Stops and Oddities Along the Way

At one point, somewhere between Muang Sing and Udomxai, Silasak had arranged to meet his aunt and uncle at a roadside stand so we could take them back to Ban Namai. When we got there they hadn’t yet arrived, so we sat down to wait.

MSG for sale, and Beer Lao – always Beer Lao

There was a little boy there with his dad, the shopkeeper, and I came up with the great idea that Mel should draw him a picture in the dirt while we were waiting.

I kept pointing to the ground, saying, “Look!” as she drew a pig, then a chicken,

then a house, a tractor, piglets and chicks. I thought it was great. The boy could not have cared less. Maybe he was more interested in the drawing on the outhouse wall.

The aunt and uncle never showed up. Silasak suspected (he couldn’t contact them since they didn’t have cell phones) that they’d hitched a ride with someone else.

At another roadside stop closer to Muang Sing, we ate stir-fried fern that our driver had picked from the side of the road. He’d gathered a bagful, given it to the cook at a restaurant, and we’d eaten it. I don’t remember what it was called, but it looked like this:

delicious mystery fern

I also ate one of these:

grasshoppers á la carte

(They look much more unappetizing than they taste, which, after being fried in oil, is like a potato chip.)

I did NOT eat one of these:

silkworm larvae

Can’t eat anything slimy.

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On the whole, we hadn’t yet seen anything crazy outrageous in Laos – at least, not like I was expecting. No chopped up dog at the market (although the unrefrigerated meat was a bit shocking), no Trainspotting toilets (although the one in the picture below was treacherously slippery), no horrific slums (although there was definitely a lot of poverty).

The strangest thing we’d seen by that point was probably the Hmong woman we’d met who was sharpening big knives in front of her house. She seemed normal enough to me until Mel pointed out that the lower half of a cat was hanging from a string in her doorway. There was also some writing on her door and some leaves strung into garlands on either side of the opening. When Silasak asked her what it all meant, she said there’d been sickness in her family, and she was trying to ward away evil spirits.

really big knives

(click to view larger)

Since I’ve seen a fair number of horror movies in my day, my theory was that something really bad had happened in the house (demonic possession! vampire attack!) and she’d been branded by the community. Mel was sure the woman was crazy…

But not really. She didn’t seem bothered when Mel asked to take some pictures and was actually very nice. The cat was creepy, though, especially since, according to Silasak, killing cats in Laos is taboo. I guess we’ll never know.

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