By this time, I had been used to the constant nagging of vendors. Initially they would eye you like a prey, ask where you are from, then give some trivia about the place or temple you are visiting, even accompany you around and finally ask to look at their wares without obligation to buy. On my way out from Nan Paya, I encountered this young persistent girl who tried to sell her lacquerware. I did look at the items she’s selling but decided not to buy the pair of owls (man and woman) that interested me that I found so expensive at 8000 kyat. As I head to the steps she was pleading. Telling me it would be good luck if I’ll be her first customer. She followed me to the exit with a face almost in tears.
I couldn’t help myself but feel pity, I bargained to half of the price. At first she refused but eventually gave in. When I got back to the horse cart, I showed Mime the items I bought, 2000 kyat for each. I was proud of myself from the bargain but Mime smiled and said it was still expensive for a low quality grade lacquerware. He explained there are different grades of laqcuerware, the good quality ones are made from teak wood or bamboo and the low grade ones uses regular wood.
He said never to believe vendors demonstrating the quality of lacquerware by putting them under fire on a lighter or candle. That’s just for show. The good ones have attractive sheen by putting more than 3 layers of black resin coating from Lak Tree. The rounded ones are more special than the rectangular ones as they are hard to make. Lacquerware becomes more expensive with decorative gold leaves used on their design.
We visited Maung Aung Myin Art Gallery of Bagan, one of the many lacquerware workshops in Myinkaba as the village has a long standing tradition for the craft. I was able to observe how they work on their lacquerware and I was impressed at the precision and meticulous details they had to do. From applying the Lak resin on teak or bamboo, drying them out, and recoating after, then finally applying the fine design from the artistic hands of their workers.
Looking at the items in the shop, I found another pair of the owls similar to the ones I bought and noticed how refined the ones they were selling was. I know I should feel somewhat remorseful but wasn’t really. I just figured that even if I didn’t get what I really paid for, which is a genuinely good pair of lacquerware owls, the owls I bought would remind me of her tearful and pleading eyes. Those were genuine emotions that showed how desperate and poor these people are. Consider me gullible then, but maybe I just want to help the easiest way I can. But of course if I’m looking for the quality lacquerwares, I would go to the workshops instead had I known.
Ferdz Decena is an award-winning travel photographer, writer and blogger. His works has found print in publications such as Singapore Airlines’s Silver Kris, Philippine Airlines’ Mabuhay, Cebu Pacific’s Smile and Seair InFlight. He has also lent his expertise to various organizations like the Oceana Philippines, Lopez Group Foundation, Save the Children and World Vision, contributing quality images for their marketing materials.