Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Western `Progress' Erodes Tranquillity of Laotian City `It's All over for Old Vientiane,' American Says

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Western `Progress' Erodes Tranquillity of Laotian City `It's All over for Old Vientiane,' American Says

Article excerpt

Before the new sun's rays filter through the palms, hundreds of monks in saffron robes file out of tranquil, time-worn monasteries with bowls in their hands.

Soon, the bowls are brimming with food donated by the faithful.

It is dawn in Vientiane, where the Buddhist ritual has been replayed daily for centuries. Even communism, which seeks to destroy traditional society, has not severed such links to the past.

Vientiane remains one of the most traditional capitals in Asia. Its women still wear sarongs rather than dresses or jeans, and the tallest structure is the 100-foot That Luang Temple.

In contrast to the increasingly hectic pace in most Asian cities, the byword in the Laotian capital continues to be "Bo pen yang" - "Never mind, tomorrow is another day."

But how long will it stay that way?

At just after 8 a.m., those accustomed to the whirr of trishaws and the tinkling of temple bells get an unnerving surprise.

At one of Vientiane's increasing number of traffic lights, there is a screech of brakes. Teen-agers on flashy new Japanese motorcycles slalom past at high speed. Dozens of minivans dart through the city carrying foreign development experts, business people and consultants.

Some other sights were not seen in Vientiane a few years ago: Michael Jackson look-alikes, an Apple computer dealership, video rental shops, a DHL express-delivery office. A license for the first McDonald's is said to be pending.

"It's all over for old Vientiane," said Elsie Webber, an American who used to work for a refugee agency and now runs the only English-language bookstore in the city of 200,000 people.

Americans brought a superficial prosperity to Vientiane during the Indochina war. It became a backwater after the communist victory in 1975, but now economic changes and greater opening to the outside world are changing that.

Vientiane is beginning to stir, although with less fanfare than its communist sisters Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City and Phnom Penh - and not for the entire day. …

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