If ya squint, you see freedom
What is there to do during the day in wintertime Vientiane? Not much
really, since it’s just a bit too cold to head for the beach along the
Mekong and not all that easy to spend the entire day hungover in bed. To
fill my time, I wrote new pages and updated old ones on my website.
Once I’d made so many adjustments, I’d maxed out the lone diskette I’m
traveling with, I decided it was time to visit one of the two internet
cafes just outside my hotel door.
The first cafe, not much more than a few computers and a smiling Lao
helper, was a frustrating experience. After I’d loaded my FTP program and
established a connection with my website host, the program would crash. I
reloaded it three times and each time, at the same command (>LIST for
you technical folk) it would freeze up and stop responding to my
increasingly frustrated actions.
Just before I threw the computer across the room, I relinquished my
Quixotic quest and headed for the bar next door. There I drank away my
frustrations chatting with an America-raised Lao. She was quick in
defusing my anger by distracting my energies from the virtual to the
Having fled Laos with her family after the Pathet Lao took over, she
had an interesting life story, and she was only 23! After returning to her
native land in 1989, she’s been trying to reconnect her Lao heritage with
the liberties of the West. With a few BeerLao’s calming me, I wished her
luck and headed out to the second Internet cafe for another try.
Here, at the trendy titled PlaNET, I asked the techies about my FTP
problems before I started screaming obscenities in three languages. They
were lost at first, but once I loaded my program and went through the
motions, light bulbs when on over their heads.
They knew exactly what I wanted to do, but they just shrugged their
shoulders when I asked them why I couldn’t FTP. A convoluted
English/Russian conversation later, I learned that one month before, after
allowing and ISP to function freely for several months, the Lao government
shut down its FTP abilities. By stopping file transfers between Lao
computers and the outside world, the government is trying to control the
flow of information from this ‘People’s’ Democratic Republic.
Like in China, I did my best to route around the censorship, using a
Thai-based ISP via a long distance call to Bangkok. Expensive, yes, but to
me, after the oppressive Chinese system, a worthy expense in the pursuit
of Internet free speech.