Scrap metal

So those spoons from yesterday – where DO they come from???

Well after visiting the Plain of Jars, we headed out of the tourist zone to a small village where our local guide wanted to show us what the Lao people have done with all the scrap metal left from the bombs dropped on Laos during the Secret War of the late 1960s and early 70s.

As you can see in the pictures below, they have been quite creative in the way they have chosen to incorporate the metal into buildings:

Our hotel in Phonsavan also had some of this “scrap metal” on display:

Many Lao people try to make a bit of extra money from collecting and selling this metal, unfortunately, often putting their own lives at risk as they detonate the UXOs to release the useable metal. Many people have lost limbs and even their lives whilst attempting this.

We happened upon a group of young men doing exactly that though in a fairly controlled manner. Clearly they had done it before. Here is their stash:

Errr, yes that piece on the left is now a “candle holder” at our house. I made Neil take that one through customs!

and our fearless friend:

We watched as they detonated a couple of tiny explosives which they were obviously very well practiced at.

In that same village, we happened upon this lady:

She was melting down the scrap metal to make the spoons! We had eaten with them in fact, earlier in the day and expressed interest in seeing them made so our guide sought out this lady so we could watch the process:

She throws the scrap metal into a kiln.

Carefully ladles the molten metal into a mold…

And a few minutes later, the spoons come out, all shiny…

So yes, at something like 20 cents each, we had to buy 10 of them. For our Lao dinner party later this fall, you understand! Noodle soup for everyone!!!

13 thoughts on “Scrap metal”

  1. Wow, how incredible! And also very sad that this 'scrap metal' has become an everyday way of life for these people.

    I wish my spoons had a story to tell other than countless trips between my porridge bowl and my mouth.

  2. Conor and Miriam, yes it really was quite an eyeopening trip in a lot of ways. The fact that so many unexploded ordnances are still posing threats to people thirty years after the fact just boggles my mind…

  3. This post is incredible. Sounds like you had a good guide too. It seems this is one problem that could be solved with not very much $$ if someone with resources applied themselves. Or bought up the scrap for a fair price so people didn't have to risk their lives extracting it.

  4. Kablooey, Unfortunately, I think it costs a great deal to remove all this scrap metal safely but it seems slowly but surely they are getting there. You can read about the work done by MAG here: and here

    But there are still literally hundreds of thousands of UXOs littered across Laos.

    MAG are training people to detonate the devices safely but it seems like a very slow, painstaking process literally a few people at a time… Their latest newsletter does state that productivity (clearing unsafe land) increased by 90% in the past year so that is encouraging… Between April and June 2009, nearly 10 500 UXOs were destroyed…

    Again, every time I think about it, it just blows my mind that this little country is still suffering so much so many years later…

  5. I think a big takeout from your post today is that there is virtually no limit to the resilience and ingenuity of people. In the west, we moan and whinge about what's wrong and assert that the "government should do something about it" – while these people simply get on with life and use whatever resource is there. Great post.

  6. Geoff – yes it is pretty humbling to see how little people get by with over there.

    Simply Life – it was the least we could do.

  7. amazing that uxo has been turned into cutlery. swords into plowshares and bombs into tableware . . . the resourcefulness is astonishing, isn't it?


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