Friday, April 8, 2011

March 30 Luang Prabang, Laos

March 30 to April 5: Luang Prabang, Laos  

Luang Prabang, city of markets. There’s the morning market, the night market, the Phousy market, the Hmong market and more. The morning market takes place in quiet, residential streets near our guesthouse. It’s mostly for food and mostly for locals.

One of the more interesting food products was a creature residing inside a hard brown sphere the size of a baseball. We passed a woman holding a brown ball in the palm of her hand and hitting it very precisely with a heavy blade. She hit it a few times, cracking the ball in half and there nestled inside was a live, ugly, translucent, grayish-yellow, scaly, articulated bug. It was the size of a small apricot. It was only after watching the ‘extraction’ that I noticed she had a large bowl full of them for sale.

I asked our guesthouse woman about them and she said, “They lib in buffalo seet.” Buffalo shit!! And people eat them! She had one of the hard brown balls in one of her plant pots. She was keeping it until it was ‘ready’ to show her four year old. Apparently, the bug makes the hard ball out of sand. She doesn’t eat them but I guess she thinks it’s an important life lesson for a four year old. I didn’t ask about the readiness of the ball.  I thought of dung beetles, scarabs. These creatures didn’t look like any scarab amulets I’ve ever seen.

The night market is set up on the main street that runs in front of the national museum. It runs for about three blocks and forms a tunnel of free-standing red awnings that tourists are funneled through. There are hundreds of vendors and from what I saw very few buyers. The vendors set up every day from about 4:30 to 9:30. They take great pains to lay out their wares very precisely and neatly. They sit there patiently, chatting with each other, eating noodles, child-minding, waiting for a sale.

Lao used to be called the land of a million elephants and though there are fewer than a thousand now they are a big tourist draw. Entrepreneurial Ian made a deal with an outfit – a video for 2 days at the Elephant Village. The Elephant Village is a for-profit tourist business but they have a humanitarian role in rescuing elephants from the logging industry where they are worked, often, to death.

The ‘girls’ at Elephant Village are living the good life now. They do tourist rides in the morning and then they get walked into the jungle and get tied to trees with very long chains where they are free to eat the 250kg each of veggies they need. Eleven elephants x 250 kg. every day – that’s a lot of salad.

Riding an elephant requires flexible hips and knees so I limited my time atop and admired them from the ground. I was most captivated by the shape of their skulls. I guess too many cartoon elephant images made me think they have a domed, spherical head and a rounded back.

Wrong on both counts. The top of an Asian elephants head has two bumps and moving down toward the trunk there are deep depressions where we have temples.  There’s a thick hard ridge running along the back. The howdah seat is built so that it doesn’t rest on the centre ridge.

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