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  1. #1
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    Simon43's Avatar
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    Building a school in Lao PDR

    After working in Myanmar for just over a year, I decided not to accept my contract renewal. This wasn't because I had a better offer, (I actually had 2 better offers from different international schools in Yangon).

    Nope, it was because I had completely failed to persuade the Myanmar Ministry of Telecoms to issue me with a radio amateur licence. If I wasn't allowed to enjoy my hobby, then I wasn't going to stay.

    And so onto the next job.

    "What has this got to do with building work", I hear you ask.

    I applied for a teaching position in Laos. Actually, I just sent my CV as a speculative inquiry. I was invited to an interview in Vientiane and traveled up a short time later.

    It transpired that this was no ordinary teaching job. In fact, it wasn't a teaching job at all! The vacancy that was offered to me was to be Headmaster of the new, international school in Luang Prabang, in northern Laos.

    The link to building work?

    The new campus was still a building site, so could I please go up there and manage the existing school AND manage the building project to get the new campus open for the new term in September?

    So it was that I appeared in the UNESCO-registered town of Luang Prabang in mid-June and took up my new post. I won't bore you with my work as Headmaster of the old school in temporary buildings - that'll be covered in the teaching forum.

    So let's talk about the new school building project. This is located on the south-west side of town, only a few hundred metres from the Mekong river. The project is quite large:

    - A pre-primary building, 2 floors with 16 rooms 8x8 metres
    - A primary building, 2 floors with 12 rooms 8x8 metres
    - A kitchen and assembly hall building on 2 floors
    - An administration building on 2 floors to house offices and ICT, library etc
    - 2 covered gyms
    - External landscaping, car-park, sports and play areas etc

    This is a multi-million $ project, but hey! my little hotel construction projects are about the same size

    Actually, this large project was very similar to my own hotel projects, in terms of construction techniques and materials, (ie, shoddy, cheap etc) ==> JOKE!

    This project used standard construction techniques, with reinforced supporting columns, itbok or red brick infill, metal truss roof and concrete roof tiles.

    When I started my new job, I went to visit the build site. Here's a photo of the L-shaped pre-primary building, taken in late June.



    The workers on this project are not Lao but Vietnamese. I assumed that this is because the school director/owner is a Lao-Vietnamese lady. I was also told that Vietnamese workers work better than Lao workers. I have no experience of this, but this morning when I visited, all the workers were on their one-day-a-week holiday, and were either listening to Vietnamese music, planting rice amongst the rain-sodden playing areas of the school (why??) or chasing fluffy ducks to prepare them for lunch.

    All building materials are brought in by 16-wheeler trucks from Vietnam. During today's visit, one of these trucks arrived, fully laden with floor tiles. Since it's the rainy season now, the land areas are completely waterlogged and muddy, (very similar to my own hotel projects in Phuket).

    It's only about 1 month before I need to move furniture from the old school into the new buildings.



    This building, the admin building where my office will be located, definitely won't be finished on time. On the right side of that photo, you can see one of the covered gyms. The roof is now on and they should be completed in time. In the foreground is the .. er .... sports area.

    There's a lot of frantic work to do, and I'm impressed upon the workers and the school director that we will be in deep doodoo if the classroom buildings and external areas/roads are not ready in time. There are about 130 kids expecting to find bright, clean and operational classrooms on their first day at school.

    Next week, apart from my Headmaster duties, I need to sort out redundant internet access, LAN networking installation in all rooms, wiring for ceiling projectors, wi-fi system, installation of telephone lines, purchase of router equipment.

    That should keep me away from the bars for the week.....


    Simon
    Groping women when you're old is fine - everyone thinks you're senile

  2. #2
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    Very interesting!

    Did they give you the blue prints? If so, it shouldn't be that hard to manage. Everything different from the contract drawings --> kick their asses until they do it right.

  3. #3
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    This should prove to be an interesting thread. Looking forward to hearing and seeing more Simon.

