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Laos, December 20, 1999

The Lao PDR Doesn't Like Internet Freedom

You better not want to FTP in Laos

Just like a PDR to make ya look through a hole in the wall

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 actual reality.

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.

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