Thursday, June 30, 2005

Cultural Exchange

I've already mentioned how the French have been influenced by their colonial subjects (see Lao Cuisine), but the traffic has been two-way and it's interesting to see what the locals (both here in Cambodia and in Laos) have adopted from their erstwhile masters. It was inevitable that the French leave a culinary footprint here, but it was not to be in the form of haute cuisine like foie gras, or confit de canard, instead the memory of the French is kept alive by the humble baguette. Baguette and paté is a firm favourite and vendors can be found from Vientiane in the north all the way to the gulf of Thailand.

Although baguettes aren't exactly classy, the colonial era architecture of Phnom Penh and Battambang (colonial buildings are far rarer in Laos as it was a bit of a forgotten backwater) more than compensate. Some of the villas of central Phnom Penh are grandiose. But perhaps the most endearing reminder of the French can be found in Savannakhet, where on weekends and late in the afternoon groups of older men get together in the quiet streets to play pétanque.

Some of the newer cultural influences are not as charming. While I've been traveling in Thailand, Laos and Cambodia there has been a continual irritant that I've never been able to get completely away from: karaoke videos. You just can't get away from them as the locals are completely obsessed by them. If you're unlucky enough to get a bus with a TV then you know you're in for an unpleasant ride. Or just wandering around any residential area in the evening one can see whole families huddled around the TV either watching dire Thai soap operas (Latin American telenovelas look like top-budget productions compared to these) or endless karaoke videos. It's a shame really, as some of the music I've heard round here isn't bad at all, but this stuff is in a league of its own.

No comments: