This is the second article featuring Richard Dorsett’s trip to Asia to distribute Foldscopes, the fully functional microscope, which users construct by origami principles. The Rotary Club of Tacoma #8 funded the Foldscopes for adventurer and hiking and biking enthusiast Richard Dorsett:
When your bus ride of barely two hundred miles will take more than ten hours, you have to know rough roads and mountains await. Tacoma, Washington, might well swoon with envy over the massive potholes on the highway leading out of Vientiane. For twenty or more miles, dirty light industrial businesses and the like lined the road. Washboard ruts and big, deep, potholes, slowed us often to a crawl. Eventually, the way became beautiful; craggy mountains, valleys, and vistas, made even a grueling ride worthwhile. I wanted to see the country, so took the eight a.m. day bus. Still, we didn’t arrive till after dark, and I know now for certain there are worse potholes than those in Tacoma.
I left my bicycle at home for this trip, but am pleased by the number of touring cyclists I have seen. One in Vientiane, but a couple dozen on the road to Luang Prabang. Some were in supported tour groups, but couples and solo pedalers are frequent. Alex, a new friend from Los Angles has toured solo in China. Two solo bicyclists rolled into the hostel. Each had been on the road for eight months. New friend Alex rode his rented bicycle to the outskirts of town and saw a young elephant playing in a field. I am inspired.
When I travel by bicycle I typically move along each day; the bicycle will not pedal itself. Now, traveling by bus and looking for Foldscope students, I have days to hang about, walk, read, write, and explore. I’m not out doing the day tours, but getting a feel for place. I enjoyed Vientiane, but like Luang Prabang even more. The Mekong River is a block away and much closer to the town. It runs faster here and I enjoy watching the long, skinny boats that ply the river. Even though this is the dry season, the river is substantial. Farmers plant vegetables along the banks, new soil is deposited when the river rises, and the cycle repeats. I walked across a bamboo bridge that crosses a tributary to the Mekong River.
Even after a few days, a hostel begins to feel like home and small routines develop. The circuits I walk and the onion omelette I have each morning repeat themselves. A cool thing with a gig, any gig, is that it breaks routine. I walk to places I would not otherwise go. I drop into super low gear and stroll so slowly as to become invisible.
With each Foldscope presentation I become more skilled at how to assemble them. Even more useful, I get better at instructing others how to make the folds. Through word of mouth I connected with Jason, the Kiettisack International School principal. He and science teacher Robert welcomed me and my scopes enthusiastically. The group of eight students was perfect. Robert had shown them Manu Prakash’s TED talk before I arrived, so they had a sense of what was coming. We worked around a table, which lets everyone help one another as we assemble the Foldscopes.
I enjoy talking about Foldscopes with anyone interested. The first two schools I visited are private academies for relatively well-heeled students. I helped traveling partner Bob assemble his Foldscope on his seventieth birthday. Some students seem more intuitive than others with the scopes. One in this latest group was setting up a tripod to steady his camera to take photos of specimens while others were still folding. I get off on the overall enthusiasm for Foldscopes.
Luang Prabang is perfect for my interests. There is a daily market outside the hostel door (grilled chicken feet/grilled frogs on a stick). Tuk tuks are everywhere, but I prefer walking. Temples and monks seem everywhere. The beer at the hostel is cheap and cold. Mostly I hang out, walk about, lie about when it gets hot, then get out again for afternoon and evening walking. There are plenty of westerners here, and most are well-worn travelers and interesting to talk with. As I leave town, clouds have come and everyone seems to shiver a bit from the relative cold. My decision to bring a sweater was a good one. Partner Bob wraps up in a wool blanket he brought from India.
Sometimes it’s a crap shoot booking a hostel, but I have been lucky. Here at the Downtown Backpackers it’s a little overwhelming in the morning when I like quiet, lots of young travelers coming and going, but it empties for most of the day. Now I have a bed in Chiang Mai at SpicyThai hostel, which comes from word of mouth.
A hundred thousand Lao kip is about eight bucks. It’s a small success, but I managed my way to the airport with less than ten thousand kip in my pocket. Sleeper bed or not, after the ten-plus hours on the bus from Vientiane, I’ll skip the 24-hour ride to Chiang Mai. The flight takes about an hour.
Luang Prabang, Laos