The Mothers Who Fled Marawi

By Lorie Ann Cascaro
Marawi-evacuees-mothers-babies-newborn-war Waiting for their relief goods at Saguiaran municipal hall on Oct. 19, 2017, Anisa Ibrahim from Brgy. Rorogagus Proper, Marawi City, worries her 11-month old daughter is malnourished. (Lorie Ann Cascaro)

Seven months pregnant, Widad Batabor was bleeding profusely when she left Marawi City on her 28th birthday. It was May 23, the day President Rodrigo Duterte declared martial law in Mindanao, after the Islamic State-inspired Maute group took over sections of the city on the same day.

“I just wanted to save my baby before the bombings get worse,” said Batabor five months after the attack, with four-month-old baby Bakwit in her arms.

Marawi-evacuees-donation-women-war A woman evacuee receives a relief food pack at the Saguiaran municipal hall, Lanao del Sur, on Oct. 19, 2017. Distribution of relief donations at the evacuation center happened once a week. (Lorie Ann Cascaro)

Batabor remembered how she left home that day. Except for the intermittent sounds of gunfire, she thought her neighborhood was quiet. But as she went out, she discovered that the streets were crammed with residents leaving their houses — elderly people in wheelchairs, pregnant women and children on their feet, and a long queue of stranded cars.

Continue reading this article on The Diplomat.

Salvaging Tai O in Hong Kong

Tai O, Hong Kong PHOTO BY LORIE ANN CASCARO

By Lorie Ann Cascaro

HONG KONG — One of the city’s tourist attractions for its centuries-old stilt houses and salt pans, dried fish and seafoods, Tai O screams out for salvaging.

Despite a decreasing population of nearly 3,000, Tai O had survived typhoons, landslide and big fire in 2000.

Such oldest existing fishing village in Hong Kong has remained steadfast, as villagers thrive to beautify the old and rubbish.

Since fishing ceased to be the villagers’ primary livelihood, tourism has provided a source of income for vendors and business owners. In 2000, the village had a total of 300,000 visitors, 90 percent of which were Hong Kong citizens, according to a 2010 study.

But, massive influx of tourists and development projects in the village have caused the destruction of habitat for marine plants and animals.

The big motors in their modern boats tell how far they need to sail to catch fish.

Garbages found under the stilt houses, in small canals and vacant lots show the persisting problems of solid waste disposal and household discharges.

As their backyards and street corners gather up scrap metals and old appliances, their traditional architecture and implements have slowly been eroded from their daily lives.

An old woman cycles along the salt pans in Tai O village on a Wednesday afternoon. The village once had a salt-making industry for export that ended in 1970s. The government wanted to restore a few thousand square meters of the pans but the salt makers are already over 70 years old.
An old woman cycles along the salt pans in Tai O village on a Wednesday afternoon. The village once had a salt-making industry for export that ended in 1970s. The government wanted to restore a few thousand square meters of the pans but the salt makers are already over 70 years old. PHOTO BY LORIE ANN CASCARO
Tai O, Hong Kong PHOTO BY LORIE ANN CASCARO
A fisherman in Tai O starts up his motorized boat on a Wednesday afternoon. The village had been flooded many times by storms but despite the threat of coastal flooding, it has not fully developed a strategy for coastal flood management, according to a 2013 research[1]. PHOTO BY LORIE ANN CASCARO
Tai O, Hong Kong PHOTO BY Lorie Ann Cascaro
Some Tai O villagers buy fish from the fishermen to put salt and dry in the sun and sell in the market for a meager income. Most tourists from Hong Kong visit the village for dried fish and seafoods. PHOTO BY LORIE ANN CASCARO
Tai O, Hong Kong PHOTO BY LORIE ANN CASCARO
The stilt houses in Tai O, locally called Pang O, have existed since 200 years ago [2] to respond to the practical need of fishing people to have a land-based residence. They are designed to protect them from high tides, but the impacts of climate change pose coastal flood risk[3]. PHOTO BY LORIE ANN CASCARO
Amid the cracked walls and dilapidated buildings in Tai O, villagers thrive to beautify the façade of their houses, especially that tourism helps them earn income. PHOTO BY LORIE ANN CASCARO
Amid the cracked walls and dilapidated buildings in Tai O, villagers thrive to beautify the façade of their houses, especially that tourism helps them earn income. PHOTO BY LORIE ANN CASCARO
Tai O, Hong Kong PHOTO BY LORIE ANN CASCARO
The traditional hats, which have a round brim and crown that distinguish the Tanka people[4], the major ethnic group in Tai O, have almost lost touch in their daily lives. Only seen being used by street sweepers, the hats can be bought at HK$40 from a store owned by two old women who made the hats themselves. PHOTO BY LORIE ANN CASCARO
Tai O, Hong Kong PHOTO BY LORIE ANN CASCARO
Old boats, like other unused implements in Tai O, found their places, unmoved and unintentionally serving as an artifact of a fading culture of the village. PHOTO BY LORIE ANN CASCARO
Tai O, Hong Kong PHOTO BY LORIE ANN CASCARO
The people in Tai O continue to pass on the skills in boat-making to the young generation, especially crafting the traditional dragon boats that also provide a source of income. PHOTO BY LORIE ANN CASCARO
Tai O, Hong Kong PHOTO BY LORIE ANN CASCARO
The Dragon Boat Festival is a parade of Tai O’s dieties in long traditional boats made by the villagers to drive away “water ghosts” that caused epidemics hundred years ago. Today, they continue to make boats also for dragon boat racing that has been a popular water sport event, not only in Hong Kong, but also in other Asian countries. PHOTO BY LORIE ANN CASCARO
Tai O, Hong Kong PHOTO BY LORIE ANN CASCARO
Villagers keep scrap metals and other old items in their yards either to find new usage or make money by selling them. They bring life to their places by planting flowers and vegetables in used boxes and pots. PHOTO BY LORIE ANN CASCARO

