Thursday, 3 December 2015

The Myanmar discovery circuit - Day 3 (morning) - Mandalay, the Craftsmen's Quarter - Gold leaf manufacturing process - The 14th of November 2015

We were allowed to lie in bed for a while longer as we would be basically exploring Mandalay and its outskirts, as well as and getting acquainted with some of the local handicraft Arts.

We were introduced to the gold leaf manufacturing process, one of the country's most characteristic industries bearing in mind the fact that for the Burmese devout applying gold leaf to the statue of the Buddha is a sign of reverence and Burmese worshippers visiting Pagodas  often buy a packet of gold leaves at the Temple bazzars to paste onto the Buddha statues, stupas and other religious artefacts.
I must confess I had no idea it took so long to prepare these gold leaves and only realised it by following the explanations at a workshop we visited, which still uses the extremely old and venerable craft according to a time-honoured tradition. 
Typically a worker begins with a 2,5 cm x 1 cm gold leaf pounded with a wooden mallet for half an hour, re-sized and then pounded again for another five hours. The ultra-thin pieces are  then manufactured indivudually into 2,5 sq cm gold leaves before being packaged in multiples of ten.

We also had the possibility of watching the process of making oiled bamboo paper used to divide the layers of gold leaves and I was again impressed with the amount of work involved in its fabrication. The bamboo has to be soaked, beaten flat  and then dried in a process that might take up to three years.

In one of the workshop rooms we came across a grandmother and a child applying gold leaves to oiled bamboo paper sheets and if on one hand I felt that having such a young child working might easily fall into the concept of child labour work on the other hand I was impressed with her ability to do such a meticulous work and do it well.
I had brought 6 kilos of toys, baloons, colouring books and pencils, etc to distribute to the children I might encounter during the circuit and this child was actually the first one I handed some of those to. I hesitated to photograph her happiness but her smile will stay with me for a while, as she looked up from her work to accept the offer.


I ended up buying a gold leaf in the shape of a tear, a lady worker was packaging,  to offer my daughter.  



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