I was paying attention today to what people make with their hands. There’s a hum of enterprise around Mandalay, deeply mastered craft. Workshops and shops are side by side, and you can wander in see silk weaving, tapestries, puppet making, gold leaf pounding. Then of course, you can buy things.

The silk workshop was stunning.

silk spools

women loom

silk hands

I might have bought something at that shop, with my carefully cared for, still pristine US bills.

I also found myself trying to convince myself I needed a traditional Myanmar puppet in my condo.



horse puppet

I was awed by the gold pounder workshop. This is where they make the gold leaf that pilgrims affix to the Buddhas and pagodas. These men pound small pieces of gold for 5 hours.

gold pounders

gold pounder

This bowl of water with the wicker basket in it is a timer. It takes 3 minutes for the basket to fill with water and sink. The pounders pound for as long as the basket is still floating, then they take a break.


The men make $12 per day, which is considered decent pay.

Then these women fix the tiny pieces of leaf to small pieces of paper, which are then sold in the pagodas.

gold leaf lady

Outside of the master craftspeople, I was noticing the many many other hands creating things. A woman with sweat-stained blouse picking banana leaves.

banana leaf picking

A woman hanging spun cotton to dry.

spun cotton

Young girls and children sewing the edging onto the woven mats that everyone sits on in the market, in their homes.


On the side of the road in the rural area I visited today, I also saw people weaving fences and parts of the walls for the bamboo houses most people live in in the villages.

It is hard to get used to seeing children working here, in all sorts of contexts, whether it’s learning a craft, selling bracelets or collecting food as monks.

little boy monk

I had a long quiet conversation with one teenage girl who was selling bracelets when I visited a temple ruin. Her mother died of breast cancer, her grandparents have afflictions, her father doesn’t earn enough. She keeps 20 percent of the money she earns selling bracelets and necklaces to foreigners, works in Mandalay lifting rocks. She knows another woman named Cate, who is fat and speaks Spanish. She hadn’t quite mastered the combination of helpful volunteer guide and persistent whine of the seller that ultimately leads to breaking down tourists. She thanked me sincerely for talking with her, for listening. I slipped the bracelet I bought from her onto my arm.


4 thoughts on “Artisans

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