[1] Chan, Faith Ka ShunView Profile; Adekola, Olalekan A; Ng, Cho NamView Profile; Mitchell, GordonView Profile; McDonald, Adrian TView Profile. Environmental Practice15.3 (Sep 2013): 201-219.

[2] Dryland and Syed. 2013. Tai O Village. Retrieved from http://www.academia.edu/217565/Tai_O_village_vernacular_fisheries_management_or_revitalization

[3] Chan, Faith Ka ShunView Profile; Adekola, Olalekan A; Ng, Cho NamView Profile; Mitchell, GordonView Profile; McDonald, Adrian TView Profile. Environmental Practice15.3 (Sep 2013): 201-219.

[4] Dryland and Syed. 2013. Tai O Village. Retrieved from http://www.academia.edu/217565/Tai_O_village_vernacular_fisheries_management_or_revitalization

Like the waves

PHOTO COURTESY OF JACQUELINE DONALDSON

By Lorie Ann Cascaro

HONG KONG — Big Wave Bay in Hong Kong Island turned into a collage of colored umbrellas and tents this past Easter holiday. Hundreds of people sunbathed while their children were digging in the white sandy beach with plastic toys.

Swell rarely happen in the bay after winter, but Typhoon Maysak made the waves favorable for surfing. Waves at 0.6 meters high appeared every 11 to 12 seconds with a speed of 6 to 8 knots on April 6, according to Magicseaweed’s forecast.

Some 20 surfers paddled up as a wave chased behind them. Before the wave broke out into white foams, one of them had already pulled off a surfing stunt.

Wearing a black rash guard and striped board shorts, a 39-year-old Scottish woman was sitting on a surfboard in the inner part of the swell.

It was easy to find her in the crowd when she still had dreadlocks, said Julie Barrass, a European headhunter, renting a house in Big Wave Bay. She has known Jacqueline Donaldson and most regular beachgoers since she moved here eight years ago.

Barrass was smoking cigarette beside the lifeguard tower when Donaldson came out of the water carrying an 8-foot blue fun board.

Donaldson’s former dreadlocks once saved her life during a surfing accident in 2011 by cushioning the blow as she landed on the seabed. She suffered only a spinal compression fracture.

Having worn dreads since 2009, she considered removing them, but felt guilty “like killing a pet or betraying someone who’d saved my life.”

PHOTO COURTESY OF JACQUELINE DONALDSON
Jacqueline Donaldson surfs with dreadlocks that saved her life from a surfing accident in 2011 in Big Wave Bay, Hong Kong. PHOTO COURTESY OF JACQUELINE DONALDSON

Changing her style, she took out her dreadlocks in Thailand early this year.

After washing up, Donaldson tied her shoulder-length hair and sat with some friends, lounging and sipping beer with upbeat songs from a tiny portable speaker.

