One of my favorite sights in Myanmar was the pots of “traveler water” scattered throughout every village and along every roadway. Historically it was intended for monks making their way to and fro, and pilgrims traveling by foot to any one of a thousand pagodas. Today it is entirely communal, maintained anonymously by anyone, everyone, and no one. The supply of fresh water is akin the magic of a potluck dinner, somehow it always works out and there’s always enough for everyone.
Today we explored the 1,000-person village that makes these water pots. Yandabo supports itself exclusively on the construction and sale of these iconic, functional works of art.
By far the most fascinating part of the process is how the pottery wheel works. As with most things in Myanmar, it’s entirely manual and off-grid. The wheel is spun, indirectly, by foot. The pots are typically started by a mother/daughter team. They can throw up to 50 pots a day. The clay is a careful mixture of two parts river silt and one part dirt from the mountains.
Once the pots are removed from the wheel, the next step is to pound them into the short, wide-bottomed shape of the final product. Whether he was kidding or not, he got a good laugh when Program Director Nanda told us Burmese men like their women the way they like their pots. The pots are shaped as the woman places her hand inside and uses a flat wooden paddle to pound the outside, twisting the pot around and around. The entire village creates these pots, but each family uses designs carved into the wooden paddles to keep track of how many pots they make and sell.
The kiln, a giant mound made from straw, peanut shells, fire wood, and dirt, allows for 1,200 posts to be fired at once. The firing process reaches 600-degrees Fahrenheit for 36 hours. When the pots are complete, they sell for $0.50 USD. It’s hard to imagine all of that work for what we consider to be a small amount of pocket change, but by Burmese standards, this village is doing well for itself. It was just another shift in perspective on a trip of many shifts in perspective. Myanmar is a teacher, and a graceful one at that.
Cheers to adventure,
Our Voyage Report from Viking River Cruises’ Myanmar Explorer continues in the next article as we spend the afternoon with 500,000 Buddhas in Myint Mu, Myanmar.