So, we turned a corner in the shopping arcade and Sanda noticed a bunch of people by one of the stalls selling elaborate Buddhas. She is a first class guide, watching for interesting situations and then asking the questions that we’d love to ask if only we could. In no time at all, she’d discovered that these were people from a nearby village who had collected some money to buy a new Buddha for their community temple and were trying to get the best deal they could from the saleslady. She was suffering from backache, she said!
They were haggling the price and deciding which one would be the best deal, being influenced by the offer of a free glass case being included if they chose wisely. I was amused that, as they discussed, haggled, weighed up their options, the elderly gentleman came over and decided to film the whole thing on his iphone. Perhaps he was reporting for the parish magazine?
Our opinion was sought, What did we think to the small Buddha they’d chosen? Well, what can you say?! We gave it a thumbs up, said that we thought they had made a wise choice and had done a great deal – at which point the Grandmother of the group told the rest that they had our backing!!
The lady with the bad back got her colleague to begin wrapping their purchase, maybe before they could change their mind!
We bade them farewell, thanked them for allowing us a small insight into their world and wished them well with their new purchase. Oh my goodness, the people here are utterly charming!
Our next stop was temple-related too. Here in Mandalay another speciality crafts is the manufacture of gold leaf for gilding. We’d seen the men at the temple earlier, applying layer upon layer of the stuff to the Buddha and seen packets of gold leaf on sale at each of the temples for that purpose, too.
But we didn’t quite realise how much hard labour was involved in the traditional process. That was soon to change.
It begins with a very thin strip of gold which is cut into small pieces and placed in between layers of rice paper by the men in the workshop. Actually, come to think of it, this was no ordinary rice paper but some which had been treated/fermented or something over a period of time until it became translucent. The workers places many sheets of it inside packages made of doeskin leather and then…
They beat it with the heaviest hammer you can imagine. Three of these men were working alongside one another creating a kind of ostinato which was definitely all part of the deal. when one missed a beat, he’d wait until he could join in the rhythm again and the energy and power the three of them created was really rather remarkable. I shot a short video of the process, as much for the sound as for the vision, but there’s no chance of uploading it here. I’ll see what I can do later.
They were working to a timer made from half a coconut shell floating in a bowl of water. It slowly filled with water and when it sunk it was time to stop.
This piece of beaten out gold was then cut into more pieces and the process of placing in between the special rice paper was repeated, then the hammering…until that initial piece of gold lead had been made into 720 pieces.
Which is where the ladies came in – working in a closed off workshop, these women packed the gold leaf into small packages for sale.
There remained one last visit on our agenda before we checked into our hotel, The Kings Palace was actually just across the road from our hotel but with a couple more things to see later, we said we’d prefer to keep going and tick this one off the list right now.
There’s a broad fortification around it and a rather hazy view of Mandalay Hill from the entrance.
It had been built by the last but one King of Burma in 1857, each side is two miles long and we entered through the East gate. Now an army camp, it had been destroyed by the Japanese bombing in WW2 and now consisted mostly of empty replica buildings.
There was a small museum, containing amongst other things, the King’s Nether Garments but no photos were allowed and you’ll just have to imagine what they looked like.
Though all the buildings were attractive, even the replicas, there was one which stood out from the rest
The Glass Palace was lovely, but like all the other structures, completely empty.
It’s in this building where the golden throne we’d seen in the Yangon Museum would have stood and in spite of the empty shell of a building, it was easy to imagine how grand it all would have been.
For us, though, the heat was building and we were feeling weary. Maybe Sanda sensed this when she suggested we go and check into our hotel and meet her again later in the afternoon when the heat would be less intense and it would be more comfortable to walk barefoot again.
What an excellent idea!
Tempting though it was, we both resisted the temptation to have a snooze!