Saturday, June 13, 2009

Baguettes, Bidets, and Smelly Cheese

During the end of the 19th century, while the rest of Europe was busy tending/losing their colonies in the America's, the French were busy sending explorers to the East, into the areas now occupied by Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam. France has long lost its holdings in this area but has left a strong cultural legacy in its wake. French culture has seamlessly entrenched itself into the daily life of Laos, influencing its food, architecture, and toilet habits. Some things I've noted so far:

  • Baguettes and sandwiches.: They're everywhere. I think that the Laotions eat more baguettes than the French do... and they're usually pretty good baguettes. Lao sandwiches are usually topped with weird cured pork, pickled vegetables, spicy stuff, cheese (I haven't actually yet encountered smelly cheese), and PATE'. Pate', you know the French stuff which vaguely resembles dog food that most American's would not touch with a ten foot pole? Yea that stuff.
  • Architecture: French architecture is decaying, but well, in most major Lao towns. Graceful two story tall concrete buildings with wooden shutters and Portuguese tile grace most of the squares and waterfronts we've visited. Now they sit where they were built, slowly falling apart, rust and mold tarnishing their faces, and hint at what an exotic, tropical France may have looked like.
  • Coffee, Cafes and Restaurants with "Le and Aux" in their title: In reality, this stuff is probably for the tourists...
  • Motor Scooters: Well they aren't Vespas, but people here cruise around on 100cc motor scooters... everywhere. They even bring them on the bus.
  • Bidets: The bidet is a low slung porcelain fixture which looks like a cross between a sink and a toilet used for washing oneself after using the loo. To roughly 65 million people in the world, the Bidet is more civilized than using sanitary paper. Laos doesn't have bidets, per se. Most toilets in Laos come equipped with a spray nozzle not unlike the one in most American kitchen sinks built into the wall next to the toilet.
  • French People: I was in a cafe in Vientiene and a family, who I assumed to be the propieters walked in. The unit consisted of a grizzled undoubtedly French older man, a young Lao woman and her daughter. The older French man wore the wrinkled visage of someone who had been burnt by a life in the jungle.

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