Sunday, June 10, 2012

Bullshit Building 7: Patuxai Triumphal Arch

What came into your mind when you hear "Laos"? My guess, it won't be far from "Vietnam war" or "very poor landlocked country in Southeast Asia." That was even more true during the 1950s-1970s.

The Beginning
After its independence in early 1950s, the king of Laos and his prime minister knew that their country needed many things badly. Other than extreme poverty experienced by most of their people, a communist threat loomed from their Eastern neighbor and local guerrillas. So, to overcome this challenge they decided to build ... a large triumphal arch.

Yup, despite the incursions and sometimes outright invasion from North Vietnam AND poverty, they decided to build a monument to celebrate victory! I think they believe that celebrating victory in spite of severe problems would create victory. The Laotian people really need a positive mindset, what better way to inspire it other than counting your eggs before you buy your chicken? Brilliant!

But there was one problem though ... how could they got the funding?

Ah ... the Americans already provided some money and materials for the construction of the new airport! Those stupid and arrogant westerners, how could they dictate a sovereign country like Laos? A triumphal arch is far more important than an airport. Problem solved!

The only drawback with this solution is, people sarcastically called the new arch "vertical runway."

The Design & Construction
Unlike the Arc de Triomphe, this arch has 2 gateways, not one, oriented toward the 4 cardinal direction. On top of it, they erected 5 towers, representing 5 Buddhist principles of amiability, flexibility, honesty, honor, and prosperity. Holy Jesus Christ on a pogo stick, did these people understand irony?

Sorry my mistake, my bad. I should have said "Holy enlightened Buddha, in a casino, did these people understand irony?"

Other than those ironic symbolization of its towers, the arch also has so many other Buddhist-Laotian icons. Right in front of each gate, they built a pond representing an open Lotus flower. It supposed to symbolized the bravery of the Laotian people. I think this is too much. A timid man could not embezzled money like this and show it off to the whole world.

They also erected 4 statues of "Naga" that sprays jetwater into the ponds, symbolizing nature, fertility, welfare and happiness. Seriously? Now I am sure there is no Laotian words for irony.

Other than that, the arch also functions as a museum and observation deck. From its central and tallest tower, people can get a birdview of the capital of Laos. See, with a view like this, how could an airport be more worthy?

The construction took 11 years (1957-1968), during the Vietnam war (1955 - 1975). That means the Laotian kingdom really thought that this arch was truly the highest priority, even higher than the war next door.

The End
After the North Vietnam victory in Vietnam war, the communist managed to overthrow Laotian government. This surprised everyone, including the communists. The communist took over everything, including the triumphal arch, giving it the name "Patuxai" or Arc de Triomphe in French. That means, all the benefits from the colossal arch is reaped by the communist, not its builder, completing the bullshit.

Previous Bullshit Building: The Ryugyong Hotel
Next Bullshit Building: Chinese Ghost Towns 

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