A Filipino born in Hong Kong, Anton Pelayo, 29, joined her, laying down his surfboard. He met Donaldson when “she was doing cinematography video stuff and teaching drama to kids.”

Donaldson took film and photography at the University of Wales College, Newport in United Kingdom.

The two friends had their late lunch at a restaurant facing the beach. It was packed mostly with foreigners.

“I’m going to get the anchovies pizza… Put lemon in my beer please,” she told Pelayo and headed to the toilet.

“She’s a very friendly outspoken lady,” Pelayo said.

PHOTO BY LORIE ANN CASCARO
Jacqueline Donaldson in pink shirt relaxes with her friends after surfing in Big Wave Bay, Hong Kong Island on April 6.  PHOTO BY LORIE ANN CASCARO

Donaldson first came here in 2001 from trips in Pakistan, India, and Nepal and back to Pakistan, her favorite country next to New Zealand. She saw Pakistan before the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center.

“Of course, now it’s not that safe there anymore,” she said.

After seven months in Hong Kong as English tutor, she travelled to China and Southeast Asia. She tracked wild Orangutans in North Sumatra with a friend. Then, she came back for a year and travelled around Australia and New Zealand.

Settling down here since 2007, she had taught English through drama and pop-culture programs, and took different film projects for free to build up her cinematography skills.

She works as a fitting model and cinematographer on corporate video and independent films, while managing her company, Media, Theatre and Modeling Consultants.

PHOTO COURTESY OF JACQUELINE DONALDSON

“Did you see the documentary about the Jonestown massacre? I sent you the link,” she excitedly told Pelayo, who was at the time devouring his burger and fries.

Donaldson was hooked into cult documentaries, exploring similar ideas to document in Hong Kong.

She got permanent residency here in 2014. Foreigners can get a legal status of permanent resident if they have lived here lawfully for seven years.

Itching to travel again, she planned to celebrate her 40th birthday in Hawaii by the end of the year.

After lunch, Pelayo asked if she wanted to surf again.

“I don’t like the waves today. But, I want to get more,” she replied, as her turquoise eyes widened.

Having invested here for 15 years, Donaldson wanted to keep Hong Kong as her base at the moment.

“You never know what will happen in life, love or family. Maybe, one day, I’ll have to move somewhere else.

High quality photos make a selfie studio prevail

By Lorie Ann Cascaro

HONG KONG — Amid teeming monopods being sold cheap in the city’s street markets, locals still go to selfie studios for good quality photos.  Banking on such demand, three entrepreneurs had savored success after the first year of its start-up company that stands for their youthfulness.

“Our name says it all,” Snaparty co-founder Vien Wong, 25, said Friday. It is a combination of “snap” that means taking photo and “party” as the place is also rented out for parties and meetings.

The company got its return on investment with a capital of 700,000 Hong Kong dollars a year after its inception in November 2013, said 26-year-old co-founder Alan Li.

Located in one of the old buildings in bustling Mong Kok district, Snaparty can hold up to 30 people.

It has two rooms as selfie or do-it-yourself studios, a living room with a sofa facing an LCD display screen connected to the Internet and Apple iMac desktop computer, a dining table and toilet.

The walls have shelves of stuffed toys, hats, party sunglasses and other colorful props for different occasions. Wi-Fi is available for everyone inside the room.

Each studio has customized tripod, DSLR camera, a stationary flash umbrella, LCD screen and a small sound system that can play mp3 files from both Android and Apple smartphones. Customers can choose their backdrop from painted canvas of various themes mounted on the wall.   

Specifically designed for the studio, the tripod has wheels and holds a DSLR camera with levers to move it up and down, left and right. Instead of looking at the camera’s viewfinder, customers can see through the screen that can be adjusted up to 360 degrees to synchronize with the camera’s position.

After achieving the best angle, one can press the remote control button to shoot. Instantly, the picture shows up in the screen.

SNAPARTY VIEN WONG PHOTO BY LORIE ANN CASCARO
Adjusting the camera’s angle using the levers of a customized tripod, Snaparty co-founder Vien Wong says the market for selfie studios in Hong Kong has been saturated on March 6 in Mong Kok. PHOTO BY Lorie Ann Cascaro

Having a pool of equipment that work well together is the key to have quality pictures and services, Wong said. Seeking professional advice was a good move, she added.

