Photos by Marc Henrich
Kaysone Phomvihane Memorial Site is named after the Lao revolutionary leader who lived here from 1975 until his death in 1992. Built by the Americans in the 1960’s, the compound was originally known as KM6, or « Six Clicks City », a name derived from its location, 6 km from the center of Vientiane, capital city. Initially, the compound was the headquarters for the USAID (United States Agency for International Development). As such, the design emulated a US suburb from the time: wide streets, two-and four-bedroom ranch-style houses, manicured lawns. In those days it was unclear where the humanitarian aid programs began and the CIA missions ended, and which so-called development aid was actually channeled into ‘war-related activities’.
Following the revolution of 1975, the compound became the headquarters of the Pathet Lao leadership. During Kaysone Phomvihane’s rule, the compound was extended to include a Central Committee Reception Hall, a Russian style wooden sauna donated by the Soviet government, and vegetable and medicinal herb gardens. The compound is maintained as it was at the time of Kaysone’s death.
Artist Project Statement
KM6, like many historical memorials, attempts to fix a moment in time (the impermanent) for eternity, to “seal” history within a specific era. This maintenance of the memorial in a fixed time zone, this attempt at keeping natural phenomena from interfering and time from intruding, requires a creative act, a fabrication. In a desire to participate in and engage this history I have placed myself in this other imagined space as an observer reflecting a subjective point of view from behind the camera. I have tried to mimic the process of history by “fixing” my photographs of this site to a specific era: 1950’s to the mid 1970’s, as if I had taken these images around the time the buildings were built. The photographs are the traces left behind from my imaginary journey– time and light have left their imprint– the images located somewhere between a record and a fiction.
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Actually it started as just a housing area for USAID Americans. Embassy, USIS, Attache, Air America, CASI, Bird and Sons people lived in other areas. The actual USAID heaquarters was in Vientiane in an area called Na Hai Deo (also called Nahaideo a little walk away from the “Monument” in Vientiane). Up until ’69 or so it was just a housing area with the American School also located there. Later other stuff was built including a swimming pool and a teen club.
I have no knowledge of other stuff being done there after ’69 and I was last there in ’71 or ’72.
I must admit that I am a bit puzzled by the efforts made by people to make Km-6 into some sort of secret and sinister place when the Americans were living there. When I tried to visit it it in ’98 just being in that area made our taxi driver shake with fear, almost drove away leaving me there and taking my my wife and kids with him.
The first picture looks like my old house. It backed up to the sports field, behind the bleachers in KM6. Dave, Air Force Brat, evacuated in 75, sneaking out behind the school buses as non-military wives and children! My father was a Hero and just past in May of this year. I want to travel back to KM6 with my sister and search for our house! Thanks for the pics!
I went to school at the american school of vientiane in K6 in the early 70’s. In January 2010 an ASV reunion was held and many of us returned to VTE to see what remains of our time there. There’s an alumni group (or two) on facebook for any who want to re-establish contact with classmates – there are also pics of what we found there this year – both at K6 and elsewhere, including the USAID compound downtown…
So Michael is right – USAID offices were miles away in town near the independence monument. K6’s functions were primarily dormitory and education.
I agree with Michael. K-6 was just a place where we lived, went to school and had family time.
Dave–most of the houses around the gate and old school are gone. The ones remaining are around 4th -6th street.
I found out Mr Kaysone moved into the house my parents and I lived. He also chose my bedroom to sleep in. What a piece of history! Mr Kaysone’s house is being renovated along with the house next door which he used as an office. If I ever get the chance to return, I hope to visit and see how the renovations are progressing.
Wow so many memories!!I I Lived on Dead End Street accross from Mr. and Mrs Ford Anderson,I believe the English teacher??Mrs Anderson used to keep in touch but lost touch with them after a few years. Dad worked at USAID Lost him in 89 to suicide. Couldnt deal no more with nitemares of Laos and Vietnam, Lots of questions unanswered of what really went on over there, it was too hushed hushed!!