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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
Billy and Akaisha continue to journal and photograph their
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