Kayu Chan, 24, also co-founder, is the photography master in the group, while Li, who works as bank consultant, takes care of the company’s financial matters.

Their cameras, Canon EOS 70D, are “not the latest, not the most expensive,” Wong said, but suitable for the environment with the flash umbrella and lights in the room.

“No need for Photoshop,” she said and laughed. Customers can automatically upload their photos online using the computer and/or print them through a compact printer, Canon Selphy cp800.

The printer was Wong’s choice as she has been using it at home and satisfied with its output quality. More expensive than the Canon, Fujifilm portable printer prints customers’ photos in the size of business cards, Wong said.

Printing costs HK$6 per 4R photo and HK$12 per business card size photo.

To rent a studio for an hour costs HK$100 with as many as 3,005 photos taken based on its customers’ record.

One of the first two selfie studios in Hong Kong, Snaparty remains afloat, thanks to word-of-mouth and free promotions online, Wong said, noting Phocus as the other company.

Since the recent holidays, the market has been saturated with at least 20 selfie studios that emerged in the city, Wong noted.

Photography is among the creative industries that are important in promoting Hong Kong’s creative economy, according to Hong Kong Ideas Centre’s study.

“But, we are not so optimistic on the Hong Kong market,” Wong said. Snaparty considered branching out in other countries, especially South Korea and Malaysia, she added.

SNAPARTY CO-FOUNDERS PHOTO BY LORIE ANN CASCARO
Snaparty co-founders (left to right) Vien Wong and Alan Li say their company’s motto is to make sure that their “customers carry a smile upon leaving the door” on March 6 in their space in Mong Kok.

Burning inner fire of creativity: Juong Nguyen

Juong Nguyen creates a toy prototype PHOTO COURTESY OF Juong Nguyen

by Lorie Ann Cascaro

HONG KONG—Strolling around Kowloon neighborhood, Jordan, after work, Juong Nguyen was randomly taking in the sights. Billboards. Buildings. Neon signs. Window displays. Posters. People. Clothes. Cars.

He was silent, but his mind was not.

If he were thinking aloud, he would say something like: “The design on this one’s a bit off. That one is nice. The lines are skewed. The hues are perfectly matched. That man and that woman in the picture are the same person.”

His survey continues like this until he falls asleep, he said over dinner in autumn. “Look, these vegetables embellished the steamed fish,” he added in jest.

Nguyen’s job does not stop as he steps out of his office at Tsim Sha Tsui unlike most professions. A creative designer at Dickie Toys, subsidiary of German-based Simba Dickie Group, he continuously examines every detail of designs as far as his sight can reach every single moment.

“It’s part of my life,” he said candidly.

Juong Nguyen PHOTO BY Patrick Massman
Juong Nguyen designs toys using an electronic drawing pad for Dickie Toys, a subsidiary of German-based Simba Dickie Group that provides one-stop service from designing toys to their actual production. (PHOTO BY PATRICK MASSMAN)

In the beginning, the 28-year-old man first thought he could not earn money by following his passion for art and design, but later found otherwise.

“The piece of art is the emotional part of the creativity, while the design is the part that you get the salary for,” Nguyen said.

Before realizing this, he had gone through years of boredom, working menial factory jobs in Germany.

Finally, he decided to rekindle the “inner fire” that he always had since childhood.

“I was drawing a lot when I was younger and I wanted to try to make it as a profession,” he said.

Raised in his early years by his mother, Noc Trinh, Nguyen unfolded his artistic flair back in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam. His father, Than Nhan, fled the country on a boat with other soldiers after the fall of South Vietnamese government and ended up in Germany. After a few years, Nguyen, his mother and brother, Anhkhoa, now 29, were reunited with their father in Germany.

Nguyen was 3.5 years old when he arrived in Germany with his mother and brother.

As a child, Nguyen recalled that he always had such “small fire in me like a designer.”

Juong Nguyen creates a toy prototype PHOTO COURTESY OF Juong Nguyen
Juong Nguyen creates a toy prototype out of paper in his office in Tsim Sha Tsui. (PHOTO COURTESY OF JUONG NGUYEN)

To add fuel to the fire, Nguyen focused on his creative side by taking a yearlong informal course on design after leaving the factory.

