Saturday, January 5, 2013

Yagon, Myanmar

Reclining Buddha

Really don't like staying up all night any more. The flight was only five hours but I never seem to be able to now it's 6 am, 3 Doha time, and we're still up. Good thing we have a full day tour to keep us busy and walking around. Will sleep well tonight!

The Buddhist temples here are plentiful and ornately decorated. Sadly the names are not frequently recorded in script we can read....some I did get, others...well, I will make a stab at their names. The first temple was one of a reclining Buddha, I believe called the Chaukhtatgyi Buddha.To my untutored eye, it looked as though he was carved out of a pure white rock like maybe alabaster, marble, or some other stone. The face had a beautiful smooth surface that was actually achieved through the use of bricks and concrete! The robe was spectacularly decorated with gold leaf, mirrors, and precious stones of various sorts. 
The foot of Buddha
Elsewhere around the temple there were other Buddhas of varying ages. There are also eight Buddha figures that are representative of the 8 planets and have been tied to the days of the week. Each day of the week is further associated with a particular animal, for example Monday is a tiger and Tuesday a lion. People would go to the day of the week they were born on and wash the Buddha figure with the water that is provided for that purpose. It appears that they will also go to the “unlucky” days to forestall bad luck – apparently the water dragon on Saturday is an ill-omened character and thus quite (un)popular.

Hair relic can be found here
We headed off for Botataung Paya, an octagonal golden stupa that has one of the hair relics from the Buddha. The story is that at one time some Burmese merchants came upon the Buddha meditating and they offered him some rice. In exchange they were given eight hairs from his head. They have been enshrined across the country and are the sites for many to go to pray. This particular stupa has eight spokes that you walk through to go all the way around it. They have numerous statues of the Buddha from throughout the ages, many thousands of years old. The walls are ornately decorated with medallions, all covered in gold leaf. While most of the people seemed to have come just for the hair relic, we took the opportunity to walk around with our guide, Thouzah, to see all of it. From there it was a short trip to the lake with a spectacular views of stupas and a dragon boat converted into a rather expensive restaurant.

Clock Tower
Burma /Mynmar was long a colony of England, winning their freedom in about 1947. While the British may be gone, they left behind hundreds of buildings throughout the country. Walking through the downtown section, you could see the influence on almost every corner. Interestingly, a few buildings were reminiscent of others we had seen in other ex-British in particular was a building very similar to Raffles in Singapore. Clock towers seemed to also be popular. One of the historic hotel we roamed through was the Sands Hotel. The wood faced walls and old fans lazily rotating from the ceiling are also reminiscent of the hotels in Singapore...why change a good floor plan?

Yagon China Town and Shwedagon Paya

Chinese Market - Thouza, our guide
Making rice paper
The Chinese market area is where they sold every kind of fruit, vegetable and, of course, dead animals; an extremely chaotic, noisy and pungent place. There were a number of vegetables that were new to us and we also discovered that the staple ingredients for most Myanmar food included our favorites; garlic, ginger and hot peppers! The most fascinating shop was where the men were making rice paper. They put a glob of the batter on their hand and then they rub it very quickly on a hot griddle, leaving behind a thin sheet of the batter. Another man moves back and forth, turning and pulling off the cooked rice sheets. The minute a griddle is clear, the first man is back with his fist full of batter. There must have been twenty griddles at least that they were working to keep the sheets going. There is a big influence from the Thai and Chinese on the Myanmar cooking...a bit of India also but more so in the regions closer to the Indian border. We headed for one of Thouza's favorite Thai restaurant for dinner that night. It really was quite cheap, costing only $19 for three of us, including tip. Perspective is important...she thought the dinner Jeff bought was really expensive...lobster for $10!

Shwedagon Paya is probably the most famous pagoda in the entire city, sitting on a hill and visible from almost everywhere in the city. It glitters gold always but in the setting sun, it magically turns a crimson gold and orange. The very top of the pagoda has a round ball, studded with thousands of diamonds that also catch the suns light, reflecting it around the large, opulent platform.

