Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Moving bamboo

The first time I stayed in Chang Khan, Thailand, I remember the darkness on the Lao side of the river. At night, there was only the tree line against the field of stars. I asked the friend I was staying with why there were not even the lights of cars in the town. "Very few people in Laos have cars and there aren't any roads. Most of the towns on the river use the river."

Things have changed - there are still the slow boats that go up and down the river, sunk low in the water because of the weight of whatever they're transporting. And bamboo is cut up river and floated down to Vientiane, where groups of people working together haul them up on the levee and made furniture, baskets, matting and fencing from the bamboo.

The daughter of a friend of mine missed one question on her final high school exam. The question was "What is the most important kind of wood and why?" She wrote "bamboo" and listed all the reasons why. The correct answer was "teak" because it's expensive and is exported (however, the profits from teak go to only a few). But bamboo - you can't go through a day without touching something made of bamboo, whether it's a floor mat, a sticky rice basket, the house you're living in, a fence made of bamboo where you're hanging your clothes to dry. It's an egalitarian kind of wood.

Bamboo on the shore. In both pictures, the city on the opposite bank is Sri Chiengmai in Nongkhai Province.

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