The course made him realize that it was time to get serious with his two hobbies, sketching and photo editing. Consequently, he enrolled at the University of Applied Sciences Osnabrück to earn his bachelor’s degree in industrial design.

Some professors and classmates considered him as one of the best and diligent students, said Patrick Massman, who came to the university during Nguyen’s fifth semester in 2013.

Before the two schoolmates had a chance to become friends, Nguyen left for a six-month internship with the Dickie Toys here.

The German managers at Dickie Toys needed interns from Germany to communicate effectively with their teams, said Florian Blau, a product manager.

“For me, it was a perfect chance,” Nguyen said.

His creative juices found an outlet through designing global toys for Simba Dickie Group and under private labels of their clients, mostly in France, the United States and Germany.

He was the first German design intern of the company since its inception here in 1984.

The company’s services are a package, he explained, from generating ideas to designing the toys up to their actual production.

Among the 30 offices of Simba Dickie Group worldwide, its Hong Kong site has been important for shipping products as 90 percent of its suppliers and manufacturers are in China, Blau said.

As “one of the world’s leading exporters” of consumer goods, including toys, Hong Kong has been built up into a creative hub of the region, according to CreateHK.

Such trends have attracted designers like Nguyen to work here, but the city was not his main reason for accepting the company’s offer after graduating this year. “I could work anywhere in the world,” he said, as long as he wanted the job.

After taking the job, Nguyen once again met Massman, who became the second German design intern.

In the office, Nguyen always looks like he has the situation under control, said Massman.

When it comes to using design software such as Photoshop or Rhino, he said, Nguyen has more experience and diligence. “He’s a very clever person, even outside the office just like in the university,” Massman added.

Being able to do what he loves to do and manage to feel at home in a new city, Nguyen desired more to life than a stable job.

His ultimate goal is to build an art school that not only teaches children about art, but also allows them to be creative by designing things. He envisions it as a venue to lead them to innovate designs and transform tools for new purposes.

“It’s a new generation of creativity,” he said and smiled.

Inspired by Paulo Coelho’s “The Alchemist,” Nguyen said people should not give up on their dreams. “It’s about your happiness,” he said.

Most kids do not know what they want to become, Nguyen said, but he will find a way to teach them how to question themselves what they really would like to be.

“When they put more fuel to their inner fire, the fire becomes big, and in the end, they’re burning for this,” he said.

In the midst of his untiring creative survey, Nguyen thought of an old man, sitting on a couch and asking, “Why didn’t I do it?”

Some people are afraid of change because they think it is too late, he said with narrow eyes.

“The saddest thing is to die without trying.”

Cold Christmas away from home

By Lorie Ann Cascaro on December 24 2013 4:57 pm

VIENTIANE, Laos (MindaNews/24 Dec.) — In a small country where majority are Buddhists, Christmas is definitely not elusive.

Back in my home the Philippines, Davao City is already teeming with Christmas decorations. The façade of the city hall, for example, shimmers with colorful lights at night. Almost all buildings and houses are embellished with plastic pine trees and lanterns as early as September.

But in Vientiane, Christmas decorations are barely seen.

Since the beginning of this month, a few restaurants and apartments which are occupied by expats have modest Christmas trees with blinking lights in the evening. Seen along Dongpalane Road are shops selling packages of “Christmas” food ingredients and bottled wines, wrapped in shiny water cellophanes with golden or red ribbons and greeting cards. Garment shops display mannequins in red Santa-inspired costumes.

Amid a bright sunny sky, the temperature sometimes goes down to 12 degrees here. A much colder breeze than the yuletide seasons in the Philippines! Sweaters, scarves, gloves and socks are far more saleable this month at Talat Sao Mall and Quadin Market. Foreign tourists and expats wear their winter clothes. Some begin fixing their hot showers, while others decide they need heaters, which apparently are not available in most accommodation rooms here.

“The cold temperature right now is making me feel at home,” says Ms Suzie Fairley, a volunteer for Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) from the United Kingdom of Great Britain. It will be her first Christmas away from home. She misses her family and friends, “all the Christmas parties”, and the food and drinks, especially mulled wine and minced pies.

“Last Christmas season here was not as cold as now. I’m still wondering,” says Mr Giovanni Solano Villafuerte, a Filipino VSO volunteer and adviser of a non-profit association.

He will not be home again for the holidays this year. He confesses that he is still trying to choose which one to buy: a trench coat or a pair of boots.