Remember that legend about the hairs from the Buddha? The king that received them some 2500 years ago was told he should guard them well. He did so by enshrining the hairs in a golden temple on a sacred hill, the first building of the now famous Shwedagon Payahe. While legend claims thousands of years, archaeologists suggest closer to the 6th century as a construction period-we noticed this happening over and over again on this trip. Either way, it is still an impressive piece of architecture. The temple has had to be re-built many times due to earthquakes, war and raids, causing damage to varying degrees (let's call that the simplified version of history). The current structure dates back as far as the 1400's but the actual stupa was re-built/ repaired in the 1700's. Over the years, various Kings and Queens provided the means by which the stupa was embellished or expanded, creating many additions to the stupa itself and its surrounding platform.

Like anything else, maintenance is a constant process and here it’s a real process. Keeping these wonderful golden stupas and temples in a land of torrential downpours requires constant vigilance. While some things are painted gold, others are covered with gold leaf.  The stupa is repaired and then covered with a tacky lacquer that allows the gold leaf to stick well to the structure. Then, you have to get the gold leaf, donated by many enthusiastic believers and tourists. Well, you don’t want to have people traipsing up and down the stupa to get the gold leaf so they deliver it…using a dragon cart. 

Ngapali Beach

There are places that are just refreshingly beautiful and charming. We fortunate, rich people seem to spend so much time working to buy more, that we forget the important parts...the people In our lives, friends and family and even acquaintances who just haven't become friends yet. Not that we can give up working but I think the people here remind you of the importance of people.

As we walked and biked around this portion of a mini paradise, we saw people working 
hard...a lot physically harder than most of us...yet stop when a child runs up and picks them up toss them in the air. The joy at work, the greetings as they pass, the shy flirtations. From our perspective it looks like they have little enough, and it's not like they don't want to get ahead and improve things for their families, it's that they still seem to keep people in mind first.
A serenade of gentle waves lapping the beach and muted sunlight woke us in the morning. After a delightful breakfast with a wonderful spicy glass noodle soup and lots of fresh papaya (there was actually many more choice available but when one is papaya, well, what more need I say?) we headed off for a neighboring village to see the famous standing Buddha looking out to the sea.

This island also has many cats and dogs roaming the streets. We named one the buddha dog because no matter how close the bikes, scooters and cars came, he never flinched.  There's a dance to the driving here. The people walk on the sides, yielding to everyone. The bikes come next, weaving around the people, ringing their bells and dodging larger vehicles. The motorbikes/ scooters come in to the melody, weaving around the lesser road users and sounding their louder horn. Next we have various kinds of tuk-tuks, usually a motorcycle with an attached trailer for carrying people. Smaller versions might have a bike with room for four or so, another version has a bike with a side car for two...or four if they are kids. They are also dancing along the roads with their various horns adding to the music. Now we see the cars enter...not too many but a few, impatient to drive faster than the current musical dance is flowing. They get their moments for speed and horn but not as quickly as they'd like (probably a wealthy foreigner anyway). 

Now you add in the various work trucks and serious people buses...still open air style but large. Their presence sends the lesser folks giving way to their yet louder horns. The hotel buses have to get in the mix, though most are not too large but still demand attention and get it. Finally, the serious BIG buses join the cacophony, taking up the entire width of the road, requiring everyone to drop off the side while they thunder past, horn blaring. Fortunately there are few of these. We did, however, somehow manage to witness three of them, coming from different directions, arriving at the same point where a small tuk-tuk  driver was meekly minding his own business. The buses jostled for priority, finally squeezing by the lone vehicle, one at a time.