  4. #4
    I am in Jail
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    indeed, an interesting project, much better than staying teaching in Burma

  5. #5
    Thailand Expat terry57's Avatar
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    Your an Interesting guy Simon and do some nice stuff.

    Cheers.

  6. #6
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    I have the project plans, but they are at version 1, whereas the actual build seems to be at version 10+, (as I realised when the kitchen building was built on the site intended for a soccer pitch).

    The build seems to be completely bog-standard, nothing fancy. None of the workers speaks a word of Lao (or English), but their foreman seems to understand my Lao questions..

    'Sabai dee Khun Eeejiot, tam mai jao sang hawng kruer here u dickhead?'

    Since the project will not be completed before open date, (bit like my hotels..), it will be necessary to erect a green fence to separate the building area from the 'live' school. I think I'll add armed guards to stop inquisitive kids from stepping 'over the line'.

    I also need to check on mundane but rather important items ==> septic tanks, soakaways, fat traps etc. I don't want the sh*t to hit the fan.

    In between these dual roles of project manager and Headmaster, I managed to find time to write a software application in PHP to provide on-line lesson plan submission, my teaching staff can now submit, edit and search their plans on-line. Next up is an on-line grading and report card system.

    Luang Prabang has no 'community' web-site, but I think such a site could earn me some cash from business advertising. So the ideal domain - luangprabang.com - should go live in a few weeks when I finish coding

    if my camera battery is up to it, I'll take some more photos in the coming week

    Simon

  7. #7
    I am in Jail
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    Quote Originally Posted by Simon43
    In between these dual roles of project manager and Headmaster, I managed to find time to write a software application in PHP to provide on-line lesson plan submission, my teaching staff can now submit, edit and search their plans on-line. Next up is an on-line grading and report card system.
    there are opensource software now doing that already for you, all written in PHP, just so you know

  8. #8
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    Albert Shagnastier's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Simon43
    Building a school
    Bet it makes a nice change from building a house

  9. #9
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    I was wondering where you were. Hadn't heard from you in a while.

    This project should prove to be very interesting.

    BUT, more importantly, did the chief wallahs in Luang Prabang issue you with an amateur radio licence?

  10. #10
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    there are opensource software now doing that already for you, all written in PHP, just so you know
    Yes I know, and I'll use/hack OSS if it fits my purpose. but for the specific needs of the school, it was easier to open notepad.exe and start coding.

    As for the ham licence, these are issued on a regular basis to visiting hams. The guy who issues them has acknowledged my application and will deal with this when he returns from a meeting in The Philippines.

    So progress is being made on all fronts...

    I'll also add an update to my hotel build threads

    Simon

  11. #11
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    Good stuff and a full time job!

  12. #12
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    Whoever told you viet workers are better than Lao workers is spot on, The viets are quite simply more motivated and more importantly more skilled, they have a good reputation for getting on with the job, The Lao,s will fok about forever, and invariably fok it up to

  13. #13
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    Simon, one more life again !

    Thank you for all the interesting stuff !!!

  14. #14
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    There is only 1 month to go before the old school relocates to the new buildings. Several of the buildings will not be finished in time, but I've stressed to my boss that the workers need to prioritise completion of the classrooms and the external areas (access road and footpaths).

    It's the rainy season now, so this does not help matters at all. It rained hard all morning, but dried up after lunch.

    At 4.30pm, I went to visit the site to check on progress...

    WTF!!!! All the Vietnamese workers are lazing in their dormitories (the classrooms). The only people working is the Lao electrician and 2 guys fixing the roof on the gym.

    Unbelievable!! Given that it's the rainy season, these guys should grab every dry opportunity to do some work.

    I bet my school director is still paying them full-time when they are lazing on their backsides.

    I think over the next weeks, I'm going to make myself very unpopular with both my director (for moaning at her to chivvy on the work), and these workers (for causing my director to moan at them).

    I better wear a hard hat....

    Simon

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    Open a bar and eatery next door and get rich?

  16. #16
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    ... or build another hotel

    bobforest

  17. #17
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    I am sure that you know how to talk to workers with all the experience you have !

