Every night in Luang Prabang, a forest of red canopies appears down the main street. The night market features mostly Hmong women selling hand-made goods, T-shirts and imported knock-off craft items from China. An occasional stall will have a collection of old sticky rice baskets, a few pieces of jewelry or some old textiles or parts of textiles. We found some gorgeous old copper opium bowls our first night here– arguably the best “score” of the Laos portion of the trip.
The last time Mingei shopped in Luang Prabang, we found lots of rustic jumping folk toys which were missing this time around. But the women of Luang Prabang have been very busy making something new– hand-stitched children’s books. We gathered the books from all around the market, settling in front of each stall on the ground to read the simple stories about farm and family life among the Hmong. “My father is pounding the rice.” “My brother is riding a horse.” Each of these descriptions is accompanied by a wonderfully detailed, charming image hand-stitched into the book. We tried to cull the ones with English errors, expecting that many of our customers might prefer proper modeling to “My sister is picking the pineaple.” or “My younger is minding the pigs”. Minding the pigs? We did wonder about the real authors of these little storie as the women who made them do not spek any English. There were lots of books to chose from, and we probably picked all that ended “I am a boxer.” We also skipped the ones that told portions of a fairy tale in which a character is pushed off a cliff and shoots his wife. Maybe next time. By the end of the evening we had chosen about 2 dozen books, including one that we will be keeping behind the counter which features two frazzled-looking creatures on the cover of “Travelling in Laos”. After reading dozens and dozens of these books aloud to each other (much to the amusement of their creators) we were really quite punchy, even uproarious, but managed not to push anyone off any cliffs–