Ngapali Beach, continued

Drying fish

Back to our took us through two small villages with many open air businesses on the side, selling everything from foods to car parts. Passed one area that was definitely the repair shop where all kinds of motorbikes, motors and a car or two sat in various stages of repair. Along the roads people strung out blue netting where they spread out sliced fish for drying. Throughout the walk we saw young monks with their food bowls, going from home to home where people shared their rice and other foods. It seemed that the youngest monks, generally boys around 6 or 7 years of age had this task. It's not uncommon for young men and women to spend a month or a year or more as a monk during their lives. Other places were restaurants where people ate as well as homes right on the street, again with the dining right in front...perhaps the easiest way to get to talk with your neighbors...or see what they're doing...
Parade for local temple
We stopped to watch a group of young men playing a game of something. It looked like a cross between soccer and volleyball. They kicked and hit the ball as in soccer – no hands allowed – but the purpose was to get it over the net as in volleyball. Saw the game played all over the country! We also managed to run into a parade, the purpose of which was to raise money for the local temple. Never a dull moment.

We finally located the bay that would lead to our path up the hill. As in Japan, all Buddha statues and temples have to be at the top of a local hill...the highest one possible. The fishing people come here during the fishing season to bring in their catch to sell to the local people, restaurants and hotels. Most of these people live in temporary huts along the beach, moving on with the fish during the course of the year. We walked along the water's edge, watching the boats as well as the tiny crabs making their homes. These crabs make pellets out of the sand, pushing them out of their holes. The intricate patterns they make in the sand are amazing. The pellets range from minute to a good cm in size.

We may be walking down the beach but it's also a road for the tuk-tuks and other vehicles, bringing people to the start of the trail to the Buddha. While it was quite easy for us to walk across the sand berm and onto the trail, it was not so easy for the vehicles. The sand was chewed up, soft and rutted. Straw had been thrown down for traction but I think it was getting dug into the sand more often than not. The trail, however, sported numerous vehicles so eventually they did seem to make it though the barrier.

Protecting the land
The statue is one of a standing Buddha, facing out to the sea. He holds the earth between his fingers with his other hand facing out to the see to stop tsunamis or cyclones from entering the bay. He was successful in 2008 when the typhoon struck the southern part of the country...they only had a minor backlash from the storm. The view of the open ocean and surrounding islands is spectacular from the top. It's a place where local people come on holidays to celebrate with their families. We saw lots of people up at the top enjoying picnic lunches.

We took an evening stroll along the beach that night, watching the women carry large fruit baskets, stopping to sell pieces of the fruit to gathers. Young men played at kicking balls around, barefooted...must have tough toes, dads playing in the water with the kids, sandcastles under construction...a very busy place with both tourists and locals enjoying it. Don't know the story behind it but there's a mermaid sitting on a piling in the ocean, looking out to sea. She posed nicely for numerous shots at sunset.

Next morning, after an equally luxurious breakfast, this time with beautiful avocados, we took off for a bike ride, heading back towards the airport. This direction we passed many more hotels, most in use and a few under construction. Sure hope the occupancy picks's not real busy...but then again, the hot tourist season seems to be after Christmas so we shall see. Nice for us because it's easy to get around but I know they need the business. We passed another small fishing village and numerous tourist shops, all located very near to the entrances to the various hotels. The bikes were perfect because we could stop easily and look at various things. Little did we know how common all of the tourist items were to become.

Although this is primarily a Buddhist country, the people, as in Japan, have embraced Christmas so there were Christmas decorations all over the hotel as well as in some of the shops in town. The hotel had a special dinner with local dancing and shows…including even a visit from Santa.


View from the top of...

I don't know what it is about us and early morning flights. This time we had a wondrous wake-up call at 3:30 for a 6 am flight. Aren't there any flights later in the day? What do pilots do all day long?

Bagan is now two cities, Old Bagan and New Bagan. At one time people lived throughout the Bagan Archaeological Zone but now the area has been designated as a historical site and so the residences have been moved...possible to do in certain kinds of governments.

The area is like Ankor Wat on hormones-the sheer number of stupas and temples and major or lesser buildings is absolutely astounding, mind-boggling, and unbelievable.  It covers an area of about 26 sq miles where kings built over 4000 Buddhist temples during roughly 230 years. While some damage has been done due to the same issues of earthquakes, wars and looting, there are many impressive temples. It was apparently one of the pilgrimage points for Buddhists throughout Southeast Asia. From what we gather from our guide and the few English signs, (VERY few) temples are still being built in honor of various deceased members of families. Some of the smaller temples are also being fixed up by various individual families (could be a group of families, hard to tell). Does guarantee that the number of temples will be ever increasing due to the continual desire to do good deeds...and impress young ladies. 

