Some teak wood, anyone?

Added 07 Jan 2015

We have moored overnight near the sandbank and some guests have a very early start this morning as they have opted for an optional hot air balloon ride over Bagan. Needless to say, they have a wonderful time.

This morning we are all heading to Minnathu Village. Richard’s group pops into the school to see the children, and we all visit a local family who show us how they weave cotton and make garments. The family are delightful and although some of the processes seem quite complicated it is clear you learn from an early age and therefore understand the patterns well.

Back at the riverside we are fascinated to watch a lorry being loaded with huge pieces of teak wood. The wood seems to have been dumped at the water’s edge but most of it is submerged so it is a real struggle to pick it up and carry it up the bank to the lorry. Each piece needs around 12-15 young men to lift it. The vehicle is well loaded and we’re inclined to take bets on whether it will be able to move off the sandy bank, but they’ve clearly done this before and they head off to the wood yard successfully.We're not certain if any of this activity was entirely lawful by the way!

This afternoon we visit a workshop where we are given an excellent explanation of the craft of lacquer-ware. It is a long and complicated process. Resin is taken from the Thit-si tree. This sap has a very strong adhesive quality and a splendid brilliance. The raw material used to manufacture any object is bamboo. This is cut out, softened and worked to give the shape of the desired object. The first lacquering of the interior is covered with a resin paste of lacquer and mixed ashes. It is then left to dry for at least a week. The object is then carefully sandpapered if necessary. The object is engraved by hand using very fine, sharp tools. The process is then repeated but with each new layer of lacquer, a new colour is introduced – red, green, blue or yellow and sometimes gold. After 7 or 8 processes, the lacquer is again sandpapered with teak wood ash and then washed carefully. Some fine lacquer-ware will have up to twelve layers. It can take months to finish an object and unsurprisingly they don’t come cheap!

After the explanation, we head off to the workshop to see the process first hand. The workers are mostly young and they have apparently learnt the craft from their parents and grandparents. The end results are beautiful and there is of course a shop!

We also visit the Ananda Temple, one of the most important temples of Bagan. It houses four standing Buddha’s, one facing East, North, West and South. It was damaged in the earthquake of 1975, however it has been fully restored and is well maintained. In 1990, on the 900th anniversary of its construction, the temple spires were gilded.

Dawn Furlong

Photo: Young woman weaving, Minnathu Village © Dawn Furlong