“There’s no big celebration here like how Filipinos do it,” he says, adding he misses Noche Buena (midnight meal), with a special mention of fruit salad garnished with keso de bola (cheese) and pancit (Chinese yellow noodles).

“Unlike here, I can feel the spirit of Christmas in my country. Even if you say it’s already commercialized, but it’s still there. Something there that pinches my heart, which I couldn’t find here,” he says.

Somehow, others had done gimmicks to feel the season. For one, a group of young falangs (Lao term for foreigners) in Santa Claus costumes or red clothes accentuated with small bulbs were hopping from one bar to another. They “painted the town red” that night!

Since last month, a few Filipinos who belong to the Sacred Heart Parish choir have been caroling at hotels and other establishments. The Philippine Embassy held last December 11 a little party for kids, dubbed “Mano Po Ninong, Mano Po Ninang”, which is a tradition of gift giving for the children from their godparents.

Despite donating more funds to the survivors of typhoon Haiyan (known as Yolanda in the Philippines), the embassy still found a way to give joy and hope for the kids.

Last Thursday, the British Embassy hosted a public film showing of Wallace and Gromit. Kids squat inside a tennis court where a pedal-driven projector flashed on a big white cloth. A Lao guy dressed like Santa Claus, minus the big belly, was giving lollipops to everyone, young and old.

Mr Andrea Caletti from Italy has been hosting a party for three years now in his restaurant, Soul Kitchen, in Vientiane. His friends, both expats and Lao, usually share a lot of pizza, pasta and overflowing red wine on the Christmas Eve. He says he’s never been back to Italy since he came here.

In Laos, December 24 and 25 are not official holidays. But Mr Souksakhone Vaenkeo of Vientiane Times says they seem to be treated as holidays by the younger generation. “Pubs and night clubs are always packed with teenagers at night,” he said.

Anyone can take vacation leave if they want. Even Lao journalist, Mr Phonsavanh Vongsay, who is a Christian, will take time off work to spend Christmas Day with his family in Champassak province. He says sharing time with his loved ones in a nutritious dinner and singing – as they are a talented bunch of individuals – makes him feel the essence of Christmas.

But both Australian editors of Vientiane Times, Mr James McDouglas and Mr Dan Riley will spend Christmas in the newsroom, working. “I’ll probably cover my desk with fake reindeer and bottles of Beerlao,” jests James.

Also from Australia is Mr Thomas Gadsen, who works with Lao Ministry of Education and Sports. He will be working in Luang Prabang province on Christmas day to collect education system data. It will be his first Christmas in Laos and first time working on a day that is a holiday in Australia. He adds that he has recently converted to Buddhism “as part of a process of experiencing different religions”.

Ms Fairley will also be working on December 25. “I will work all day but a friend has invited me for a quiet Christmas dinner in the evening at her house,” she tells MindaNews.

For Mr Villafuerte, a bunch of case study reports deserve his attention during the holidays.

Aside from the cold breeze, the yuletide season here is different from what it’s been in Davao City. Somehow, there is no sense of commercialism here. No midnight sales. No panic buying. No countless Christmas parties and exchanging of gifts.

For Christian expats, attending a morning mass and having dinner with good friends are enough to celebrate Christmas. Perhaps, an online chat with my family and short greetings from friends who remember me in the middle of parties can bring the “spirit of Christmas” here from home.

From the cold, foggy karst hills in Laos, Merry Christmas to everyone!

Lorie Ann Cascaro of MindaNews is one of the fellows of the FK Norway (Fredskorpset) exchange program in partnership with the Vietnam Forum of Environmental Journalists. She’s currently in Laos and hosted by the Vientiane Times.

Read more http://www.mindanews.com/travel-lifestyle/2013/12/24/cold-christmas-away-from-home/

Another Day: A story about living in Vientiane’s wasteland

By Lorie Ann Cascaro on November 22 2013 7:39 pm

VIENTIANE, Laos (MindaNews / 22 Nov) – Welcome to “Disneyland”! It is a mosaic of blue, black and white polyester unevenly blended with brown soil surrounded by green shrubs and bushes. It was a gloomy Monday morning and the air is redolent of putrid residues or whatever people in Vientiane would call “waste”.

In a vast land of piled up rubbish that form like small hills, a tiny village hides behind the bushes at the side of a paved road inside the Km 32 landfill in Vientiane Capital. It is as colorful as a playhouse as shanties are thatched with used tarpaulin, posters and plastic curtains that used to be big grocery bags.

