Laos is a curious country. I’ve never been there, but I went to lunch with a large group of Lao people and it got me thinking. I say “lunch” because that was the time of day, but every Lao gathering I’ve been to could accurately, and perhaps better, be described as an eating party.
Lao food, culture and language is often indistinguishable from that of the Isaan people of north eastern Thailand, and that is a problem. International borders that don’t align with cultural markers characteristically lead to chronic political instability, with Thailand being an excellent example.
It works the other way too, of course. In an ideal world Laos would be the Malaysia of northern Southeast Asia with a fusion of cultures making a nation state that is even more Truly Asia.* Instead of this ideal, Laos is landlocked with weak borders, a situation that contributes to and exacerbates its poverty.
The Lao people I met over lunch weren’t super rich, but they had all “made it” into the middle class of their adopted home. In some ways they were more Western than I was, although I’ll readily concede that standing around a bbq drinking beer may be a universal male trait.
In comparison I have seen very few Thais who have “made it” into the middle class in the West sharing the same earthy enjoyment of life. Indeed I have seen very few Thais “make it” in Australia as the term is generally understood, which (if my sample is representative) is notable given the relative population sizes.
That alone must makes Lao an interesting place.
*As Malaysia likes to describe itself.
Note – I’ll reflect on some of these points in greater depth in future posts.