Postcards from the Field

--Field Work / Field Talk--

To: The Readers of 21COE Project Web Site stamp

Hello! How are you?

Today I’m going to send you more news from Laos. It is March now, and right in the middle of the dry season. Along the unpaved roads, dense clouds of red dust rise up, and people returning in the evening after field work look like mud pies.

I usually send only photographs of fishes and fishing gear, but today I would like to introduce you to something a little different. I saw something interesting near Savannakhet, in southern Laos. From two inverted conical baskets made of woven bamboo, liquid trickles down through bamboo gutters and collects in a jar beneath. What do you think they are for? In fact it is equipment for extracting salt water. Here in such an inland area! In inland Southeast Asia, there is a salt-bearing bed of red clay, running from southern Laos through northeastern Thailand to the Shan states of Myanmar. During the dry season, white salt crystals collect on the surface of the ground like flowers in bloom. It’s a strange feeling, in blazing hot temperatures of over 30 degrees, to walk over these crystals, which crunch under your feet as though you were treading on lots of tiny frost needles. The salt crystals are taken with mud in the bamboo baskets I have described. Water is poured on them and led off from the bottom of the baskets and collected in jars as salt water. The liquid in the jars is then boiled away to leave pure salt.

In the rainy season throughout this region many small fish can be caught in the paddy fields and small ditches: an environment highly familiar to the local people. The small fish are used to make a dish called Pa dek . It is a kind of fermented salted fish, and to the people of Laos, this food is second only to rice in importance. The dish is made by mixing together rice bran, fish, and the salt harvested from the earth (Gua khita). The mixture is allowed to stand for over three months and is then ready to eat.

Thus three local ecological resources – rice bran, the small fish of the paddy fields and waterways, and salt collected from the earth – are combined together to make Pa dek, a specialty of this region and an extremely important element of the culture.

Well, I will send you more news before long. Goodbye!

From: IWATA Akihisa (Division of Southeast Asian Area Studies)
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