Jeopardy! category: THE FAR EAST (15-04-2014)
$2000 clue: In the Lao language the name of this Laotian capital means “city of sandalwood”
The gist: Like so much of good trivia, this clue is just a cracked-open window onto a greater debate.
As it turns out, Laos’ capital of Vientiane (itself a Gallicized pronunciation of its local name, which is closer to “Viang Chan”) does, in fact, seem to derive from ancient Lao for “city of sandalwood.” But to many Laotians the capital’s name in fact means “city of the moon.” The discrepancy comes from the fact that the ancient Lao language is written syllabically (it uses an abugida) while modern Lao is written alphabetically, like English, and as a result the words for “moon” and “sandalwood” were spelled the same in the ancient language.
In any case Vientiane, which had been a small settlement centred around a Hindu temple, came into its own in the year 1354 when it became an administrative centre of the Lan Xang kingdom, which controlled much of Southeast Asia from over 350 years, until 1707. in 1779 it became a vassal of the kingdom of Siam, against whom the city attempted and failed to rebel, for which it was burnt to the ground in 1827 and fell into disrepair until the arrival of French rule in 1893, who made it the capital of the protectorate of Lao six years later.
Vientiane lies on the Mekong (discussed earlier in the week with respect to Phnom Penh), and contains many spectacular structures, including many Buddhist temples like the mangnificent Pha That Luang (“Great Stupa”). Although a relatively small city for the region, with fewer than a million people, it has been rebuilt and renovated many times (usually due to wartime destruction) and is a popular tourist destination today.
The clue: The last of this category’s three capital clues! Know them well. All three have been stingy with any information that might get you to the correct response without simply knowing the country’s capital, as this sort of clue tends to do. Again, a simple clue wrapped in an interesting package.
In Jeopardy!: Vientiane, apparently a lesser-known capital based on this clue’s triple stumping, appears in 13 clues in the J!Archive. Only two of them look for the city as the correct response. Of the remainder, six look for Laos (naturally), and three for the Mekong. The other two clues are in categories consisting of lists of capitals, and Vientiane is the correct response of neither. It’s illustrative of two very important things to know about for Jeopardy!: world capitals and major rivers.