A small store at one of our bus stops to Yangon
A small store at one of our bus stops to Yangon

Morning of day 10 in Myanmar finds me deliberately waking up late. I made sure I’m well rested for tonight’s bus ride to Yangon. I took the day easy enjoying the comforts of the hotel and catching up to my online world. When I checked out, I left my baggage at the reception and decided to visit one of the Gold Leaf Workshops in Mandalay. A Gold leaf sheet is an essential part of the day-to-day lives of Burmese people. It’s their main offering to Buddha where they place it on layers on their images. And some even goes to eating a leaf a day and claims to give them good health.

Pounding the gold to thin sheets
Pounding the gold to thin sheets

I visited King Galon, Gold Leaf Workshop south of the city center on a cab. It looks like a typical souvenir shop that a regular tourist bus would stop for souvenirs. But I found out when I went inside that they also show how their gold leaves are made. First step is refining the gold leaf sheets to as thin as .000005 in thin by continuously pounding with a really heavy sledge-hammer. A really work intensive and sweat inducing chore where a simple slip of a hammer could mean a missing to or a broken leg.

Cutting up the gold sheets
Cutting up the gold sheets

Next is a more meticulous process of cutting these sheets into small 1×1 inch square pieces. It’s a delicate task as the gold leaf is so thin that it’s easy to break, cutting precisely is a must. These gold leafs are then placed on a sheet of paper and stacked together. These are the basic gold leaf sheets that they sell for about 4-5000 kyat per 10 pieces. These sheets are the ones they place on Buddha images. And some eat them a day paired with banana or chocolate.

The women doing the meticulous work
The women doing the meticulous work

On display are high quality souvenirs and lacquerware which can be seen by the beautiful sheen and felt by the solidity and weight. The details are also clean and crisp on the design. It really is miles apart from the ones I bought earlier. I wanted to buy this “Buddha Footprint” item but I was already short on kyat.

Stacks of gold leaf
Stacks of gold leaf

I spent the afternoon at the Red Canal Hotel, the partner hotel of Mandalay View Inn. By 6pm, Tubo was already there to fetch me and head to the Highway Bus Station. I asked Tubo how was his day. He said he was just at his house waiting. “Don’t you have any customer for the day?” I asked. “No. You are my only customer for the day. It’s really hard to get customers here with so many motorbikes and taxis but very few tourist”. Hearing that made me a little sad. When we got to bus stations, I gave an extra 1000 kyat tip to Tubo and saw his sincere crooked smile as we parted ways.

High quality souvenirs
High quality souvenirs

I seem to have been accustomed to the bus rides in Myanmar already. The bus to Yangon was the large comfortable ones. The background music with announcements reminded me of Robert Miles ambient and progressive sounds. We stopped by to have a late dinner by 10pm on a street side eatery. The music playing made me pause for few minutes while eating, trying to figure out the familiar tune in my head. Yes it was a Britney Spears song, sang in their native language. As our bus ride heads to Yangon, it made me think how long when the western culture would finally catch up and change this culture. I’m hoping that if I ever go back, it won’t be as drastic as I imagine.

Our Nikkyu bus to Yangon
Our Nikkyu bus to Yangon
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Ferdz
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.