    Push them to work 20 hours a day !

    And also, why now hiring more workers to try to go faster ?

    Money is not an issue, right ?

  18. #18
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    Unfortunately, although I'm the boss of the school, I'm not the overall boss of the building project. The workers/foreman will only do what the school director instructs. So I am directing my requests to her and advising her how deep the doodoo will be if she doesn't take my advice. Unfortunately, she is in Hong Kong.....

    Today when I visited, 40 Vietnamese labourers were hard at work - on the wrong building!! The electricians hadn't bothered turning up and the remaining Viets were playing gin rummy in a darkened classroom.......

    Simon

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    Interesting project by looks of it, it also seems to sound like a bit of a nightmare in a way...

    I've only been in Lao a short while but all my experience with getting things done it that it is a nightmare! As has been said the Vietnamese workers are a lot better!! They might have been having a little bit of a lazy afternoon but better than the Lao workers for sure!

    I have only had one good experience with getting something done/made in Lao and it was a small rack for my motorbike, all the builders I have ever seen are useless! When it comes time to build my house I shall try and do as much of it myself as possible.

    Sorry for going off topic and look forward to seeing the updates.

  20. #20
    Member Dino's Avatar
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    Looks like an adventurous project. Best of luck, I'll be checking in here.

  21. #21
    Cacoethes scribendi
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    Quote Originally Posted by Simon43
    Today when I visited, 40 Vietnamese labourers were hard at work - on the wrong building!! The electricians hadn't bothered turning up and the remaining Viets were playing gin rummy in a darkened classroom.......
    Sounds like you're having great fun already!
    Best of luck with the project.

  22. #22
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    Perhaps an apprenticeship program for construction trades along with management courses at this school. Whithout leadership and or skills training you'll end up with card playing slugs.Things move painfully slow and personally I find it hard to slow to the pace of laos in general. Good luck and dont let it age you.

  23. #23
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    I finally got my camera working again, so here are some more photos and witty comment.

    Yesterday (Sunday), the school director finally came to Luang Prabang to check on the build progress, and to sort out some issues that I had raised - since the build project manager refused to listen to any of my advice or requests.

    This manager was clearly vastly more experienced than me in all matters of the world. Here's a flattering photo of him in his floppy hat and flip-flops.



    I guess he was about 24 years old.

    A building site would not be complete without kids running amongst the rubble and construction equipment



    This guy would not look anyone straight in the eye, but addressed his comments and replies to the ground, and I was surprised how dismissive and offhand he was with the school director, - not the sort of guy to fill you with confidence.

    'Why are you building over there when you should be be building over here?' the director asked, (as I had done likewise, 2 weeks ago).

    Although progress had been made on the buildings, it has been painfully slow. The land clearance for paths only started yesterday, and you can see from the depth of the tractor ruts that the ground is pretty waterlogged.



    In spite of these problems, I'm still very hopeful that we can open the school on time. (The new term starts on 9th September, but everything has to be in place several weeks prior to that).

    Here's a photo of the primary school building.



    It's actually L-shaped, with a similar run of classrooms going away from the camera.

    But there's one very fundamental problem with the upper floor of this building, which will house about 8 classrooms of happy, excited kids.

    There are no toilets.........

    Unbelievably, the architect who designed this building decided that it wasn't necessary to install toilets in this building, except for 'en-suite' toilets in the ground floor classrooms for the youngest children.

    The highly-skilled PM also said that toilets cannot be installed either, even though there is a suitable area upstairs for this. (I cannot think of any reason why you cannot install toilets on the upper floor and add some additional septic tanks etc on the nearby land - I think he simply can't be bothered to do this).

    Anyway, at least the flying Nagas are installed, so everything should be fine


  24. #24
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    There are no toilets.........
    Are there no building regulations in Lao pdr?

  25. #25
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    ^The builders have nearly finished covering the basket ball and soccer areas on our playing fields here in Vientiane - very quickly too. There was too much PE and sports time lost last year with the weather. Good luck with the building Simon

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