ON THE MEKONG RIVER — When the Chinese came to the village of Lat Thahae, perched on a muddy bend of a Mekong River tributary, they scrawled a Chinese character on the walls of homes, schools and Buddhist temples.
No one in this isolated hamlet in northern Laos could read what it said. But the character means “demolish” — the fate of hundreds of communities along Asia’s great river reduced to a single foreign word.
This year, a dam will begin transforming this stretch of jagged hills and pristine jungle in one of the world’s most remote countries, part of a broader effort to propel some of Asia’s least-developed economies. It is one of seven Chinese-built hydropower projects on the Nam Ou River.