Tuesday, September 3, 2013


Local TV seems locked in the 1970's
Taking some time to relax in my downtown hotel room, I stretch out on my twin bed that’s too small, and turn on the boxy old television. Flat screen TV’s aren’t so common in Laos these days. 

Surfing the channels on offer, local shows aren’t much to look at, since Lao TV is still government controlled. Like their communist neighbors in Vietnam and China, Laos has allowed economic liberalism, while maintaining tight control of public media. Production quality is low; some of the current shows on television look like they were made in the 1970’s. 

Fortunately for the viewers of Vientiane, TV’s here receive broadcasts from the other side of the Mekong. The highly developed media from the relatively free country of Thailand produces the most popular shows in Laos, especially the Thai soap operas. Since the Thai and Lao languages are very similar, most Laotians comprehend Thai TV shows quite well. These shows add to the ongoing love-hate relationship that Laos has with Thailand. 

I don’t speak Thai or Lao, so I’d like to go online, but my room doesn’t have wifi. There’s no hardwire internet connection either. Fortunately the hotel lobby has a computer for internet use. There are also a few internet cafés in town, filled with foreign backpackers doing email, with a few Laotian teenagers doing chat. There isn’t much internet censorship in Laos yet, for the most part it remains relatively open. Relatively few Laotians can even afford internet access, so it's not much of a threat to the current government. Not yet anyway. 

While the internet and Thai TV continue to get around the Laotian government censors, the local Lao newspapers don’t. Case in point is a copy of the local English language newspaper that I’ve bought, ‘The Vientiane Times’

I scan the front page, and a front page headline says, “Recognition for Skilled Workers on the Way.” Great reading, if you want to go to sleep. To a westerner like me, government controlled news is hardly news at all. 
Lane Xang Hotel in Vientiane, you foreigners with Laotian girlfriends, stay out!

I find one notable and story inside, with a misleading title: “Police ensure Lao women have good husbands.” While the title sounds ludicrous, the story actually refers to Laotian women and their foreign husbands, and to the ongoing problem of human trafficking. It’s a fact that arranged marriages are sometimes connected to human trafficking, a serious problem in Southeast Asia. Some women are pushed into sham marriages, and then forced into prostitution. Others have been pressed into jobs with slave labor conditions. 

The story goes on to mention that some foreigners with criminal backgrounds had been marrying Laotian women, solely so that they could stay in Laos indefinitely without visa problems. 

Foreigners with serious Lao girlfriends are not allowed to bring them into local hotels. This brings up the issue of senior westerners coming to Laos, and marrying young Lao ladies. These marriages are officially discouraged; clear discrimination. A local news story cites a case where the government is withholding official approval of a marriage between a 21 year old Laotian woman, and a foreign man in his 60’s. 

 “Police were suspicious about the marriage, believing the man would treat the young woman like a servant,” the newspaper says. Obviously that's a double standard. In this male dominated society, police believe it’s ok for Laotian men to treat their wives like servants, but not foreigners. 

The paper later quotes a Laotian Brigadier General as saying, “it is unbelievable that a man aged over 60 is unmarried.” 

Apparently this general has never heard of bachelorhood, or a western divorce! 

No comments:

Post a Comment