Xmas thoughts by crossing border to Laos (reloaded 2005)
I had to leave Thailand after two months because my visa expired. I couldn’t go to Burma by land and returning to get a new Thai visa, because Thailand wouldn‘t let me back through that border as I’m being Hungarian citizen I cant get visa on arrival here. In Burma it is not allowed to stay, just a day. So if I exit Thailand I cant return and the same way/day. I can’t stay in Burma legally too. It would be interesting to sleep on the border bridge in noman’s land, then settle down, make a new state and collect money for crossing my territory, as Burma and some other countries do with the tourists.
So lets go to Laos. Nearing to the Laos border in East Thailand the poverty is more visible, nobody speaks English and body language doesn’t work here. Is it the real face of Thailand; or the modern Bangkok? At the border I had to pay a penalty because I overstayed my visa (but according the stamp not), but there was not too much option for me because if I retune to any city to any immigration office I will waste more time and money anyway.
But this was an occasion what made me think about the subject (theme) of: relationship between the state and the citizens. How the ‘social contract’ (using terminology of Rousseau) become one-sided, how we (citizens) lost control over the state? It is my permanent doubt, how can I be a part of (any) system and if not, why not? Hegel said in his law-philosophy: people get relationship to each other, but the real truth and ethic they get only through the state which validates their (our) contract. Hmm, it arranges the relationship between the people but doesn‘t speak too much about my relationship with the state. And I speak not just about the fact that I cannot choose: whether state integrate to (or to be interned) me?
I was burn into a system of stable rules (into existing system) where I have to keep the rules. But what about the other side? Why the police, tax office, politicians etc. Why are they not keeping the contract the same rules? I feel myself not in the correct situation. What can I do? Against the system I can’t do anything in a direct way. So instinctively I made ‘passive resistance’ with an illegal job, not asking for the bill etc., and being loyal to the people who feel like me. (Who’s reflex works on the same way.)
So then I was faced with the question: do I want to be part of this system? Or a more exciting question: May I be not part of the system?? In other dimension: May I wish for non-polluted air, respected environment??This is a question for the families too/also who want educate their children at home , but the state (low) force them to bring their children to the public school. (It happened recently in Hungary, even the parents were teachers and the Judge checked the parent’s ability. Law is law.)
Am I a member of the society? Am I Hungarian? Can I use these labels? The unity of organic societies (nation, tribe, family) traditionally given through the land and religion. (Blood and Earth. There was initiations for the young members) But nowadays the people get relationship through mechanical process as society, market, and state. Am I Hungarian?
If I think in the “culture nation” where we have common and deep mental – spiritual tradition: my answer would be yes without any doubt. But if I think of “state nation” where the community is founded by the constitution (which relationship I think is only one sided) , my answer: I’m not sure because of the atrocities that I suffered in my the past.(with all beaurocratic system)
The Hungarians are a strange nation. There is a joke about us, when Lucifer guarded nations in hell he didn’t have to look after Hungarians when they wanted to escape because they pulled each others down in the bottom of hell. Or another saying: If there are two Hungarians they never have the same opinion. Or: if your neighbor’s cow died they wish yours will die too! (You can be sure yours will die soon.) During our history there was just fighting against each other and our nation suffered much more than others.
So after all, it is a miracle how we react when we are hearing our national anthem – we are full of emotions together. Maybe not a miracle just a genetic law, as we lost our archaic models, and get out from the primary community (tribe, village), we becoming individuals. But we need the feeling of the community, so we want to step into the relationship (being a good citizen) even though we know it is not balanced relation (the state and me), just one sided contract. Usually we become a part of the system because we don‘t want (not strong enough) to change it.
The state doesn’t want strong people!! (Look at our lifestyle, education system tending towards to, etc. The state need people who don’t questioned the system which suit them to keep their influence (economical, religious etc). So these people silently will suffer this system. (Good citizens) If we want to re-arrange the relationship, the contract – we will be the bad people, be punished, evacuated, killed, expelled etc. Theoretically democracy let us have a chance to renew this contract but “though we are a lot, but it is too few” and we don ‘t gain/find contact with each other (and many times even we can’t find ourselves J because we are weak).
