Encountering Laos, by Auggie Schultz

Lao culture can be deceiving. Upon arrival, it seemed as if I’d be able to easily observe the rich culture and traditions of Laos without my interference. As a tourist group, we wanted our presence to be minimal so we could gain perspective on the culture as it is and, hopefully, be enriched by a unique culture. However, that turned out to be more difficult than any of us anticipated

.

We quickly learned that one of the effects of economic globalism on the culture is that it changed the way many native Lao people interact with visitors – or perhaps choose not to interact at all. One of the most surprising and dispiriting sights I witnessed occurred in a restaurant in the capital city of Vientiane when a gang of Western tourists huddled around a television to watch Friends rather than be present and observant in their immediate surroundings. Mediation recurred during an alms-giving ceremony when tourists trained cameras on a procession of monks. To me, it is clear that capitalism is taking its toll on Lao culture. In my six days in their country, Lao people have been remarkably accommodating and hospitable. However, I’m afraid that’s one of the reasons I don’t feel that I’ve fully experienced Lao culture. At the ubiquitous night markets, hundreds of tourists crowd around Lao workers who help them pick the right pair of flowy elephant pants and “BeerLao” tee shirts. I can’t say I haven’t picked up a few of these items myself, but this is not what Lao culture is truly like.

There is no issue with Laos benefitting from the economic growth they gain from tourism and late capitalism, but as a white student from New York who wanted to experience the raw culture of Laos, I fear its culture and way of life might be compromised by these factors.