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Laos | The Growing Divide

My Lao breakfast

I’ll begin this post with a short story that I witnessed, and then add some comments.

One thing is undisputed – the influx of tourists (and money) has transformed the lifestyle of Vang Vieng residents radically. Prior to the town becoming a tourist attraction (10 years ago?) the town residents and the villagers in the countryside had a similar lifestyle. Nowadays every job in town revolves around tourists – tubing, bars, restaurants, guest houses, cafes, internet rooms, tourist agencies, hostels, massage parlors, peddlers, pancake makers, bike and scooter rentals, shake stalls. One side effect of the many is that the “goodies” originally enjoyed by the tourists have made their way into the lifestyle of this newly created Lao “middle-class” – mobile phones, A/C, motorized scooters, plasma TVs, etc. When I biked around the Vang Vieng vicinity I could confirm that the villagers had a lot of catch-up to play – people lived simple and off the land. (Luckily, they have power lines and electricity – courtesy of the Lao socialist government, I guess).

Vang Vieng biking

Now, the story. I was having my breakfast in an open café near the guesthouse – I was the only customer inside the café. The price for a fresh French bread, a cup of tasty Lao coffee and two hard-boiled eggs was 15,000 kip ($2).

An elderly woman showed up – she wore simple blue cotton clothing. She carried a covered basket on her back and – I could guess from her actions – offered her produce to the young woman from the café – who, I presume, was the wife or daughter of the owner. The elderly woman took out some of what was inside the basket. It was corn. The young lady exchanged some phrases with the old woman. The tone of her voice and the look on her face seemed to me somewhat arrogant and pejorative. She eventually made up her mind, picked up some corn ears – and paid the old lady.

Village woman - town woman

Courtesy: Author

   I did not see well how much she paid, but it was certainly not a big denomination banknote. Very likely it was one under 1000. The old lady politely thanked, smiled – as is customary in Laos, put her corn basket back on her back and went further.

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