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In 1991 Billy and Akaisha Kaderli retired at the age of 38. Now, into their 3rd decade of this financially independent lifestyle, they invite you to take advantage of their wisdom and experience.

HARDENED AND HAMMERED
Luang Prabang, Laos

Billy and Akaisha Kaderli

Thought youíve seen everything in Luang Prabang? Less than a couple of kilometers out of town on a dusty, bumpy road, lies an often overlooked village. And in town, there are racks drying foodstuff from the Mekong that gives nourishment today to townsfolk the same way it did in ancient times.

The shiny steel caught our attention. We have seen them in markets throughout Asia offered for sale, but at 1500 Kip ($1.50) they were a bargain. These machete type of knives sporting bamboo handles never interested us much, until one of our guide books mentioned the "Blacksmith Village".

TRANSMUTED  U.S.  STEEL

The Tuk Tuk driver we hired looked a little puzzled when we requested he take us to Had Hian, but we were a fare, and he was sitting as always, playing checkers with the other drivers. Located just over two kilometers from the center of Luang Prabang, we found village life sleepy except for metalworkers pounding away under thatched roofs making crude knives that are sold in the markets in town.

THE ENTIRE CREW
(note the embroidery on the lady's lap, alongside her rice bowl)

No big deal, right? Except that in the assembly they were using scrap metal, artillery casings and unexploded shells left over from the Vietnam War!

Each alleyway had a smith or two, with all the same set up. They used two empty shell housings with pipes attached to the bottom to direct air for the furnace. Something looking like two long handled toilet plungers were manipulated by a young girl in alternate motions up and down inside the long metal tubes. This action would force air out through the bottom of these tubes towards the fire, creating a forge.

 

One sheet of corrugated steel was used as a wall of the forge to block the  air, and  at the same time, separate the crafts-man from the heat.

On top of the blazing coals, were pieces of war scrap metal getting hot, turning blood red.

MOLTEN STEEL OVER UNEXPLODED SHELL
(note:  no gloves, no  shoes, no eye protection, no apron!)

The young girl is creating motion by moving the plungers up and down, fanning the flame. The molten steel is in the fire, and the craftsman is manning the tongs, turning the steel until itís just right.  

When the steel is blistering hot, he pulls it out of the fire and places it onto his anvil. This is when we take notice. His anvil happens to be a mostly buried and unexploded wartime artillery shell!

CUTTING STEEL INTO STRIPS

The molten metal is placed upon this artillery shell. The assistant then uses a huge sledge hammer with all his might to cut the steel into the correct size. Thatís when we took a step backwards (as if that would help), knowing that if this blows, we all will be meeting our Maker...

Why these shells have not detonated yet, or if they ever will, remains a mystery. However, it was a bit unnerving to be so close to this operation, one that is commonplace there in the village. 

QUIET, UNRELEASED POWER

We turned the situation over in our minds many times. Ingenious, it was, to use all this left over and valued metal from the war to benefit their lives. Questionable at best was the decision to use undischarged ordnance as an anvil! A bit unnerved, we left them to their task, and shaking our heads, boarded the Tuk Tuk to return to our guest house.

 

Arriving in town, we spotted what looked like freshly made saa paper drying in the sun on hand woven bamboo racks. Dark in color, with various  items  for design and texture, this mysterious pulp peaked our interest.

DRYING THE MOSS IN THE SUN

In a chance conversation with two young Lao men, the subject of river moss come up. "Have you seen it? Have you tried it? Alloy!" Alloy is the Thai/Lao word for delicious. Said with much gusto, our curiosity was fanned, and after a few minutes of discussing the preparation, flavoring, and how it was eaten, we began to find flattened and dried river moss everywhere.

On the street, Lao women lugged the finished product over their shoulders in baskets attached to carrying sticks.

This moss was sun-dried, rolled up, and encased neatly in plastic bags for display. In the markets, at street vendor stalls, on menus in many restaurants, it seemingly appeared where before we had never noticed.

RIVER MOSS FOR SALE

Dotted with sesame seeds, tomatoes, garlic and Asian eggplant, this parchment thin moss similar to Nori, the seaweed that sushi is wrapped in, looked appealing and flavorful.

Then one day, while walking through a village, we spotted a couple of women at their daily chores. An ancient woman was there for support, while a younger woman slopped this goop on a bamboo rack and began thrashing it with vigor. Noticing our keen attention, she smiled, and continued whacking, thinning the lumped wad of waterlogged greenstuff until it was shaped to her satisfaction.

SEASONING AND FLATTENING THE RIVER MOSS

We approached teasingly, acting like we wanted to eat it right there and then. In Lao, the woman patiently and courteously explained that now was not when it was edible, only after hours in the sun, see the racks there?

Looking to our right, there were dozens of bamboo frames of this river moss, thoroughly walloped and left in the sunshine to dry.

Before we knew it, our industrious River Moss Lady brought us a sample to try, and timidly, we did. Delicious!

PROUD, THE FINAL PRODUCT...MMMMM!

A bit salty, with a touch of garlic, mixed in with those heavy earthlike flavors of the Mighty Mekong. We realized that this was the age old food of sustenance for the enduring tribes along this powerful river, the method of which had been handed down from times long ago.

 

Ingeniously made, filled with nutrients, it supplied life giving nourishment the same today, as it had done in the traditional past. A tasty bit of antiquity in the twenty first century!

Looking for something different in Luang Prabang? Get off the beaten track. Take a walk and find something unusual in the daily life and times of the village folk.

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About the Authors

Billy and Akaisha Kaderli are recognized retirement experts and internationally published authors on topics of finance and world travel. With the wealth of information they share on their popular website RetireEarlyLifestyle.com, they have been helping people achieve their own retirement dreams since 1991. They wrote the popular books, The Adventurerís Guide to Early Retirement and Your Retirement Dream IS Possible.

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