A man in his 40s, clad in a camouflage coat and faded black pants, is burning scrap electric wires near his hut. The smoke has blended with the gray sky. His hands are black with soot as he removes the plastic coverings to reveal the metal wires. “I earn 1,000 kip for every kilo of these metals,” says Mr Lumsy Sipanya as his eyes, shaded by a dirty whitish cap, are fixed to the flame.

In front of every house in the village has a black portion on the ground that is a mixture of ashes and burnt soil as a remnant of burning. Their income is quite sustainable for a bachelor like Mr Joy, 30, who has been living inside the wasteland for a year now. They can earn 100,000 kip a day, or at least 2 million kip in a month, for selling used electric wires.

“I don’t want to go back to the city anymore. No job can suit me. Here, I can earn enough for my own needs,” says Joy while fixing his motorbike. He is wearing fake gold bracelet and earrings.

Most of the houses are empty. Smoking cookstoves and soot-coated pots are left on the ground. Some packs of salt and other seasonings, used plates and plastic cups seem to tell that the inhabitants had to hurry after breakfast.

Over 200 individuals are working in a dump site not far from the village, according to Mr Bounkham Luangparn, 35, who is hired to manage a total of 30 households living inside the landfill. Most people who collect recyclable rubbish are outsiders. Some of them rummage plastic bottles, scrap metals and cellophane bags. At least 200 tons of garbage are dumped in the landfill everyday, a garbage collector told Vientiane Times while taking a break outside the small management office.

Children also play in the “Disneyland” in a purposeful manner as they help their parents, who taught them how to scavenge and help gather the collected rubbish that can be sold. It was almost noontime when two boys arrived on a motorbike towing a steel cart full of plastic cellophane. One of them, wearing a Spiderman-inspired sweater, detached the cart from the motorbike, and then the other boy drove away.

A seemingly three-year-old boy walked barefoot while eating a pack of uncooked instant noodles like some chips. When he finished it, he went to an old lady’s house to buy refreshment. He handed a thousand kip bill to the vendor while receiving a plastic bag of brown liquid and ice cubes. His mouth immediately caught the straw and indulged in delight.

Mr Bounkham, who has lived and worked in the landfill since its inception about six years ago, says their children have not had any serious diseases such as malaria, dengue nor diarrhea. The residents get free potable water. A doctor visits them regularly to conduct medical check-up, he says as he sits in a straw hammock tied to a manzanita tree beside his humble abode.

Separated from his wife, Mr Bounkham does not have any plan to live somewhere outside the landfill. He hopes that his kids will get a good education to have a chance to choose another kind of life. But, for the kids who work and live here, they do not go to school. “They’re not interested,” he says.

The sun never comes out but “bor pen yang” (it does not matter). These villagers continue to live each day, seeing hope for survival where most people would find as an utterly stinky and filthy place in Laos.

[Lorie Ann Cascaro of MindaNews is one of the fellows of the FK Norway (Fredskorpset) exchange program in partnership with the Vietnam Forum of Environmental Journalists. She’s currently in Laos and hosted by the Vientiane Times.]

Read more http://www.mindanews.com/feature/2013/11/22/another-day-a-story-about-living-in-vientianes-wasteland/

A Filipina and a Lao woman in Seoul

By Mindanews on November 1 2013 3:39 pm

SEOUL, South Korea (MindaNews/1 November)—The Philippines and Laos have been famous to Korean tourists.  Last year, South Korea was the top source of tourists for the Philippines with over one million arrivals, while nearly 54,000 South Korean tourists visited Laos. Here, two foreign students, a Filipina and a Lao woman, have survived the challenges and realized the need to go home after their graduation to help their own countries.

The cold autumn wind gently breezes through a flock of pedestrians below tall, modern buildings in Seoul one late morning. Amid the hustle and bustle of a megacity with over 10 million people, a 34-year old Filipina, Michelle Palumbarit, arrives at our meeting place just on time.  Her breakfast was coffee in a paper cup, holding it like an accent of her fashionable black leggings under a grey skirt and long-sleeve blouse. She mixes up with Koreans like a citizen now after five years of adjusting to their daily lifestyle as she pursues higher education.