So how can we put a new stamp on the contract? Can we put a new stamp on the contract (Were the Old and New Testament this kind of contract where the changes became officiousness?) All modern culture-nations tended to be state-nations, finding a state possibility (frame) for that culture. But it takes time (eg. Switzerland) and needs a common political culture and constitution which pays attention to regional interests. In this way different cultures finding a new “language” as for example: the good standard of living.
This year Hungary join the European community. This community doesn’t hurt our Hungarian identity. So the question: to be Hungarian or not to be it just depend on us (me), on our feeling.. But to create a culture-nation is different: it is not possible create with ideology (eg. Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, Sovietunion) making (creating) a common past without common language and culture.
The research of communist ideas failed on that countries. The “war-front friendship” in WW1 was a good example about separation of the official ideology and the private (people’s) feeling. In the “official hours” they shot each other and in the evening they played cards together. Of course if there is had been brainwashing before, it would have not happened this front friendship. And the states know it. The modern military training is about it.
The media brainwashing before the modern wars is necessary to avoid this kind of self consciousness. To be a part of the state or not? How much do I have to give up of my freedom (free thinking)? May I equalize the nation and the state? Where is the limit? Where should I let them in (politically and ideologically) and where I need free decisions? And who is standing under the power of whom? Who writes the contract? And who will renew it? May I be an independent part of the system? Unfortunately not. Maybe yes,- I thought – if I’m not at home. But unfortunately not, as I realized at the immigration office. Stepping on the land of Laos and I found the bureaucracy centre (immigration office) and they ask me money for the stamp (I had visa already). This is the relation between the system and us!!
So I paid the entrance fee and this way I signed the “contract”. This is a relationship between the states and their citizens. So let’s go back to the present continuos tense. Many trucks were waiting at the border which will closes at 6pm inspite of the big traffic. The fees for the custom control are signposted. Drivers paying, but the office is close soon. The drivers, I think, are not too happy wait one more day because the government don’t put more officers or let the border open longer. So the drivers can experience the one sided contract too. And where is the person’s decision? Not too much option. One of my two selves told me: Gabor stay at home and you don ‘t need to be in this situation.
But my other self said: if you stay at home even it is even worse because there is the same problem but permanently.So I entered Laos and sat in the pick ups back with another 25 fellows and in these few square meter still waiting for some more!! Yes they are very economic and anyway there is no traffic on the roads just every 5-10 minutes one truck or pick up full of passengers and goods passes. Pakse – The hotel is dirty and expensive because there is no competition. I arrived to communism. In the the board a rule attract my attention: gambling and political meetings are prohibited. In some hotels it is even warnings: bringing gun and explosive materials is forbidden. I must use left (communist) thinking and driving.
This system kills the human will to work or to do anything. Making will-less citizens. Even though in their communist flag were the hammer and sickle, but it doesn’t make them to work more then necessary. Life stopped in 1975 (the date of the revolution). The houses are in bad condition and were repaired by the French colonist last time. Being a French colony only gastronomically thing left, is the baguette. Pakse as a small town has two bus stations 15 km from each other and no public bus! So if you want to go to north you have to take the shared taxi which is expensive compared to my previous 50-km travel to the city. (Interesting to observe why in Thailand cheaper the transport if they giving more comfort and there is less people and the petrol more expensive?
What makes this communist country ineffective? There was a small bridge where they employed one policeman to push the button controlling the traffic light. The official inflation is 1% and bank interest is 6 %. The best business. So why don’t people invest in capital in this country?? Maybe they know how the communist statistic works? Their money is called “kip” and on every note there is the same face looking at us. Cult, but not culture. Very sad if one nation doesn’t have any other national hero or poem expect the president (and sad if the famous people were discriminated against, expelled and denied possibilities.)
Laos’s population is 6 million (I think more) and having territory the same size as Britain. The country is rich in natural resources but the people are poor. I think the difference is ending up in someone’s pocket (leaders, opportunist loyalist). Average official salary is 20$ but of course everyone can earn black money. This is the socialism. A few years ago the government started to allow the private enterprise. New economical wind.