Temples here are built with one room and one Buddha or else with four rooms and four Buddhas within. Four and seven both seem to be auspicious numbers and are found frequently in things. Some of the temples have fabulous frescoes still remaining on the walls, though those are the ones that we couldn't photograph...flash seems to damage them. Due to the sheer quantity of temples, stupas, Buddhas, and other various structures, I am hereby publishing a disclaimer; I have no idea which picture goes to which name for which building. Therefore, they're nameless here. Hope you just enjoy the pictures.

Stupas at Shwezigon
Shwezigon Paya
The Shwezigon paya (the only one I can identify) is one of the main Buddhist sites in the northern portion of the Bagan area. It is home of the largest surviving bronze Buddhas, standing 13 feet high and made in 1102. It has frescoes of the scenes from the Jataka, or stories of Buddha's previous lives. Apparently they use the pictures as they tell the tales to children. The pictures in turn help the children learn or remember the stories. While most children learn to read now, in the past they didn't so the pictures were used frequently to keep the stories in mind.

Here they also have a compound called the 37 Nats. The original people were animists, with various spirits or "nats" inhabiting various places inside and outside of homes. There happen to be hundreds of nats, some of them quite specific to a give area, but to simplify life, the king decided to identify 36 fairly common nats. Since this king wanted to introduce Buddhism to the people, he set up a temple to the nats, adding one more nat that was the king or leader of all the nats. He then made that nat follow the Buddha so therefore all of the nats became followers of the Buddha.  It provided blending point between the two belief systems. You can see some people still have various colored flags representing different nats so while they are Buddhists, old beliefs die hard. 

Had to include this one. The young monk was heading up the road we were traveling on. Instead of staying on the side of the road, he moved into the middle, holding his hand up for us to stop. You should have seen the grin on his face when the driver did, right in front of him. 


Driving through to our next stop, we came across a large area filled with huge jugs...three or four feet tall! They're used for holding fresh rain water as well as decorative plantings in hotels. Throughout our walks in Myanmar, we have seen small jugs with cups by them on the streets. They keep them always full with fresh water so that anyone can have a drink when they want one. In some areas, they put the pot in the fire, blackening the outside of the clay. It is supposed to sweeten the water, making it taste fresher. To be honest, I took their word for it -no way I'm drinking the water!

We took a break from the temples to stop at a local market. The farmers bring in their produce, all organic, for sale at the local markets. Everyone in the area comes to pick up what they need for the day and the sellers are kept busy. We saw some very interesting ways to measure the produce. They used various balance scales with many different 

unique weights. There were certainly those with standard weights that they pulled out to use but some creative souls used other items...including obviously spent batteries! The produce side was a dream to walk through, smelling wonderful, people posing for pictures, watching a small slice of daily life. Babies were present everywhere and even the cradles came to hold those sleepy tykes. We wandered through, unsuspecting, and hit the souvenir side...omg what a difference. They learned from the Vietnamese; calling, grabbing, pulling, come look, come see, you buy, where you from, just look, here, hold. It is unbelievable. I find that I don't want to spend anything at all. I understand that this is the worst area for that...I hope so. On the funny side...they have some beautiful sand paintings that you quickly notice they're all identical...except...they make a big show of having their painting stuff out for you to see as they paint on the finishing touch - the outside border with their name on it. Then they can tell you "Look what I painted", they just avoid mentioning WHAT they painted. Some are gorgeous but I'm looking for the perfect one sold by someone who invites you to look with no pressure.

