Shopping in Myanmar
Myanmar is a real contradiction. It looks like a poor country but it has absolutely fabulous, high value resources. Go figure. When we travel, I always like to do my bit to support the local economy. When I was younger, that would be ‘acquiring ‘stuff”. Now my house is full of said ‘stuff’ I always plan to go away and just buy a few carefully selected items either as gifts or something we can use, preferably not too expensive or bulky. I have always loved rubies and would love to have found some to match the ones from my gran’s engagement ring, but really, I don’t even wear the stuff I have now, so we looked and drooled, but it stayed in the showcases. The Bogyoke Aung San Market in the road of the same name in Yangon, is a great place to look around. We did a reccee when we first arrived to see what was available and saw that there was a wide variety of lovely things to choose from, locally made. Not made in China! There was lacquerware which comes from Bagan, so we looked and identified some possibles in case we didn’t find what we wanted in Bagan. There were quite a few shops selling beautiful sandalwood items. Lovely, but I’ve already got more than one fan and the carvings were either too big or too fragile. We found a few shops selling fairly well made wooden items, useful stuff, and got a few business card boxes. Mother of pearl and freshwater pearls are found in abundance and there were quite a few stalls selling these, including one with a vest completely made out of pearls. USD500. It’s still there, probably, it didn’t come home with us. Lots of lovely little windchimes made from jade, not the jewellery quality of course, that jade was in other stalls which we steered well away from, just like we avoided the other jewellery stores selling gold and silver. The windchimes were very pretty. We brought home a few of those.When we arrived in Bagan, we asked our hotel receptionist for a recommendation for a good lacquerware shop. There are apparently lots, because there is quite a bit of competition and the one we went to first as we approached old Bagan is in the company of quite a few such shop/ workshops. We were able to see how much work actually goes into the making of a lacquerware item – 18 layers of laquer, all added by hand and dried before the next is added. Carving is all done by hand, detailed and precise. Each piece, however small takes a few weeks to make and the smell of the lacquer and the closeness of the work is surely not good for the health. The prices on the pieces were not small, but having seen how they were made we appreciated the prices that were being asked, though I’m not sure how much actually went to the artisans. As we wandered round the temples, there were quite a few people selling all sorts of things. One chap had some beautiful puppets.
I would have been interested in years gone by, but now, beautiful as they were, I didn’t really want to carry them home. Someone near and dear to me however, spied the sand carvings. As we travelled down the Irrawaddy river the day before, our boat crew were constantly on the lookout for shallow parts where we could get stuck. Depth sticks and binoculars were their most important tools because the whole area is sandy – fine sand that blows from the west and falls into the river, changing its course and damaging buildings when it strikes with force. Some of this fine sand is collected by artists in Bagan and used in their artwork. We were fascinated by the beautiful carved paintings that are made by layering glue and sand and carved as they go. We now have one that we have to decide what to do with. :-). I didn’t do the buying. I just have to organise the ‘what to do with it’ part. I think I will make a table. That will be my next project. Our trip back to the market in Yangon the morning we left for home was therefore to collect previously identified items, the windchimes and some wooden handled mother of pearl fruit forks. Then a quick walk round to the lacquerware shop for a container to keep them in. As we came through the airport when we first arrived, we were caught in the Moneychanger queue behind a group of ladies off our flight who had all sorts of complicated requirements for the USD they were changing. They took ages and were sort of amusing. I’ll bet they spent most of their time shopping while their hubbies were at the golf course. I think we had more fun. :-)
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