Posts Tagged ‘Laos


Vintage Bobbie whistles from Burma, courting balls from the Hmong

Yes, really.  We are putting them out today.  We have four vintage whistles used by the Rangoon police while the British were still in Burma, now known as Myanmar.  Where else in Decatur will you find these?  There are only 4 of them at $30 each, so you’ll have to act fast!  Maybe the ideal Mother’s Day gift for keeping the youngsters in line or to call everyone to the dinner table?

And we also have the essential tool for playing pov pob, a Hmong courting game played by young folks in Laos.  What do you need?  A single simple cotton ball, made from scraps of indigo batik fabric.  Girls and boys line up to face each other and toss the ball back and forth to those who catch their eye.  If no one tosses to you, or if someone drops or refuses to catch your toss– heartbreak.  The game is played during Hmong New Year at the time of the full moon in November.

We’ll soon be posting more about the Hmong people and about some of their beautiful crafts and artifacts we have in the store.  In the meantime, you may want to read The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors and the Collision of Two Cultures by Anne Fadiman, the Mingei Book Club selection for May.  It is available at Mingei for $15.00.  We will meet at the store on Tuesday, May 11 at 7:30 pm.  Everyone is welcome!


“My mother is looking at the sky.”

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–


Same Same

One of the most popular T-shirts mottoes in the Hmong Night Market here is “Same Same”.  Yesterday when we visited another weaving village, this time south of town, only  one loom of many was strung with lovely cotton in natural and beige thread.  A traditional pattern was begun.  A woman who saw us eyeing the work, came over and demonstrated a few passes, explaining that this piece would take three weeks to finish.  We asked to see her work, expecting more of the same.  She guided us to a pile of weavings in garish colors, machine made of synthetic fibers but in similar design.  “Same same”, she assured us smiling.  “No same same”, we replied in unison.  “Cotton?” we asked hopefully?  “Lao silk”, she nodded proudly.  A neighbor pulled a synthetic piece from her pile and smiled, “Cotton.  Same same.”  We drifted away back to our tuk tuk.

Today, a new tuk tuk driver dropped us at our guest house and we engaged him for our return trip to the airport tomorrow.  After we asked his name, he politely asked ours.  “Ann.”  “Ellen.”  “Oh!”  He smiled.  “Same same!”  We smiled, nodded and drifted away.


Hot Hot Hot

There is no denying it– it may be cold back in Atlanta, but it is hot here in Luang Prabang.  The evenings are cool and pleasant, but the afternoons, in the mid-nineties, can be brutal on the dusty shadeless paths outside town along the rivers or on the stone walkways in the city.  Listless tourists sit in front of iced coffees or stumble from wat to wat and then back to their guesthouses.  Tuk tuk drivers sleep in the bit of shade offered by their idle vehicles.

Yesterday, we rose early to see the monks walk through town to collect alms in their begging bowls, the sticky rice and bananas that will sustain them through the day.  They march silently in single file from the wats along the streets where the devout — women mostly, and tourists– wait to drop a little something  in each bowl as they file by.  The poor also wait, and sometimes receive a little bit of something from the monks’ bowls as charity as they pass.  Mostly, the older ones give to the poor.  The tourists buy packets of sticky rice or individual small bananas from street vendors so they can participate in this experience, and train their large camera lenses on the stream on monks as they approach.

Monks on the move– collecting their food for the day in their begging bowls at 6am

After our monk time, visitors file back through the streets to enjoy breakfast in their guesthouses and a bit of cool before the heat begins.  Our guest house is on a small street just off the local fresh market and each trip in or out takes us through piles of peppers, fresh fish splayed on banana leaves, baskets of live ducks, tubs of frogs, bowls of larva, and arrays of vegetables portioned out on plastic sheeting.

The fresh market around the corner from our guest house

We headed off toward a pair of artisan villages over the river where crafts people make hand-made mulberry paper and weave silk.

The long bamboo footbridge across the point where the Mkong and Nam Khan rivers join. Weaving and paper making villages await on the other side.

After crossing the bridge, we walked past a small refreshment stand overlooking the Mekong, through the woods, past a rustic blue spirit house, over a trash dump and down a long, dusty path to the first village.

In the woods above the Mekong

We visited a workshop run by a Lao silk designer and bought several wonderful indigo and golden silk wall hangings from her before proceeding down the road looking for more.

While we found a few lush loosely woven silk scarves at another place, we were disappointed that there was very little to buy.  So much of what we found was machine made and of synthetic fabric and most of the looms were idle.  We had heard from a young American woman working at our guest house that in the last couple of years many cheap imports from China have arrived, pushing out traditional goods, and we saw the evidence here.  So sad.  Even in our last visit here three years ago, we saw many more beautifully made traditional pieces.  The prices of the good work here are quite high, making it challenging for us to find     good work to bring home.

We regret we did not get good photos of these hangings, but we will carry them back and have them at the store by March 8.

We also bought a number of hand-made mulberry pattern lanterns with pressed flowers and leaves that fold up into triangles.  You may remember these from before.    They are lovely hanging on their own or around a low wattage bulb.  These lanterns  also make great gifts.  Because of our baggage allowance for our trip back to Thailand, we will have a limited selection.

After retracing our steps to town, we needed to find some shade, cool drinks, and a a bite to eat.  We chose an attractive little spot on the main road and ordered a Lao Papaya salad “just a little spicy”.  We both pride ourselves on our tolerance and enjoyment of spicy food but know not to ask for local spicy in Thailand or Lao.  We had eaten many versions of Thai green papaya salad and were eager to taste the Lao version.


Oy and oy boy!

We quickly ordered sticky rice to go with our meal.


Resting in between bites, we worked at our lunch for an hour before waving out little white tissue napkins in defeat.  Here’s what remained of our meal.  The salad was a lot of work.  Tasty, but a lot of work.


Sticky rice and seaweed on the banks of the Nam Khan

As we walked to find a place to have dinner last night in Luang Prabang, Ellen, on her first trip to Laos,  was awed by the views of rices paddies and peach sunset over the Nam Khan, a striking blue house with an orange awning, and the young monks in saffron robes walking in groups of two or three.  Our dinner of sticky rice and fried Mei Kong seaweed  and sesame seeds was perfect for its setting.


Your wish list

We are headed off to Thailand and Laos to shop shop shop.  We know we will be bringing back piles of silk scarves and bags of hilltribe silver.  We’ll be on the lookout for some great carvings, whimsical folk toys and bags made from recycled hilltribe clothing.  What would YOU like to see?

In response to a post below, I’ve added these photos of textile tool we have available now.  Thanks for your patience while I learn how to do all this!  Ann

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