Motorcycle gas station

Short commercial break about gas stations here. You see many roadside stands, with various bottles full of yellow or pink something. They might be in water bottles, or wine (screw top, of course). Could be a beer bottle or anything else. The contents, however, should not be confused with the labels. It happens to be gasoline. They sell it that way for the motorcycles. Cars are a little more difficult and gas stations are still few and far between. They just have larger containers, though in larger villages, there might be something that passes as a gas station available.
Gas in the market place

The second day we again took to the road to track down the best of the best of the temples. The Ananda Pahto is one of the best preserved temples with an ornate golden dome like top shimmering across the countryside. Inside are four teak Buddhas that have been gilded. It is interesting that between his thumb and middle finger there is a round ball, said to represent herbal medication, offering this as teaching to help cure suffering. The most unusual one we visited was the Payathonzu temple. This temple had three stupas with 

three Buddhas. There's apparently quite a bit of debate as to whether it is representing a Hindu influence (they have a triad of three -Vishnu, Shiva, and Brahma) or if it is the three gems of Buddhism (though we also heard that there are five gems of Buddhism). One may never know.

Mynkaba Village

Carrying water from the well
The highlight of the day was our visit to the Mynkaba Village. We were met by a young lady, of about 10, who gave us a tour of her home. We walked through the streets, watching a woman carry in the water in buckets on a yoke. The well is out in front of the village so if you want water for cooking or anything else, you go haul it in. She dropped off one load of about 90 pounds and headed off for another.
Our guide checks the drying seeds

Drying on the racks were black sesame seeds. They were still in the husks, not yet released and cleaned. The community harvests sesame and peanuts to make oil to sell. The nuts are shelled and then cleaned by hand, using a winnowing basket to separate out shells, skins and anything else in the mix. They have a wooden machine, operated with a yoked ox, for grinding the seeds to make the oil.

Weaving on loom
They also raise cotton and use it to create yarn for weaving various fabrics. The young girl demonstrated the spinning and winding of the cotton. After trying with Nancy, I know how hard it is to make it even, and she just jumped up and worked it instantly! They then soak the yarn in water with starch and glue, making a fairly stiff thread that will not fall apart while weaving. The resulting fabric is very stiff until it is washed.

He loved playing with the wood!

We visited her father who made wheels for oxen and horse carts. He hand cuts the spokes using hand-made tools. He has a small bellows that he uses to shape the metal forms to finish off the wheels. We watched as he sharpened a tool, put it in a block of wood, to have a plane to finish off the wheel. As he worked, his infant grandson watched, playing in the curled wood bits that came off the wheel. Again, there was a cradle hanging in the shed area, just waiting for the baby when he needed a nap.

One of her sisters makes bamboo picture frames, using various widths of bamboo to build a pattern around the frame. She probably only can put together three or four in a's pretty slow going gluing on each strip one at a time.
Just seeing the domestic life; the small clinic that has a doctor once a week, the oxen and carts, moving water, kids playing, and work on the fields, was a great way to eavesdrop on how it used to be. I think that there are many changes going on, with people working away
Mom in the kitchen
 from home to meet the needs of the visiting tourists. Is opening the doors to tourists a curse or a blessing? Certainly influences the finances of the country but what changes does it bring to the families?

Asian Lacquer Ware

The design is scratched onto the surface
We did get to make one more visit to a family run lacquer ware business. The Jasmine family creates fabulous pieces, all by hand. Now, my experience is mostly Japanese lacquer ware and, sadly, mostly the lower quality stuff...Daiso is cheap..for a reason.

Lacquer ware is popular here because bamboo is grown everywhere and that is the main base for the various items they make. The bamboo strips are not very strong, but with repeated layers of lacquer, the sap from a particular tree, and various additions including powder from bones (was it oxen?) it becomes fairly thick and strong. Each layer, once put on, requires three or four days of drying before the next layer can be added. Then they polish the piece, again using layers of the sap that again needs to dry.
Etching pattern for the next color

Once it's ready the piece is handed to the next young man who scratches the design onto the item. The talent he has to free hand scratch the intricate design into the piece! We watched as he worked on an elephant scene with men, plants and stylized designs. The next person scratches in detail, adding the shirt design, plant veins, blankets, flower petals, whatever they want to have put in the first color. Once they're done, they paint the first color on it. The black, uncut section will not absorb the paint, only the sections that have been scratched into. Others layers are added using a glue that masks the areas and again scratching the areas that you want the second color to adhere to. The colors take about a week to dry. These things do not get made quickly! Come over to the house for tea sometime. I picked up one tray with the elephants in battle...stylized, of course.

