The cat's ears picked up noise & laughter coming from the other end of the main street. As it wandered towards the source, Mr Saitama & Mr Kyoto staggered towards it with red noses, supporting each other supporting each other (nope this is not a typo). Half of Muang Sing seemed to be at some event (celebration? wedding? no idea) going on somewhere down the road, & they had been invited to eat & drinkdrinkdrinkdrinkdrink one big fat drop too many of the local tipple. Not even 4PM in the afternoon & they were on their way back to the guesthouse to KO, without getting mowed down by the big fat trucks thundering down the main street on their way to the Chinese border.
Further down the street the cat stumbled upon the government tourism authority office for trekking guides, & naturally had to have a peek & a brief chat with a guide (think A.W.E.! 2004). There were maps & big fat posters touching on ecotourism & conservation, introducing the ethnic groups in the area, & some pointers on cultural sensitivity & dos & don'ts when going on treks to visit hilltribe villages. The cat didn't go on any treks nor visit any of the surrounding villages, but laobumpkin has more on trekking in Lao, & there is more info on the impact of ecotourism on Muang Sing here & here.
The posters were professionally designed & printed on high quality canvas-like material. At the bottom of each poster there were the usual few selections from the assortment of official logos & acronyms that tourists to Lao soon learn to recognise, like GTZ, JICA, SNV, UNESCO, UNICEF, UNDP, ADB (the guys funding Nam Theun 2), & this. The land of a million elephants is now the land of a million NGOs.
10 postcards & sets of stamps = 10 days' wages:
Most convenient souvenirs for family & friends back home & in the US...cheap, relatively easy to find, don't need much agonising over choices & colours, don't weigh down your backpack, & won't leave the recipient wondering what the heck to do with a useless trinket & spend the rest of its life as a dust-collector. Many people love receiving snail mail with colourful stamps from some remote location in the world too. Inspired by The Lau Baby =)
The stationery shop that sold these postcards had the usual exercise books, notebooks, pens & rulers displayed in the usual glass cabinet, & a photocopier machine - a surprise to the cat, who had read many (outdated) accounts describing Muang Sing as place with only a few hours of unstable electricity supply per day. The cat would later realise how essential photocopiers are to improving education standards in Lao - producing cheap pirated versions of textbooks for students who can ill-afford the real thing. The cost of one postcard plus stamps for postage to USA roughly equals the average daily wage.
What Akha subgroup is this?
There are wonderful postcards with tasteful pictures showing the beauty of land & the people & colourful festivals for 1500-2000 kip. & there are far from tasteful ones with pictures ranging from intrusive to plain insulting, showing little respect for the subjects in the photos, also for 1500-2000 kip. Which design would you choose? One particular design shows a barechested hilltribe lady with a melon in each hand. Postcard photographers seem to love zooming in on hilltribe mothers breastfeeding too...why don't they photograph their own wives breastfeeding & sell thousands of copies of the pictures at USD0.20 a piece too? ;)