Talat Sao - Questioning The Asian Market Experience

in ecotrain •  last month  (edited)

"I only shop at the local markets in Asia!", my part-time, western, global nomad friends like to brag. To show how environmentally & culturally aware they are.

I found those words ringing in my ears this morning, as I walked through Talat Sao - the big morning market in Vientiane, Laos PDR.

Talat Sao is the generic name now given to several blocks of market-style shopping - the old "Krua Din" (literally 'earth-floored kitchen') now sitting amongst several kilometers of outdoor-ish style stalls selling everything from fake silk, to fruits, vegetables and as much mass produced textiles, rubber shoes and cheap household goods as you can possibly imagine.



This morning I looked at the merchandise on offer with new eyes. There was nothing I needed or especially wanted to buy, and so my view was a little less clouded and a little more objective.


I saw fruits like grapes and peaches a plenty - well known as some of the most heavily pesticided fruits which come from large Chinese-owned agribusiness in rural Laos. And that rather perfect fruit sat amidst obviously far more local offerings of slightly damaged mangoes and steamed "khanom" in banana leaves - either rice steamed with meat or fish, or sweets made from cooked mung beans, coconut cream, palm sugar and peanuts. Much of the fruit I saw today is imported from southern Thailand and Malaysia.

The cheap household goods on offer are essential for local people on subsistence incomes, but the cheap locally made rattan basket stalls have all but gone and been replaced by endless imported, factory-produced plastic and cheap aluminium.

Junk textiles? Easy to wash, absurdly cheap and don't show stains, mold or dirt? Seemingly everywhere. Along with cheap synthetic replica silk, which is mandated as polite employment dress by the communist Lao government but obviously produced to meet local budgets and local laundry options. Drip dry and cheap.


I found myself feeling saddened and overwhelmed by the synthetic fabrics, designed-to-break cheap goods, plastics, chemically treated produce and local Lao people not having the luxury of asking questions about the origins of a product. Why don't they have a choice? With crippling international debt, poor infrastructure and a tragic legacy from its role in assisting the US with its wars, Laos is without doubt the poorest economy is Asia. It is money which brings choice.

I found myself reflecting again on the luxury of shopping for quality, and the luxury of choice. Of being able to afford more natural, better choices, and the political act of shopping. I firmly believe that every time we spend a dollar, baht or a Lao kip, we are VOTING for the world we are leaving for our children and the next generation. We may not be aware of that fact, but we vote nevertheless. And I asked myself today, how to be more radical within that environment? How to choose differently when most of what is on offer is, frankly, unacceptable?

As always, the answers are to be found on the edges.

On the periphery of the market, I found some vendors obviously lacking the funds to have a permanent space but selling what is local and available.



We make a difference - and cast a better vote for a different future - when we support the people on the edges who are offering goods which are more local, less manufactured, more natural.

For the financially disadvantaged amongst us, it's often not an option. But for the rest of us, it is. We can (and I would argue, must) choose to buy the bamboo instead of plastic, organic instead of swimming in pesticides, natural fiber over synthetic. So that our vote outweighs the 50 or 500 people who can't afford to cast it well.

The days of shopping at local Asian markets without question "to support the locals" are long gone.

Awareness is everything when you shop, eat and travel. Grateful for the luxury of choice, and determined to use it well.

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So true it is that the dollar is king when it comes to vote. I am grateful that you are spreading awareness of what it means to purchase something. We as consumers are responsible for the way that our world has turned out. We’ve been blinded for many many years, But people are starting to see the truth and slowly but surely a change has come.

I think shopping is our most political act. What we buy and what we offer others to buy tells us EVERYthing we need to know about a person and their values, and the future they are choosing for our world and themselves.

Local markets are awesome. And their goods like vegetables and fruits are always fresh. Plus we can pay the farmers directly especially when they are the ones who also sells it in the market.

And there are a lot of new things.

I wish the farmers were selling at the markets. 98% of the fruit and veg at this market is not local and the vendors are not the farmers. The produce comes from large scale chemical agribusiness. Fresh does not always mean healthy (sadly) when we are talking GMO and chemicals.

But yes, REAL farmers markets are wonderful and totally needing our support!! Thanks for stopping by.

By your post I think more people can support them by being more aware. Thanks for writing this awesome article.!

For the farmers!!!

So sad that this is the way the markets have gone. One of the pictures from the main market reminded of some of the markets we had in England. The quality of merchandise in those places was just awful and the atmosphere was always uncomfortable for me. I'm so glad you could still find some local produce and vendors on the edges.

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There ARE still good things to be found but they are the very small minority of what's on sale. Asking questions and being smart & selective is imperative.

Yes we all need to be making conscious decisions about how we shop and what we buy. It saddens me to think that local people are being pushed out to the edges it is happening everywhere. And yes we here in the western world are really lucky to have a choice still, even though I can't really afford what I would like to buy sometimes x

Local quality vendors are only being pushed to the edges because the majority of shoppers votes for cheap crap. We CAN change and influence that - one shopper at a time & the process is NOT inevitable.

Yes, it doesn't matter where you are in the world, does it.. you still have to put your money where your mouth is, so to speak. We are lucky to have the luxury of choice.

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Soooo true! As a producer it is constantly in my heart to try and keep quality products affordable. Feeling the weight of that after my market experience this morning. The only basket-rattan shop I saw was outside in the obvious tourist zone with items far outside the local budgets.

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It's sad to see, but it is happening all over. A lot of times people are sourcing from China and you are not supporting the local economy anymore with these local markets.