#XamNeua #Laos: Houses without Windows, Homes with Looms

Sam Neua sunrise

Sam Neua sunrise

The road winds mountainous and cliff-hanging, serpentine and riverine, casuarina and date palms, causality and circumstance, borderline tropical crossing the twentieth parallel on the road to Hanoi, multiple shades of green featuring an insect symphony soundtrack, measuring the kilometrage in butt bumps, every other house with a loom warped and ready, part of every woman’s day as surely as the family motorcycle’s maintenance is a part of every man’s, wood-axe at the ready to secure firewood, timber and lumber, preempting the Chinese invasion of the forests as a source of fiber in the diet for consumption…

Weaving in Sam Neua

Weaving in Sam Neua

The city of Sam Neua appears through a break in the woods like an apparition from below, multiple erections springing forth from fertile soil, the urge to merge mitigated by the need for greed, yielding a socialism defined by gray concrete bunkers and a society defined by brown abstract farmhouses, devoid of windows or necessary escape routes, entrances and exits served by pre-cut planks, stacked and numbered like so much lumber…

Silk in Sam Neua market

Silk in Sam Neua market

Sam Neua is the center of northern Laos’ silk industry, giving its name to a certain genre and lending its good auspices to its ongoing production, providing retail and wholesale space in the market for consumables, treadles and spinning wheels and shanks of raw silk, for tying and dyeing and warping and woofing, buying and selling and loading and hoofing, ten thousand homes in search of a center, for the mutual benefit of all, as such should be a city’s role…

Growing rice near Sam Neua

Growing rice near Sam Neua

But the part of the market that I like best are all the food stuffs, both raw and prepared, unwrapped and/or unreadied, hot or cold or room temps alike, icy fruity cocktail preparations or soupy spicy intentions for rice, the sticky kind my fave, with extra protein and a sleeping pill too, a stomach-soothing coat of whitewash and a stomach-filling load of calories, all serving as a bed to lie in for things much spicier and in need of a dance partner…

Sam Neua, Laos,  in the distance

Sam Neua, Laos, in the distance

The main road from Sam Neua goes on to Vietnam, with a side trip to Vieng Xay, where rumor has it that the King and his family were executed, ill-fitting subject with an ill-fitting end, drama set in karst landscape and tunnel hideaways, the better for the birth of modern Communist Pathet Lao, far from the prying eyes of strangers and perfect for tourist day-trips…

New Temple in Sam Neua, Laos

New Temple in Sam Neua, Laos

Another road goes to the so-called ‘Buddha Caves’, down a long snaky road that we’ll never see the end of, huffing and puffing under mid-day sun, thirsting for water, biscuits and buns, finally call it quits and turning around we two lonely pilgrims giving up the ghost and returning with nothing but dignity and an over-sized cucumber, gift from a local for an effort well-made, that cucumber epiphany and symbol of a trip whose rewards are best measured in likes not thrills, shares not acquisitions, follows not leads, and roads not taken almost more important than itinerary itself…

Ladies in Sam Neua, Laos

Ladies in Sam Neua, Laos

Xam Neua is the real deal, the real Laos, largely unsullied by commercial tourism and left to its own devices, going to bed long before the clock strikes midnight even with the circus in town and loudspeakers blasting, other than that just oodles of noodles and sticky rice in crystalline construction, beer Lao for washing it all down in haphazard fashion, epiphany coming with the crowning cucumber, in search of a salad, symbol of international friendship, for now and forever…

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