A place where the now meets the then with no apparent friction whatsoever.
Yesterday, I had a private cookery demonstration at the Lao international food fair. I was shown how to make ‘papaya salad’ from scratch, with ingredients I had never seen. Our great friend Stella will be thrilled – though I doubt we shall find the strange fruit the brilliant lady peeled and threw into the pot when back in Spain.
We then had a herbal steam at the local baths – I say ‘baths’ but there were none, just two ‘Tenko’ style huts, a metal pipe shooting out hot steam that could rival that of ‘Old Faithful’, and a large bucket of twigs.
Andrew and I have always been partial to an old geyser!
It certainly wasn’t Baden Baden!
But we were both as clean as a vicar’ s whistle by the end. (Terrible simile – do vicars even blow?)
This morning, despite Andrew’s protestations, we headed for the Lao National Museum. The national collection is housed in a beautiful crumbling French colonial house surrounded by blossoming Frangipani trees.
We thought we must visit, for earlier on during our trip, when in Chiang Mai, we met a gregarious American named Keith. He regailed us with a marvellous tale concerning a Buddha he had purchased whilst in a Bangkok junk shop – for, literally, monkey nuts!
It was later discovered that the Buddha was ancient and of National importance to Laos.
On learning this,Keith donated the piece to the country. A truly generous act, from a great guy, whose own country was infamous for a very different donation to this beautiful place. Tens of millions of bombs that blanketed this land during the 60s and 70s – 30% of which have yet to explode. One of the many reasons I have been telling Andrew to tread more carefully here.
The largest section and sadly the most detailed of this pathetic museum, was not that of the wonderful ancient pots that litter the mysterious ‘Plain Of Jars’ in the north of Laos.
An ‘Asian’ Stonehenge’ that remains both largely unexplored and unexplained. No. This was not the choice made by the curators.
No, the main space was given up to a dry, cold exhibition, expounding the ideals and the founding of ‘The Party’ . That being the ‘Lao People’s Revolutionary Party’.
A National Museum that showed so very little of the resiliance and brilliance of it’s people and instead sycophantically glorified it’s unelected political leaders.
Dull, dull, dull!
I should be careful, ‘The Party’ could be bugging our blog – you may never hear from me again.
Phish! The Party!
What a shame they don’t have a few – they might lighten up a bit!
The star of this ‘National Collection’ – This sub-IKEA desk and chair, at which some comrade or other sat as he planned another glorious battle strategy. I underhandly snapped this – as photographs were also forbidden by you-know-who!
I’m afraid the jars won for me – and they were slung out the back in the most unceremonious of manners. Still, it’s not the first time the stars of the show have been made to use the back door! As we bade ‘adieu’ to the museum the girls working in the shop looked unmoved to see us depart …… Still, we had to leave……..
My decision to go down to the river was more than a breath of fresh ‘Mekong’ air.
At once the stale, cold propagandist cocktail of the museum was diluted.
It looked as though the party was over – the food fair anyway. Everyone returning to their usual routine. Yet, I couldn’t shake off the lack of humanity and sheer ‘red-washing’ of history that we had just witnessed.
Vientiane is so beautiful. Vibrant, motivated and yet still very chilled. An old grand dame of a city who has seen much change and seen much of it off too.
But the future is here and it’s more yellow than orange. The Chinese are moving in in droves – massive hotels, malls and what goes along with such infrastructure is on the horizon – literally! It remains to be seen whether this old girl will retain her ‘Miss Haversham’ style charm, or succumb to the skyscrapers and highways of so many other great Asian capitals.
In a country that comes very close to the top of the list as the most corrupt in the world, there seems a danger that the very few in power will decide what is best for the majority without a voice. They already control all of the country’s resources, which are many, and financial kickbacks here are more prevalent than at Fifa!
So with the new money attempting to outdo the old, just as in parts of Essex, it’s anyone’s guess as to who will come out victorious. Will this ‘old girl’ grow old with grace, or will the developers get it wrong and have her looking like Joan Rivers in a decades time?
As I reached the banks of the stately Mekong I was given a clue.
Here were ‘the people’ – the real people- expressing themselves, without direction or constraint. Gardening, illegally, using the high brick river defences of their ‘Mother River’ to make allotments.
The concrete banks teemed with horticulture – decorative, edible and of course, sellable, it was like a ‘Chelsea Flower Show Garden’ with none of the wank ( do excuse me).
I smiled at the sinking sun and went all ‘Hair’ (The musical) – these banks were magical, even if just for this moment, and what their inhabitants emphasised, more than anything was ‘People Power.’ Or to be more exact – ‘Flower Power’! ‘Eh maintenant’ – The party’s over. It’s time to get on the bus – for fourteen hours! I, stupidly, allowed Andrew to sort the tickets again – we’re certainly not going first class!
Although we may be travelling separately on this leg of our adventure. I have met a younger, fitter companion, who also happens to have a little Lola of his own.