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Banana Pancakes and the Children of Sticky Rice    cover photo

Banana Pancakes and the Children of Sticky Rice 2015

Highly Recommended

Distributed by Grasshopper Films, 12 East 32nd St., 4th Floor, New York, NY 10016
Produced by Valérie Schuit for Viewpoint Productions
Directed by Daan Veldhuizen
DVD, color, 88 min.

High School - General Adult
Anthropology, Geography, Laos, Travel and Tourism

Date Entered: 01/06/2017

Reviewed by Cliff Glaviano, formerly with Bowling Green State University Libraries, Bowling Green, OH

Filmmaker Veldhuizen follows friends Khao and Shai as they respond to changes in the village of Muang Ngoi, Laos from the successful promotion of tourism. Khao remains a farmer, but Shai, who has come back to the village following living in the city, is full of ideas on how to make money from tourism. Viewers are introduced to Khao and Shai as they reminisce on their childhood adventures while boating on the Song Nam River. Khao’s pride is his rice field and his ability to provide for his relatives. Shai’s self-reliance and the entrepreneurial skills he learned in the city give him confidence to open a business in Muang Ngoi.

Prior to being introduced to the village at the Awk Pasao (end-of-rainy season festival) by the village fathers, the filmmakers provide an overview of traditional local cultures. Religious traditions include Buddhist monks, their temple, prayers and chants. Traditional occupations include weaving, basket making, and fishing net repair in addition to planting, harvesting and cooking the sticky rice that Laotians love to eat. The film being made is touted as a big boost to local tourism and a great potential boost to village economy.

While Khao expands his agricultural focus to include some guided kayaking trips on the Song Nam and tours of the jungle and nearby caves, Shai embraces increased access to electricity which makes life easier and faster. Electricity also includes computers, amplifiers, and speakers, introducing social media, loud music and nightlife to Muang Ngoi. Eventually, even the tourists begin to notice that the quality of their experience of the traditional Lao culture has been impacted by the numbers of their fellow tourists, the noise and bustle that resulted from modernization and electric lights and amplified sound. Essentially, the quiet, simple beauty of Lao lifestyle and culture has been threatened by modernization and effective promotion of tourism. Simple breakfasts of sticky rice and tea have been replaced by “all you can eat” banana pancake buffets.

Banana Pancakes and the Children of Sticky Rice is highly recommended. Though the film is in multiple languages, chiefly Lao, excellent English subtitles are provided as necessary. Promotion of tourism and increased popularity with global trekkers may come at a high cost to traditional cultures. Tourism is good for Muang Ngoi leaders. Tourism is probably good for Khao who adapted to change, augmented his farming lifestyle and built a concrete home for his extended family. Progress may be neutral or negative for Shai whose business made less money than expected and who abandoned Muang Ngoi for an internet romance.