a scraper and level off the rutted, pot-holed dirt road that runs through the village? A luxurious motorbike ride was in the offing, a ride that wouldn’t bounce me up and down and shake me up, causing my internal organs to become displaced. A ride that I wouldn’t have to make at 10 kilometers an hour in order to prevent my motorbike from shaking apart. I was looking forward to it. I was excited!

scraper

That was last Sunday. For all of one day, Monday, going to and from Vientiane, I enjoyed the level road. That all changed on Tuesday, when we had some heavy rains. When the road was horribly wash-boarded and pot-holed, the dirt was at least hard, compacted. The scraper tore up all that hard dirt and left a loose mess that the rain turned into a 6 kilometer long mud pit, from the village all the way to the main road. What a nightmare ride! I really had to watch where I was riding. In the worst area, not too far from the main road, vehicles had to stay all the way to the left, trying to avoid oncoming bikes and trucks, because the right hand side was, and still is, completely impassable due to the deep mud there. Not even the big sand- and gravel-hauling trucks will attempt passage on that side.

At this time, Thursday, the condition of the road is similar to what it was before it was scraped. It won’t be long until it’s back in the same condition. The forecast isn’t calling for much rain in the near future, so the mud should dry up soon. I’ll still have to make a few more night rides before it dries, which can be a nightmare on that back road. Even at 10 kilometers an hour. Who said my life wasn’t exciting?