Berks Barrister Summer 2019 - 7

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SOUTHEAST ASIA JOURNEY

REVEALS Resilience, RAW CAPITALISM AND
LETHAL REMINDERS OF A "SECRET WAR"
By John Speicher

A

s Billy Joel once wrote: "I was
a cold war kid from McCarthy
time." The Vietnam War, or
the American War of Aggression, as the
Vietnamese call it, was front and center in
my high school and college years. When
it was uncovered that Nixon had illegally
invaded Cambodia and Laos, although
there was outrage from the anti-war
movement, no one could have guessed
what the ramifications would be for the
innocent people of those two countries.

I was lucky enough to avoid
experiencing Southeast Asia in the late
sixties and early seventies, even though I
didn't have magically disappearing bone
spurs in my feet. I wanted to see what
really became of these countries after
the U.S. had left. If you read my article
about Cuba, you might recall that a group of 14-16 people travel
together through an organization called Overseas Adventure
Travel. My wife and I have been fortunate to travel to Patagonia,
Australia and New Zealand, Cuba and now Thailand, Laos,
Cambodia and Vietnam with a great group of friends mainly from
Berks County, but from as far away as Santa Barbara, California.
Our first destination was Bangkok, Thailand. What struck
all of us was the strong influence that Buddhism plays in the
Thai society. In a city where prostitution and massage parlors are
prevalent ("Sexy Girl Massage Parlor" was a half block away from
our hotel), Buddhist temples overwhelm the landscape. Even right
next to a large shopping mall in the center of Bangkok, monks
were "selling" blessings to the locals. Vendors would sell flowers
that the locals would give to the monks, only to have the flowers
returned to the vendors to be resold throughout the day.
But the role of Buddhism isn't just spiritual. Boys often enter
the monastery to get a good education. Girls don't have such
opportunities as they are forbidden from even touching a monk,
let alone being educated by them. And yes, as in the Roman

Catholic Church, there have been sex
scandals within the monasteries as young
boys have been sexually abused by older
monks, not just in Thailand, but also
throughout Laos and Cambodia.

One of the most striking contrasts in
all of the countries is the prosperity in the
cities versus the poverty in the country
sides. In traveling the Chao Phray River
in Bangkok, you can venture by boat into
the small canals that run into the river
where shanties lean precariously on pillars
tilting toward the water. It was obvious
that modern plumbing didn't exist, and
that one strong wind could send someone's
house into a watery grave. During one
trip we visited a local chef who treated us
to a cooking lesson on how to make great
curry.

From Bangkok, we went to my favorite location of the
trip, Luang Praban, Laos. It is a quaint town on the banks of
the Mekong River, with small hotels and youth hostels, great
restaurants and shops and an unbelievable large open-air market
that is open every morning. It has been featured on The Amazing
Race at least once. Hikers and other sports enthusiasts flock here
to enjoy the beautiful country and the friendliest people you could
ever hope to meet.
We crossed the river and saw life on the other side. Little
villages that remain virtually unchanged over hundreds of years
exist in near total isolation. Only in the past few years did Laos
install electricity on the other side of the Mekong. Overseas
Adventure Travel and its parent company contributes money to
worthwhile projects in the countries we visit. In Laos, a local
schoolhouse and supplies provided much needed fundamental
education to young boys and girls in one of these remote villages.

Continued on next page
Summer 2019 | 7



Berks Barrister Summer 2019

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