“I have learned the system here myself because no one ever taught me,” she says and explains the subway train map at the last page of her pocket calendar. All station names are written in Hangul, the Korean alphabet. The map can also be viewed through mobile applications available for smart phones. She claims, however, that she’s a bit “old school” as her handy is only “smart” enough to make phone calls and send text messages.

It is the same phone she was using when she first came to Seoul for a Korean government scholarship in a master’s degree on Korean Studies at Yonsei University, where she is also currently a scholar for a doctorate degree on Political Science major in Comparative Politics. She finished her bachelor’s degree in History at the University of the Philippines in Miag-ao, Iloilo. “Obviously, I am an Ilongga,” she says proudly. Ilongga refers to native women in Iloilo province, while men are called Ilonggo, which also refers to their dialect.

Palumbarit has been interested in Korea since then, as her first master’s degree was Asian Studies with Korean Studies as her area of specialization at the University of the Philippines in Diliman, Quezon City. Living in a country that is more developed is more of a boon than a bane. She points out Seoul’s efficient transport systems and high priority on safety and security. “If you are lost, just ask the traffic policemen. They are very helpful,” she advises, recalling her first few days in Seoul. She hopes that some good things here could be applied in her country someday.

She dreams of becoming an educator as her way of “giving back to the people who paid for my education at UP and actively and positively contribute to the country I have always loved.” At times when she was sad, frustrated and lonely, and wanted to give up, she says she thinks of the Filipino people.

“All I ever dream of is to be a good teacher and a person who can inspire others to be the best they can be through education. For now, I am working on that dream,” she says, waiting to get off at the train’s next stop.

Michelle Palumbarit (left)

Missing Laos

Unlike Palumbarit who is familiar with the subway system, Lao student Ms Lattanaphone Vannasouk, 24, barely uses public transport and has not explored South Korea except during a few school field trips since she came here five years ago. In an interview in the evening, this petite woman, also called “Tookta,” in her denim pants and checkered long-sleeves, says she prefers to set meetings in familiar surroundings so she won’t get lost. Her school, the Korea Development Institute (KDI) School of Public Policy and Management in Seoul, sits in a compound after a turn from Hoegi-ro Road. It is not so easy to find.

Tookta was only 18 years old when she arrived in Seoul alone in 2008 to avail of a Korean government scholarship program. She took a bachelor’s degree on business administration, major in trade and industrial policy. Dreaming big after her undergraduate course, she applied in the same school for a new scholarship to pursue a master’s degree on public policy, which she is hoping to complete next year.

Setting a goal helped Tookta cope with a new culture and system of education. “The system of education here is similar to that of Laos, but the students here are different. To compete with Korean students is very hard. I’m not going to compete with them but I have to force myself to study hard, just like them,” she says. Aside from seven other Lao students, Tookta developed friendship among foreign students from Vietnam, Thailand, Myanmar and Mongolia.

Although she admits that technology and quality of education, among other development facets, are better in South Korea, she still misses her homeland. “It’s really hard to eat the same kind of food all the time. Lao food is hard to cook here,” she says and laughs. When she misses tam-mak-houng (papaya salad), she makes her own version with green papaya but without padek (fermented fish sauce), making do with some fish sauces found in the market.

“Here, I see a lot of development. Compared to Laos, we are still left behind,” she says. Tookta wants to bring new ideas when she comes back to Laos. She hopes to work in a private company first while waiting for the chance to work in the government, particularly in the Ministry of Planning and Investment. But she admits that it is hard to assert new ideas in her country if she will just be alone.  “It’s hard to change the way they are doing. I will just be one person there. If I am alone, I think it’s really hard but if we have a team, I think we can.”

She points out that Laos has a lot of potential for investment, citing the 4,000 islands in Champassak province. “It’s my parents’ hometown and I personally like the province. Don Khone and Don Khet islands have many prospects for investment,” she says.

Studying hard and being patient are some of the lessons that she learned while in Seoul. “I always tell my cousins and relatives to study hard and if they have the chance to study abroad, [they must] grab the opportunity.” (Lorie Ann Cascaro of MindaNews is one of the fellows of the FK Norway (Fredskorpset) exchange program in partnership with the Vietnam Forum of Environmental Journalists. She’s currently in Laos and hosted by the Vientiane Times.)

Read more http://www.mindanews.com/feature/2013/11/01/a-filipina-and-a-lao-woman-in-seoul/