Money trees for sale! Why should I be startled?
Morning markets in Asia are a jumble of surprises – people and products rubbing shoulders in unexpected combinations. The morning market in Attapeu, southeastern Laos is a great example: a treasure trove where the nails are next to the make-up and crayons; where you can buy live catfish or invest in the nets to catch your own; where the weak fluorescent lamps can neither illuminate the dark interior corridors nor compete with the brightly angled early sunshine outdoors.
I love morning markets – except for the fact that they are so very early in the morning! I am really not a morning person… but the morning markets in Attapeu, southeastern Laos, start early – very early. By the time I was up and out at 5:30am, this small frontier town at the confluence of the Xe Kong and Xe Kaman rivers was already coming to life. Crossing the rivers on precarious little ferries that look like grass huts on pontoons, vendors and buyers from outlying areas were already arriving in town with their motorcycles, their shopping baskets and their trussed pigs and chickens. Shop keepers with permanent places at the outer edges of the large shelter that comprises part of the market were rolling up their metal doors and organising displays of hanging baskets, clothing and fishing nets.
As much as I love markets, I do find them challenging – both personally and photographically. I’m not petite, and once I have my ThinkTank around my waist and a camera or two around my neck, I take up a lot of room! Under-cover markets can be dark and crowded, with narrow aisles and a lot of people. They are wet underfoot in places, with boxes, uneven surfaces and other obstructions in others. When it comes to taking pictures, I have difficulty with the low light and high contrasts; as well with the tight spaces. Sometimes, sights and smells can be confronting.
Food is central to the markets: raw, cooked or still wriggling – everything is right here!
The best part of local markets for me is the insight it gives me into people’s lives, and the opportunity to interact with ‘true’ locals. Laos must be one of the most ethnically diverse countries in the region: Attapeu province alone, with it’s meagre population of 114,000, is home to fifteen ethnic groups, and the local market plays host to many of these. Although there are numerous local languages, most people speak Lao, and between their Lao and my Thai, I can generally have small conversations. The people were engaging, willing to chat and mostly happy to be photographed.
Markets can give you a real sense of what is important in people’s lives. My travel companions were in search of woven baskets and silks; the two products that most got my attention were fishing supplies (river fishing is critical to livelihood here) and lumps of white stuff, which I finally worked out were brewers yeast, for making the ubiquitous rice wine!
Until next time ~ Happy Shopping!