Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Utopia



First and foremost- a shoutout to Lennie Zhu, who is not only spunky and beautiful but also almost as cool as her own earrings, which is saying a lot, because I don't think I know of anything cooler than Lennie's taste in dangling pinna ornaments.  

Lookit that dangle

So Laos- or at least Luang Prabang- shuts down at 11:15.  It's strange- there are hundreds of backpackers in Luang Prabang and the bars and pubs are completely full, but at 11 there's a last call and at 11:15 the barkeeper goes around asking everyone to leave.

This was somewhat unfortunate, because even in the few short days that we were in Luang Prabang we found a haunt we really liked: Utopia.

No lights!  Only candles.


Utopia wasn't very Laotian, but it was lots of fun.  Actually, I don't think I saw a single Laotian there, other than the waitstaff.  It was a more-or-less outside bar, with a couple roofed areas but lots of tables and benches strewn around a large garden and some boardwalks overlooking the Mekong.  There were long cushions and hammocks instead of chairs and strange music which one didn't notice unless one was really listening.

I promise you, this place is a bar.  It's pretty awesome.

The whole joint was decorated with UXOs, bombs collected from the Laotian countryside.  While there wasn't ever a war officially fought with Laos, much of the Vietnamese war occurred on Laotian soil, and there are to this day more tons of unexploded bombs in Laos than any other country in the world.  Utopia nobly tried to bring awareness to this issue.



More importantly than anything else, though, Utopia had a full-sized sand volleyball court.  I think we played volleyball every night in Luang Prabang.  Sometimes it was the Germans vs. the French, with the Dutch joining the Germans, sometimes it was a multinational free-for-all, and sometimes it was just everyone against the Aussies.  It was generally a good time.




On my last night there a friendly bus-driver pulled me into his group to try some Lao Lao, a mysterious Laotian beverage somewhere between Ouzo, Sambuca, and Kerosene.  It wasn't very good, but the group was fun.

BeerLaos is the only beer served in Laos, and owned partially by Carlsberg.


There actually is one thing to do after 11:15:  on the outskirts of Luang Prabang, a single secluded bowling alley is open until 2:30.  What this means is that the bars empty out on-cue at 11:00 and the tuk-tuk drivers line up to try and pack as many tipsy tourists into their trucks as possible and speed off to the bowling alleys.  They say Laos is a communist country, but seeing the tuk-tuk drivers undercut one another to get that one last fare makes me wonder that.

We briefly commandeered a tuktuk


The bowling alley is awful, bright, and obnoxious.  In fact- it's so bad it's almost good… once.  After that, though, most people are content to go back to their guesthouses to catch some sleep before getting started again the next day.

Bowling in Laos at two in the morning.  Who woulda thunk it.


Saturday, February 9, 2013

How it's made: Textiles


Good morning!

So in this corner of the world there are lots of textiles--cloths, scarves, clothes, reams of fabric--and many of them are locally or at least semi-locally made.  Heck, probably many of our textiles back home are coming from this corner of the world.



I had the opportunity of stopping by a development project a couple of weeks ago to see the manufacturing process.  First, thread is spun from white cotton or silk- that part usually happens in Chiang Mai, in the North.  It then gets sent here on huge spools.

Once it has arrived in Udon Thani, the huge spools are unravelled into long loops, which can then be died. If the fabric will have a pattern in it, that pattern is actually died into the thread before it gets woven.

The yellowish color being pointed to in the fabric is the base color.  Before the fabric was woven, it was tied off with strings, like in the thread on the right.  The thread is then died blue before the strings are untied, leaving undied sections


After the thread has been died, it is spun again from the long loops onto more manageable bobbins.

This particular spinning wheel is made out of an old bicycle wheel

Finally, once the thread is on bobbins, it gets woven into bolts of fabric with a large loom.  Weaving on the loom is a full body activity: the feet control pedals which alternate the height of the strings parallel to the y-axis.  One hand used to pull levers which shoot the bobbin seated in a shuttle back and forth along the x-axis, and the other hand is used to pull a comb back to ensure that the threads are tight.


video
In this particular weave, the woman is using three different single-colored threads, rather than the died threads we saw above






Friday, February 8, 2013

To and From Luang Prabang




So I went up to Luang Prabang in Northern Laos over the weekend.