After a quasi leisurely breakfast, we headed for the river to take a cruise up the Ayeyarwady River to Pakokku. The boat was a typical south-east asian boat running up and down the river with the lawn mower type motor and an elongated drive shaft to the propeller – as well as leaks that needed a bit of bailing.

Rising from the mist
We were greeted with a view of the hot air balloons rising through the misty morning air, purple mountains in the distance. Seven balloons traversed the Bagan valley, giving a bird's eye view of the temples and ruins we had been driving through the last few days. Wish we could have been up there!

We did pass numerous homes along the river; some looking to be permanent, others the fishermen's temporary
Stupa on the banks
 huts created out of palm fronds and grasses. In the jungle areas it made sense, using the local vegetation but when we got further up river, the jungle cleared away and it was obvious that they went through a lot of trouble to build...they would have had to fetch the materials elsewhere, far-away elsewhere! There were also a number of barges making their way up and down the river. The strangest load we saw was rocks...not fancy boulders but just rocks...guess they don't have many in parts of the country.

On to Mandalay

Arriving at the dock 
Now...on our itinerary, we were told we would be met at the jetty by our guide. You have to picture "jetty" here. Now I don't know about you, but I have a mental image of docks and piers. Try sandbank. The boat simply floats up to the sandbank and the young man jumps out, and along with all of the guidance and comments by all the people who suddenly materialize on shore, he pulls up and ties off the boat.

Fairly typical style of "jetty"
 We didn't dismount from our boat; we actually stepped over to the boat next to us, right onto their ladder, and used that to get to shore-kept us out of the mud. It's not uncommon to just pull up to a boat, tie up to it, then walk through the boats to get to the shore. The "dock" areas aren't reserved for only getting on and off boats. People are likely to be bathing or washing clothes in the same area!

We had the opportunity to walk across the 200 year old U-Bein teak bridge. The pillars and walk were made completely of teak and has withstood the ravages of time with few 
U-Bein Teak Bridge
modifications, though some work is now needed. The pillars are huge trunks of trees, and many are in remarkably good shape. It's a picturesque scene with the fishing boats, walkers on the bridge and reflections on the water. We took a stroll across the bridge and then walked into the small village on the other side to visit yet another pagoda and other sites. As we walked across the bridge, we saw a young duck herder below, tending to his flock. Immediately made me think of "The Story of Ping" (old children's book). The young boy was following his flock, tossing small 
Young duck herder
stones at ones who strayed too far in the water and using his switch on others roaming on land. He certainly had a large flock to keep track of. Duck is served almost every place we went and duck eggs were available in various markets we visited. 

Working our way through dinner
Freddy knew all of the best restaurants to eat in. Now, by restaurants, we're not talking US style. These are mostly small places, owned by a single family, where everyone has a job to do, down to the youngest children. Some of the kids delighted in coming out to put the napkins on a table. We at traditional Myanmar food in a number of different places, small dishes of numerous kinds of vegetables and meats. Having Freddy around made it easy to identify which was which. It was also a great way to sample different foods. When you just get a little, it makes it easy to try many things - and you could easily get more of what you liked. 

Buddha looking out over the valley

We stopped at a huge Buddha, on top of a hill, that has been recently constructed by some very important, and rich, person. It is actually 31 stories high and, when it’s finished, you will be able to climb all the way to the top (Nirvana). The base of the statue represents where most people are right now in their struggles, each successive layer represents growth in one way or another. Inside, as you climb, there are numerous, grotesque examples of what happens to you if you don’t do things right. They have some horrendous pictures of ogres and such, rending people into tiny bits. Had a big discussion with Freddy concerning why they don’t show what you should do instead of emphasizing the negative. As we climbed (you can go to the 17th floor), we did finally notice at the top a positive one, showing something good happening. About time!
Group photo with new friends

There seem to be something of the Japanese in these people, or maybe it’s just an Asian thing. We had numerous occasions when people, particularly young girls, wanted to have their pictures taken with us. One group each wanted their own picture – that took a while.

