LEAD takes two to Southeast Asia
On January 6, 31 Nebraskans left home headed to Southeast Asia. North Bend area residents Chris Armstrong and Linda Emanuel are part of LEAD 35, the Leadership Education/Action Develop program that gives farmers, ranchers and agri-businessmen the opportunity to participate in an intensive two-year educational program. It is designed to enhance leadership development essential for the long-term future of farming, ranching and agribusiness in Nebraska and the nation. Part of that program is an international trip. Armstrong and Emanuel visited China, Laos and Thailand as part of the program. What follows is their report for Eagle readers.
In China, a country weighted by communistic rule where the one-child-per-family rule has been recently lifted, population has shifted to the cities, and consumer demands for higher quality goods have increased. The importance of trade was evident as young people desire high protein foods as well as quality and safety in their food. Environmental issues are of heavy concern due to industrial air pollution, smog, water pollution, and tainted soils from inorganic compounds of cadmium, nickel and arsenic.
The journey started in the north at Beijing and traveled south.
“We generally stayed only one or two nights in each city so it felt like we were constantly checking in and out of hotels and going through airport security,” Armstrong said. “Beijing and Shanghai were very busy but organized and clean cities. Nearly every sign had English on it and the people were very eager to welcome us and help us understand their way of life.”
China’s biggest agricultural export is rice, and the LEAD visitors enjoyed many different rice dishes.
“Our meals were served customary family style with eight to 10 individuals around a circular table with a lazy susan on top of which 18-20 different dishes consisting of pork, chicken, duck, fish and vegetables were served,” Emanuel said. “Spring rolls were especially tasty. Many LEAD fellows became masters of the chop sticks. Occasionally a meat dish was served with the head present.”
In Shanghai they visited a kindergarten school consisting of 3 to 5-year-old children and a community cultural center for the Chinese elders. Retirement age in China is 55 for women and 65 for men.
“My favorite place in China was Longji, which was more in the countryside,” Armstrong said. “We took a tour bus, then a van, then had a 30-minute hike to get to our hotel. We saw mountains that were terraced all the way to the top and all the way around. (The terraces) had been there for over 500 years. Each terrace was a rice field. A number of families farmed the area with each family getting to farm about one-seventh of an acre.”
Laos was the highlight of the seminar for most of the LEAD fellows with its food, slower pace and awe-inspiring untouched natural resources.
“It is known as the kingdom of a million elephants,” Emanuel said. “The culture and building designs are of French influence due to the activity of the 19th century in which the French pushed out the Thailand government and rebuilt many of the temples. The growing population squeeze was notably lessened as the car and foot traffic was lighter and the native people seemed balanced and content. Green vegetation, trees and the Lao native flower of the plumeria were in abundance. Buddhism is the primary religion practiced and monks draped in orange robes were seen moving in groups around the temples. The ornate wood working and paintings on the temples as well as the thousands of Buddha statues were eloquent.”
Laos sits to the west of Vietnam. The Ho Chi Minh trail, an extensive series of routes for transportation of ammunition and personnel from North Vietnam to South Vietnam during the Vietnam war, traveled partly through Laos. From 1964 to 1973 the Laotian people suffered frequent bombing raids as Americans tried to destroy the supply trail. Thirty percent of the bombs or cluster bombs dropped during that campaign failed to explode and are still being found today.
The group visited the Cope Center, a rehabilitation center which fabricates prosthetic and orthotic devices for the injured of many ages.
“It was a humbling moment,” Emanuel said. “The effects, history and stories of war are never over.”
While in Vientiane, Laos, they toured and heard from administrative staff of a government supported ag development center. It was similar to the U.S. extension offices albeit in an infant
Beautiful textiles of woven silk natural dyes were created at the Ock Pop Living Crafts Centre in Luang Prabang Lao. The Nebraskans watched women weave using brightly colored silk threads in traditional wooden looms. Each design was unique and indicative of the Hmong culture. These women were intently focused on their work as their hands moved in quick form, changing threads and designs in an open-air tree-house style environment.
“We visited two of the five communist countries in the world, Laos and China,” Armstrong said. “It was interesting to see how unmotivated the people are to farm because of communism. The government owns the ground, owns the crop, gives them the inputs, and sets the price. There is no risk and no reward to the individual farmer, just hard manual labor. In fact, in Longji, the area with the terracing, tourism has enticed many farmers to quit farming all together and sell knickknacks to the many visitors or become porters, people who carry luggage or other goods up to the hotel area. Recently, due to the number farmers quitting to seek profits as vendors or porters, the government has stepped in by giving the farmers some of the tourism money to incentivize them to keep farming.”
The last stop on the journey was Bangkok, Thailand.
“We were there only one day and just saw the city with its many, many Buddhist temples,” Armstrong said. “It was dirty, crowded and the streets around the hotel were full of people trying to prey on the 15 million plus tourists who visit each year.”
The International Study Travel Seminar is the capstone of two years of study within the framework of the Nebraska LEAD program.
“It was a journey of incredulous experiences and observations,” Emanuel said. “Indeed, people are just people, similar but different. The best lesson gleaned was the overall feeling of gratification as we put our feet back upon American soil and once again experienced the Good Life of Nebraska.”
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