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Arriving in Laos, Luang Prabang, and an angry woman and her dog

20 Sep

Laos seems to be one of the more mysterious South-East Asian countries, probably because I’ve never come across a Laos restaurant outside of Laos or owned anything made in Laos, etc.

And before arriving here, whenever I asked anyone about Laos they’d talk mainly about the tubing which despite sounding kind of touristy, I think I’d quite like to do. For the equivalent of a few £’s, floating down a river on a rubber ring in the sun and being handed free shots doesn’t sound so bad.

But where is the real Laos? The Lonely Planet mentions that “For about 80% of the population, the ‘real Laos’ is village life, and the best way to really get a feel for how the Lao live is to spend a night or two in a homestay.” Quite like the idea of this too.

However, we only arrived in Luang Prabang in central Laos a few days ago, and for now I think we both want to stay here for a few more days. The city is full of character and seems almost European in some ways; probably because it was originally a French colony. When we arrived it was a pleasant surprise to see lots of stalls selling baguettes. It made me hungry for sandwiches.

Aside from the bread though, Luang Pragang is an entertaining and endlessly intriguing place. Perhaps we haven’t yet got to the core of life in Laos but we’ve sampled some delicious food, stumbled across some great art, experienced Saturday night in a Laos nightclub, and met some interesting people, both nice and nasty.

On our first full day here, we were walking past a restaurant and met an Aussie girl, Nikki who had just finished doing a Laos cooking course and was sat alone surrounded by bowls and plates of yummy looking vegetarian food. She couldn’t eat it all so she invited us to sit with her and eat some, which is still some of the best food I’ve tasted here.

Unfortunately a bit later on, the next person we met wasn’t so nice. We ventured into the second hand book swap shop across the road where we were greeted by a horrible barking ratty little grey dog (reminded me a bit of the severely inbred dogs when you type ‘ugly dog’ into google).

Shortly after us, a Swedish guy walked in calling ‘Sabadee’ which is hello in Lao. I thought he was calling Zebedee and assumed he must know the woman who worked in the shop, because a few seconds later this booming Australian female voice yelled something back quite scarily.  I thought, you can’t surely be that rude to a stranger- he must be family.

The Swedish guy couldn’t hear so said something like, “I’m sorry I can’t here you.” And the woman completely lost her temper and started yelling at the top of her voice, “I SAID WAIT A MINUTE…” When she appeared (an overweight, ratty, grey woman in her 60’s), the Swedish guy timidly asked if she had a copy of a book he was looking for, to which she barked back, “No” and he left muttering, “sorry for disturbing you.”

By this point we were pretty keen to leave this bad tempered woman and her ugly dog alone, so Dom handed his Terry Prachett book to her which she disinterestedly flicked through and said, “Well, I suppose we can take it because we had one of these in last week and it sold pretty fast.” The other books on the shelf were so bad; we didn’t even swap it with another one. Talk about being ungrateful.

It’s also important to note at this stage that the shop this woman was working in was a charity, and all the money made supposedly went to help children in Laos get an education. How and why was this woman allowed to work there is completely beyond me.

I very much doubt that this little encounter had much to do with experiencing the ‘Real Laos’ but it was amusing to see such a well matched, ugly and angry dog and owner combination.

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Condoms, coffee beans, bottle tops and tyre bins

11 Sep

Being a lover of art made from junk it pleased me to see how resourceful the Thai are with their rubbish.

The condom man was taken in Pattaya in a restaurant called Cabbages & Condoms where the food is ‘guaranteed not to cause pregnancy’. The man who owns the place aimed to make condoms the same price as cabbages in Thailand and fund social development in the surrounding area.

Despite not being a huge fan of the coffee bean faces, it’s nice to see there’s a lack of flower photographs printed on canvases and ‘Ikea Art’  in cafes in Thailand. Also liked the idea of the beer bottle wall. The whole outside wall of a cafe in Chiang Khong was covered in bottles- perhaps the kind of thing a teenage boy might make in his room on a grander scale.

When we arrived in Chinag Khong I kept seeing all these huge pot/ cauldron things outside each house. I thought, how lovely, perhaps everyone in this town cooks together outside and they eat huge feasts on the street together. Dom pointed out that they were actually bins made from old tyres.