Postcards from the Field

--Field Work / Field Talk--

To: The Readers of 21COE Project Web Site stamp
"In the market of the Hmong people"

In February 2002, as my language training in Vientiane, in Laos, was coming to an end, I got an opportunity to visit the ancient capital of Louang Prabang. Leaving aside my original aim, there was a place that I very much wanted to visit: the "Hmong market." During the civil war, the Hmong people of Laos divided into right-wing and left-wing factions, and the factions fought against each other. After the establishment of the socialist regime, many of the Hmong escaped and became refugees.

The Hmong in the market square, however, are women who sell handicraft goods to tourists. Conspicuous among them are the figures of little girls, who have not yet lost their innocence. In contrast with the older women who are clad in traditional costume and try to detain the tourists, using all kinds of gestures, the little girls dressed in the skirts of the lowland Lao people, employ to the full their limited knowledge of foreign languages. Two years ago, when I first went to Louang Prabang, I visited the market every day for a week, and played with them. There was no reason why the women should have remembered me: it was enough just to see their cheerful faces.

When I actually visited the market square, I found that changes are occurring both in the number of shops and in the type of goods on sale. Shops belonging to the Hmong, which one would expect to be selling mainly embroidery, now sell T-shirts and Laotian souvenirs such as picture postcards. On enquiry, it seems that not only the Hmong but others, such as Lao, Thai Lu and Black Thai are dosing business there.

In due course I discovered little girls enjoying themselves with card games in front of the shops. Among them were some faces that I recalled with affection. Approaching them quietly I asked, "Can I join you?" When I did join them, the girls, giving me some cards, went on playing as before, without a change in their expression. Even though I was a foreigner, they were indifferent as to who I was and where I came from. The little girls who had asked me enthusiastically about Japan showed no reaction when the name of the country was mentioned again. I suppose that for the little girls, contact with foreign cultures has become a daily event. Does this mean that I was "accepted" by them? As I left the market, I was questioning myself: why I have feelings of resistance toward their own lack of resistance.

From: YOSHIDA Kayoko (Division of Southeast Asian Area Studies)
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