We began the day with a demonstration from our chef. Formerly of the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Bangkok, he’s an utterly charming gentleman and takes every opportunity to chat and ask how we’re enjoying his food. Needless to say, he gets a good deal of very positive feedback.
This morning, he was going to show us how he prepares a green chicken curry.
He handed round ingredients one by one. Some were familiar, some less so – this is galangal.
By the time he’d got everything nicely under way, the restaurant was filled with the unmistakeable and very appetising aroma of lemongrass, coconut and all the spices of green chicken curry. We were eager to sample, of course, and bowls of sticky rice were there in our hands in no time, ready and waiting! The challenge will be to recreate that fantastic – and not so difficult, it seems – dish at home, won’t it?
Slightly fortified by that small snack, we were ready to take on the morning and the steep and rather rickety gangplank was just the start of the adventure.
We had no idea what to expect apart from that we were going to visit a bamboo factory here in Myinmu.
It was the mode of transport that came as a surprise!
Fitting large western bottoms into narrow, Asian spaces isn’t easy but somehow we all managed it and safely wedged in, off we set.
Our drivers called to one another as they went, surely comparing notes about the enormity of the load they each had to pedal along!
As we passed by, people waved, called “Mingalabar!” and smiled broadly.
The nine of us passing by made quite a stir!
I’d like to say we passed through lovely countryside, but sadly, the plastic bag and the plastic bottle has done for this landscape as it has for many others.
At one point, it was almost like passing through a landfill site – which maybe it was?
Eventually, we all squealed to a halt and we were here at our destination. We eased ourselves out of the seats and jumped down, feeling a little stiff from the ride. I hope our drivers were able to take a long, cool drink after their labours!
The owner of the factory appeared the minute we entered the yard and was introduced to us by Aung. Her diminutive size was not indicative of her power – we got the impression she wielded a big stick around here!
We were going to see how fence panels and similar things were made from the bamboo which is farmed here and bought by the factory owner in its natural state.
It has to stand for a while, for the water to run out of the bottom and for the length of wood to dry out.
Then it’s cut and thinned down to particular lengths, depending on the eventual product. This chap was making wall panels for houses. He was working quickly and accurately, because like all the other workers here, he was on piecework.
It must be hard on the hands and physically tiring work, especially in this heat.
Around the corner, some wood was being cut. We health and safety people felt uncomfortable watching that, I can tell you.
Our next stop was the fun corner. This was where a group of women made roof panels but right this minute none of them was here.
Madame explained that she’d called them all off to help with something different, but she whistled and they all returned to their normal task, weaving narrow but longish lengths of bamboo. Like the other workers, they’re on piecework, too.
We smiled and greeted them and watched them work.
We were particularly concerned about the process of cutting the slats, however, which involved a huge cleaver.
They were working quickly and that huge blade seemed to come very close to bare feet and fingers. Did they ever have an accident? If so, how could they work – did they get sick pay? Well, the answer seemed to be that Madame paid for any treatment which was needed, but that was as far as we could understand. So the question of sick pay went unanswered.
But then I noticed the carrier bags hanging up here and there. Strangely, they were all empty…
Of course, it wasn’t the bag that was hanging up but the picture on it! I winked at one, gave a thumbs up in the direction of the bag and the giggles started. Oh yes, a handsome man to gaze at makes the hours go by a little more happily!
Leaving the girls chattering, we moved on just around the corner where the master craftsman was at work. Actually, a brother and sister working as a team, he cutting, she weaving this beautiful wall panel, evenly woven without a gap anywhere. Needless to say, this pattern and quality demands the highest price and they the highest wages.
I especially liked the way the different shades of bamboo work together to form the herringbone pattern.
Mind you, I am easily distracted by the small details anywhere, including the head on this sweeping brush. isn’t it lovely?
As we said goodbye to Madame and to the eighth grade schoolboy earning a little extra cash on a holiday job, cutting short lengths of bamboo ready for the roof panel girls to use, the trishaw cyclists were gathering their strength for the ride home.
Appropriately, Aung’s driver wore the yellow jersey!
We made a brief stop at an animist temple on the way back.
This one is the temple of the white horse and Aung pointed out how he knew.
Of course, when we looked, it was obvious!
We took a different route back, this time along the riverbank.
We could see Andanda moored, not so far away. It was nearly lunchtime!
Just when we thought we were nearly there, we turned left and back into the village though – of course, our drivers needed to return to the trishaw stop, so we hopped out there and walked back down to the riverside.
As usual, there was plenty going on there. Never a dull moment around here!