Luang Prabang is saddled between the Mekong and the Nam Kahn Rivers


The trip was a good one, and I do have a couple of stories to tell about it.  Today, though, I'm just going to focus on the actual journey involved, because I think it's kind of interesting.

I started in Ban Thin and went up to Nong Khai, which is on the Thai side of the Frendship Bridge, a two kilometer bridge connecting Laos and Thailand.  Vientiane, Laos' capital, is on the other side.  One must go through a border crossing going either direction, and after the border crossing there are busses which shuttle travellers to the other side of the bridge.

In Vientiane I caught a bus up to Luang Prabang.  It's about a nine hour busride through the mountains of the Laos countryside.  The road is twisty, turny, steep and treacherous... really.

Fortunately, I reached my destination safely, albeit tired and cramped.  The bus was a bed bus, which would be good if I was asian-sized, like the people it was intended for.  As it was, though, I was about 20 cm taller than the bed, so I couldn't lie down straight.

I got in around 5:30 in the morning... welcome to Luang Prabang!


This wouldn't have been two much of a problem, except the beds were pretty narrow... and I had a bedmate.  The bus was actually pretty nice, but it just wasn't quite large enough for a Farang like me.

Like I said, the bus was nice... it looks kind of space-agey in this picture



It was just a little small for two people

Taking a similar bus back from Luang Prabang would have been the fastest way to get back, but Thailand has a strange rule where it only awards 30-day visas to travellers arriving by air.  Had I gone back by bus, I would have only received 15-days.

Because of this, I ended up taking a plane with Lao Airlines to Chiang Mai, one of Thailand's major cities, and another bus from Chiang Mai back to Ban Thin.



The plane was kind of neat- it was a smaller sized prop plane.  I would have liked to tell more about how it flew, but I was so tired I passed out before we got into the air.

What I do remember is the stewardesses who were milling around the airport- each one was identical to the photo Lao Airlines used to advertise their service- they were all the same height, clad in blue, had perfect buns and a small flower in their hair.  It was really actually quite uncanny how similar they all were.

This photo doesn't quite do Ms. Stewardess justice
Also, 'stewardesses' is the longest English word one can type with just hte left hand.

After a couple of hours in Chiang Mai (and a very relaxing massage), I took the bus back to Ban Thin.  This one, thank goodness, had seats instead of beds... and I slept like a baby.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

More bananas


Once again, Yupin has made a wonderful, lovely, delicious meal... this one is particularly Isan.  Isan is the Northeast region of Thailand where I am (did you remember that?), and their food is excellent.  Yupin explained to me how the Isan people traditionally have eaten what they can find around them, grow, or raise, and that hasn't really changed much.  Chicken is a staple, as is freshwater fish.  Also, anything that they find in the rice fields- rice, bamboo shoots, beetles, snails- it's all fair game.  By this point, I think I've tried most of it.

Mackerel to the right (a rare saltwater exception) and pickeled bamboo shoots behind that


Earlier today Geoffrey and I harvested some bananas.

Beautiful!

We cut each bunch off of the stalk and put them in cardboard boxes to ripen over the course of the week.  We counted about twelve bunches of about sixteen bananas each- not a bad haul.

It was *this big*

In a previous post, I described harvesting banana flowers- Thais have some use for almost every part of the banana plant.  The flowers can be steamed and eaten and the bananas are eaten as is.  The leaves are used for mats, for making things, and for wrapping around food to help store it.  You can sometimes see bundles of leaves for sale at the market.



You have to be careful around banana trees, though, because the sticky sap will stain anything and everything, permanently and forever.  There's alot of it, too!  So keep that in mind over the course of the week: be careful around banana trees!

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Stations

This is the soy milk station.  One bag of soy milk, 5 baht.  It comes warm, you can add some gelatinous questionables or sugar, and the guy who serves it thinks I'm funny because I don't buy it sweet.

This is the gas station.  1 liter of gas, 49 baht.  


This is the chick station.  1 chick,  75 baht







Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Blog layout.

So my widths were a little screwy and affecting landscape pictures.  I fixed that.

-T.M