Friday, July 29, 2011

Dropping like flies

My eyes on the ground in Laos have reported that Luang Namtha's lone picture hall, the long-decommissioned Tungsavang VDO, has been demolished. Word of this comes as a slight surprise. When I photographed it back in early 2009 the Tungsavang VDO was undergoing a makeover into a "youth activities center" courtesy of the local Ministry of Culture. Either the Ministry found additional funds to build a bigger center, or, the more likely case, somebody got hold of the land for private development and is cashing in.

Row "S" placed in front of its former refuge, before it was razed.

The Tungsavang VDO was built in the early 1980's. When first opened, it would have represented one of the very few tools used for political indoctrination by the State in this remote mountain region of the country. Such application would have been particularly pertinent due to Luang Namtha being home to numerous ethnically non-Lao residents, for whom a Lao national identity, communist or otherwise, would have been alien. Nationalistic messages, lets not forget, can easily take on the guise of good old fashioned movie entertainment. Though to be realistic about it all, the Lao Communists never did a very thorough job of developing their nation-building propaganda techniques. With the Tungsavang VDO, though, I'm sure that's what they had in mind.

Hand painted signage on the cornice of Tungsavang VDO, reduced to memory.

There's a fancy new all-weather highway bisecting the province, which makes overland shipping between Kunming, China and Singapore, and all points between, a reality. The economic benefits it will bring to Luang Namtha, however, probably won't be felt by too many locals, but rather outside investors capitalizing on the new business opportunities.

The likelihood of Luang Namtha ever being home to another movie theater is practically nil. Lets not forget that it used to have one.


  1. Just gone, New building just starting and still under construction :-(

  2. Thanks for posting this! I saw this theater (from the outside) back in 2001 and always wondered what it's story was.