Saturday, January 5, 2013

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!

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