Silk worms, Buddhist monks & Fireworks


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Asia » Laos » West » Luang Prabang
September 27th 2010
Published: October 11th 2010
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After escaping the menace of free whiskey buckets, we boarded a 'VIP' bus amidst a chorus of yuppies complaining that it didn't have AC, or a toilet. I think they looked at the wrong photo when they were buying their tickets, and by India standards at least this bus was cush. It trundled along winding hilly jungly roads until we reach Luang Prabang, a Unesco protected village in Northern Laos. It's full of old french colonial buildings, golden wats, silk shops and saffron robed monks wandering around. It's also chock full of yuppies and we both feel a little bit uncomfortable here. However, wiggled between the upscality there's still friendliness and authenticity.

About a week ago, I learned that one can raise silkworms inside your house easily. I've learned quite a bit about it since then, mostly from the internet and have plans! One of the companies in town offers a free tuk-tuk ride to their weaving centre and a free guided tour. Seeing some of the process in person helped to convince Brian that it's not such a crazy idea after all. Did you know that North America has native silkworms? They eat red oak leaves. The cultivated silk that we are most familiar with is from the silk worm that eats mulberries leaves. They need to be fed 3 times a day until they turn yellow, after which you plunk them in a tube and they spin their spitty silk coccoons. The silks is held in place by a gummy substance, and to unravel them you simmer them in water. To get the best quality silk, you find the beginning of the thread from 5 or so casings, and unravel them together using a reeler that is like a wheel or a bobbin. It's twisted together to form silk thread. Combine these and you have yarn, or weave them together and you have cloth.

We learned about natural dyes as well, like annato. The first time the dye is used, it gives a red colour. The second time the dye is boiled, with an added rusty nail, it is a deep purple. Turmeric, indigo, carmine, sappen and rosewood are all used.


All the kids here seem to have fireworks, and set them off all day. So a mission was launched to obtain some for us to launch. The kids couldn't tell us and the guys near them just said 'up that street'. We walked the whole length of it and wandered through a market to no avail. A young Buddhist monk (robes and all!) stopped us to chat and asked us what we were doing. We expained using sound effects what we were looking for and he asked a man nearby. He said "AH! It's near the wat, you can come with me!" He and a younger monk led us down a few alleys past backyards to his temple. We walked through the grounds getting an impromptu tour (in their stupa there is a very old buddha statue). He told us to wait for a few moments and returned with an older woman holding a plastic bag full of bottle-rockets. We bought 10 and gratefully pocketed them. Our monk friend asked us if we wanted to come see him chant with the other monks (I guess it was that time of day). So we sat at the back while 30 monks of all ages chanted in front of a 20ft high golden buddha, surrounded by buddhas, idols and incense. We watched for a while, and left while the sun was setting.

We went back the river near our guesthouse, triumphantly set off our bottle rockets and were joined by a gaggle of kids with fireworks. Mission complete!

This entry entry was going to be punctuated with lovely pictures of temples and worms and ladies weaving, but our card reader corrupted our sd card and we cant access our photos until we have access to a computer with linux and a lot of time. So use yer imaginations folks!

Take care!
Jenna and Brian

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4th October 2010

silky poop
So cool! When you get back I want in on this silk worm project.
11th October 2010

im-aaaaaaa-gination!
i kinda liked the photolessness. i think it made this one of my favourites, getting the chance to imagine everything: the silk worms eating oak leaves in a tube; all the marvelous dyes (indigo, i think, was the original thing used for dying blue jeans?); stalking through the town and yamming it up with this monk and winding into and out of mysterious alleyways and coming out into a sunny clearning presenting a magical old woman with fireworks! And then sunsets and chanting! hahaha, I could go off and write a whole children's book based on this. Thanks for sharing, friends :)

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