The temples are in bad condition but the monks are nice. One of them asked me to teach the English tenses to him. I tried and afterwards he showed me the secret part of the temple. It seems the English tenses are the magic words for “open sesame”. The long distance buses are full even on the top, looking like the bottom of a big camel and inside also packed with chickens. The village people come to buy food into the city. Such a paradox!! And of course Thai music on the bus. Very strong cultural pressure from Thailand. The Chinese influence is more economic and to expand they offered to build a road for Laos to the Thai border giving the free flow of Chinese products to confront the Thai economy. .
The 4000 islands in the Mekong River is remote and quiet part of south Laos. Many island still have no electricity but have TV. They use accumulators to get power transporting from the main land. I spent my New Year eve here meeting a man who studied in Soviet-union so we could speak in Russian! He was really happy to talk Russian again and remember his youth. On this island we can find the only railway in Laos! Yes, built by French to supply the colony. Here the Mekong drop and has beautiful waterfalls around this area and the biggest in South East Asia. But I arrived too early so I watched as they were emptying the garbage bin into the water.
This is the island where you can meet dolphins but not too many of them because of fishing with grenades in Cambodian side killed and expelled them. Here we can see the house of the president and easy to find it because the asphalt road lead only to his house. Rest of the island is dirt road. Yes, in the communist system everybody is equal. (But some of them more equal – as Orwell wrote in the animal farm. Silent place but the tourism arrived. It was difficult to find local restaurant!On the field near to the village a group of children had caught a snake and they brought it around the village as proudly as a winners cup. Singing and colourful birds, and time for rice planting so the peasant used water buffalo to cultivate soil. Some people use water pipe made from bamboo to smoke.
The young monks were begging me for cigarettes and always asking me whether was I married. I cycled around and was invited to a wedding again. I was the most welcome person and I got as many good wishes as the young couple. And then, to loud music everybody including the grandmother was dancing. And drinking. Surprisingly the women were drinking as well the young people. Here I met another man who studied in Baku, Sovietunion, so I could communicate with someone in Russian. I got lift with Thai ex-students to CHAMPASAK to the temples which are part of the world heritage. Strange combination: Hindu trimurty statues in Buddhist dress. Special but eclectic. On the road side I found a Buddha statue and the tree growing around him. I liked very much.
BOLAVEN PLATEAU here grow the most expensive coffee in the world. The nature gave me a surprise here. A 60-meter high waterfall jumped out from the jungle. It was not mentioned in the guidebooks nor even anyone in the village. Quiet and green so I loved this place. In this area there were many small tribal villages with just a path leading there, where the naked children were hunting for fish with arrows. One man was hammering a piece of warmed metal to make a knife. Young 5-6 year old children were pounding/smash the rice in a wooden pot. Chickens, pigs, dogs around you as usual.
The structure of the village was interesting: in the middle there was a ghost house where they make a ceremonies and sacrifice cows and around in the circle was he village itself. In the village I asked for water but the people just showed me the river. Real life. Leaving the plateau I wanted to make a shortcut to North Laos but local people told me there was no road. I didn‘t believed them (as usual) so I went. There was a road of course, so I hitchhiked. Behind the car was a huge dust cloud because there is just a dirt road. It is 100 % sure that here is no foreigner. I stopped at a village and immediately I was the guest of two marriages. I started to think about this country: is here always marriages?
SAVANNAKHET an old city on the bank of the Mekong river with many restaurant but they are empty as a Balaton lake in Hungary in the low season. Sad. There are some shops selling everything which you need for a romantic walk at the full moon evening: lock, tuner, torch, equipments to repair your bicycle etc. The atmosphere is a little bit like as a south Catalonian village. Wonderful buildings in bad conditions saying to you: we had better times 100 years ago during the French rule. But for contrast there is a huge and new Catholic Church in its garden folk are playing football. Another popular game is the French Pétanque. The poverty of the city is not problem just a felt disharmony with the present. I felt the aroma (the brilliant past) of this city which had gone. Kind of a ghost town. The poor villages are OK, there never was any difference and everyone socialized in that environment. But here was a declination.
Vientiane –the capitol city Gabor Csonka the Hungarian vandorboy