Do you really have to look like a homeless juggler when travelling Asia?
For those who have never been, Luang Prabang is a UNESCO heritage site and one of my favourite places. Its super cool laid-back charms may have harked from a time long gone when the French occupied the country. You can still see some of the French influence remaining in Laos as well as this little town, there is (semi) large boulevard on the way into Vientiene (Capital of Laos) and some avenues lining the streets of Luang Prabang. You see the French café’s in little corners with their dainty coffee mugs and restaurants serving baguettes. Some of the older generation still speaks fluent French, which my friend N and I found out when we were gesturing wildly and in multiple languages to an old Laotian guard to figure out what time the local dance show was going to be. He had given us a look as though we were nuts as we bumbled through English, Malay, Mandarin, attempts of Thai until something in me gave and threw out a French word. After which there was no stopping the man’s response.
Unfortunately though, the French influence never really made it into the local fashion scene.
It seems to be an unwritten rule amongst foreigners that whenever you are travelling to a ‘third world country’ you need to (for some reason or other) look as though you’re a travelling homeless juggler. You can spy them a mile away, these “I’m so cool, look at me backpacking Asia in so little and living the local life” tourists in their baggy, balloon-ish, MC. Hammer pants and tiny braids or dreadlocks in tow. I don’t get it. Just in case you were wondering, Laotians don’t dress like that. To be honest, I have yet to step foot in an Asian country who’s people wear clothes like that for a living.
Somehow though, the idea of what constitutes proper travel attire when travelling the exotic East is completely removed from its local context. N and I sat in a café in Luang Prabang watching as foreigner after foreigner walked by in their (from now on called) ‘Jugglers’ outfit.
After a few days and having exhausted our cycle of clothes (we had been travelling for a week at this point) we slowly gave in. We asked each other “maybe its really comfortable, those ugly pants”, “maybe it dries faster in the rain” or “maybe its breezy enough.”
The questions stayed with us as the juggler onslaught continued. Finally, after hitting yet another night market with its old ladies yelling out at us “Buy! Buy! I lucky!” we finally gave in to the curiosity and chose a lady with a fair range of these pants to sell.
(N gives it a whirl)
N bravely decided to try on a pair then and there whilst I stood around capturing the moment. It wasn’t even easy to put on! These blardy pair of pants, and required the deft skills of an old lady to make sure the pants stayed up. We were confused once they were on. Not only would they NEVER match anything we owned, I could not see them being practical at all especially when it came to travelling. Imagine wearing that and hiking up a hill, or carrying a backpack. The only place where I thought it would be comfortable would be to wear to sleep, and even that required an good balance of having the knot tight enough but with enough breathing room and still won’t cause the pants to come undone.
(I took the plunge… and regretted the crap out of it)
Bottom line is. We bought a pair each. And I truly regretted it. I brought it back with me. A souvenir! I thought. A little momento of the time N and I went to the night markets of Luang Prabang. I never wore them again, save for that candid moment when I had draped them elegantly over my pair of jeans in the middle of the streets. I came back and looked in my closet, the pants sadly in one hand and realized it didn’t belong there. Just like those homeless juggler backpackers, who didn’t look like they belonged at all when they were travelling Laos.