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Photographer's Note

These woodchips, being sold out of suitcases in the Dirah Souk (CHECK SPELLING) in Riyadh, are no ordinary woodchips – a handful of the best quality will cost you close to US$200. They are scented woodchips known as ‘ud’ (sometimes spelt as ‘oud’ or ‘aoud’) and are much sought after in many Middle East countries. They are placed over burning charcoal in a type of burner, similar to an incense burner, and the smoldering woodchips produce a fragrance that is used by wealthy people to keep their homes smelling nice, and by poorer people on special occasions like weddings.

The most expensive ud comes from trees that have a natural scent in the wood – and these are harvested from forests in south-east Asia (varieties from Vietnam, Cambodia and the Borneo rainforests being the most prized) – whilst the cheapest ud comprises ordinary woodchips that have been artificially impregnated with a scent.

Natural ud is becoming harder and harder to find with so much deforestation having occurred in south-east Asia. The most expensive ud from Vietnam currently wholesales in Singapore for up to US$10,000 per kg. Most of the world’s ud trade is controlled by Chinese traders in Singapore who buy from suppliers in south-east Asia, and then sell to buyers from the Middle East.

Whilst doing some Internet research to find out whether ‘ud’, ‘oud’ or ‘aoud’ is the correct spelling (my research was inconclusive), I came across a fascinating article written by Eric Hansen in an issue of Saudi Aramco World called ‘The Hidden History of Scented Wood’ which you can read here
if you are interested. In his article Eric said that each year Singapore wholesalers turn over US$12 billion worth of ud.

Note the jeweler’s scales in this photograph that the market trader will use to weigh the ud. In the lower left you can see some ud in apothecary jars – these are the most expensive. Other pricey varieties are stored wrapped in velvet cloth in suitcases with gold plated locks. Even the larger twigs in the suitcase on the right, which I assume are a cheaper type, the trader seems to be handling with great care.

So if you are ever traveling from Singapore to the Middle East, and notice people hand-carrying bags of woodchips – now you know why. The contents of their bags are probably worth ten times your camera bag with all your Nikon or Canon gear.

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Additional Photos by David Astley (banyanman) Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Star Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 1237 W: 108 N: 2568] (7789)
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