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.
Critiques | Translate
RGatward (20060) 2007-01-16 3:48
Hi david we were pretty close in early December. Excellent daily life shot, and a fascinating note. That's really quite an amazing trade, I guess if you've got all that oil money you can afford to send some of it up in smoke.
Philippe (11836) 2007-01-16 6:26
Hi, David. A highly interesting note. I didn't know wood could be as expensive as gold... You've put the precious wares in the foreground, which allows us to see the souk and the other traders.
delkoo (68) 2007-01-16 7:13
very interesting note, this is very important to learn something While looking at photos . one can that the seller take care of his stuff.
aloyho (6798) 2007-01-16 7:35
This is an interesting shot and the note makes it most educational. The wide angle allowed us to have a better view of the place and I like the layout of the people which gives good depth and variety. The boxes are well placed in a graceful curve. Well done!! Regards and another great year ahead.
SamB (1948) 2007-01-17 3:21
Wow... this isn't a very flashy piece, but is certainly interesting and informative in its own right. The three vendors hard at work provide a glimpse of the market atmosphere, and the different types of us are interesting to see.
vincz (19113) 2007-01-17 3:29
Very good daily life picture associated with a very informative note. We really feel being inside the shop, this is a very good composition.
feather (51130) 2007-01-17 10:57
We can always be assured of a good read with your posts David and this one doesn't disappoint. It is fascinating and something new to me.
I like the way you composed the image. The background is split into two parts with plenty of detail to entertain us and the subject in the foreground marries the two together. Good work.
John_F_Kennedy (42048) 2007-01-17 12:55
Such an interesting photo, I like it. We can never understand the difference in lifestyles until we travel to them.
vagabondtravels (6507) 2007-01-17 19:27
Great capture of daily life and a great TE photo.
Sharp with good color. I like how you split the frame.
pboehringer (770) 2007-01-17 23:35
Hi David, congratulations on this post! That is what makes the whole difference from TE to other photography sites. The educational and learning aspect of the world, besides obvioulsy the technical aspects of photography. The quality of the post is outstanding and so is the text. Thanks for the link to the article regarding scented wood.
cunejo200 (7281) 2007-01-18 12:06
Striking many details in this scene. The image is technically flawless - good sharpness and colors. I have not heard of ud before, and your Note is truly informative. Greetings! Danilo
plimrn (21344) 2007-01-18 21:54
I like the look of concentration on the seller's face. I like photos of markets and photos of people at work, especailly when they are engaged in activities with which I am unfamiliar. Both your note and Eic's article are fascinating.
Sorry I'm slow to respond, my internet access has been lacking. HLJ, Pat
PJE (20758) 2007-01-20 22:58
Well David the article by Eric Hansen is very interesting to read. I love this capture here too. As always your efforts on trek earth has brought something interesting for me to learn about. I love how this wood is imported in suitcases..showing its immenst value. Very interesting story about life in the Middle East. Thanks again David, and keep up the wonderful work!
rafid76 (0) 2007-01-28 4:01
you give us a great daily life of a merchant in a gulf state! i know this since i lived most of my life in Abu Dhabi and it looks identicle. I get 3oud to my mom and sis everytime i go there but since im getting them for arabic woman who are familier with quality, i cannot by them the cheap stuff :(
i really like how one many is going and the other is coming (on right and left of photo) well done
isabib (1953) 2007-03-08 15:41
Nice daily life scene. I like how you framed the shot with the main subject on the foreground. TFS!
riclopes (35577) 2007-03-29 6:23
Very interesting informative note, as usual, David, along with a great wide angle view of the interior of the shop. Love the way you succeeded to get the details of the action in the backside of the store. We actually have three diferent pictures stiched together by those shells in the midle: that gives a lot of interest and extra dynamism to the picture. A very nice exotic one.
You are a true traveller of the world!
- Copyright: David Astley (banyanman) (7789)
- Genre: People
- Medium: Color
- Date Taken: 2006-12-12
- Categories: Daily Life
- Camera: Nikon D100, Nikkor AF-S 12-24mm f/4G ED
- Exposure: f/4, 1/50 seconds
- Photo Version: Original Version
- Theme(s): Markets [view contributor(s)]
- Date Submitted: 2007-01-16 3:35