Apparently, one son of a king had great fore-site. When his father died, he had his father's home dismantled and removed from the royal palace. (didn't want to live in a house where someone died...lots of superstitions here and besides, he probably wanted his own palace built anyway) He had the old one reassembled in another section of town where it has since become a 
monastery. It's filled with gorgeous carvings, very intricate and detailed of various Buddhist helpers, angels and other figures. The fortunate thing was that during the war, the British had garrisoned themselves within the castle walls and the area was heavily bombed. The moved home is actually the only original structure that survived. They have rebuilt the castle area, rebuilding the king's home as well as those for his various wives. Apparently the man had 47 or so was the chief queen but he would pick and choose who to court on a given night, but he always returned to sleep in his own bed. The picture shows the king’s home with gold leaf on the eaves and the chief queen’s, to the left. Note the lack of gold leaf on hers.

Gold Leaf

30 minutes here...twice
You need to understand something about the Buddhist culture here. Gold leaf is used to cover things, particularly religious statues, columns, walls, stupas, and anything else they can think of. There is a passion to add gold leaf to almost any statue of Buddha you come across. It’s also a source of fund raising for the various temples, selling very small squares of gold leaf that the person can then apply to the statue within. Now, I'm sure that in the western world, if you want gold leaf, there's a machine that will 
Five HOURS...
create it for you. Here, however, where it is used frequently, daily in fact, it is all man-made. You start with a small piece of gold, maybe 1/2 inch long and 1/8 inch thick. You put it in a press and make a long ribbon. Cut this ribbon into abut eight pieces or so. Each small piece is put on a bamboo paper square. You keep cutting up strips until you have about 70 pieces or so, bundle them into a thin square bamboo box and hand it over to the men with the mallets. These guys spend the next 30 minutes pounding the heck out of these small square packets, over and over just smashing the hammer head down on the box, over and over again. The smashed package is now opened up and, since the leaf is not thin enough yet, the leaves are taken out again, each one cut into four pieces, and then they're put back on 
Water Clock
the little pieces of bamboo paper, back into the little boxes and pounded again for 30 minutes. Enough? No....they are again cut into 4 pieces, put onto that bamboo paper and this time beat for 5 hours. Yes, that's right, men are paid next to nothing to stand there and smash this little box for 5 hours. Check out the clock – a floating shell with a tiny hole in it. The final product is an extremely thin sheet of gold about 2 inches in diameter. It is so thin that a 
Cutting small squares for temples
slight breeze will fold it up. It's used for various decorative touches on many "gold" items but here, many of the sheets are cut into squares of about 1.5 inches and packaged in paper for people to purchase to put gold leaf on various Buddha statues located throughout the country.

If you thought making the gold sheets was a long process, wait until you hear about making the bamboo paper! These people are dauntless...there's nothing they can't figure out a work-around!

Ok...grow the bamboo...easy. It grows about 12 cm a day during the rainy season and for most kinds of the bamboo here, it is mature and usable in about five years. That's the easy

Bamboo steps, pulp, beater in back
 part. They chop it down, by hand, and strip the bark off. Then it is split into thin slices with a cleaver type knife (mean looking thing) and put into a clay pot, also hand-made, with water and lime where it soaks for three years. The resulting mush is crushed into fibers with a special wooden dowel with wooden spokes sticking out of it. When it is finally a pulverized, watery mush, it is spread onto a large wire form where the water can drain out from it, leaving the bamboo paper to dry. It is taken out of the form and given a final drying but it's not done yet. It is still quite brittle so they cut the paper into four inch squares and beat it, yep, same guys with mallets, finally obtaining the paper they can use for beating the gold leaf. Whew, what a process!