Standing in a Buddhist watt today I watched an elderly Laotian woman rise from her bow, break chant, and answer her phone without perceivable hesitation. (In a country with next to no infrastructure cell phones are still on every hip.) The cell phones alone don't bother me-- it’s unrealistic to expect the Laotian culture to remain uninfluenced by the technological era we live in, but that moment was sobering all the same. The Buddhist culture once synonymous with Laos has been pushed to a definitive junction, and as the Buddhist culture deteriorates, Laos national identity is being put on trial. If you were in Laos a month ago then you saw I culture I did not have the opportunity to explore; if you disembark next month you will see a country very different from the Laos that exists as I write this. Tourists are perhaps to blame. In that sense I am what I hate, but I take solace in the notion that I journeyed through Laos supporting a fast fading culture that I deeply admire.
A more dense concentration of artisans perhaps does not exist, but in equal proportion to the authentic Laotian artistry, there is a new wave of factory-made assembly line junk... Masquerading as examples of national heritage it floods the markets and chokes out local enterprise. If the price of silk tripped I could handle that, but it pains me seeing Lao village people sell packaged goods from China at the same prices as the hand woven work that has attained them world attention.
I have appreciated my time in Laos, but it has not been what I expected it to be. Laos faces a tumultuous future. A future characterized by change. Not that change alone implies any problem; I simply fear it is changing too quickly. Growing pains are imminent.