Monday, 6 September 2010

Nwe Nyein Pottery Village

Thursday 26th August 2010

Around 5.30 a.m. the 'Road to Mandalay' 'set sail' upstream. We cruised past a number of villages with simple houses built on stilts with people stirring and going about their business like fishing, tending animals or working in their fields.

After transferring from 'Road to Mandalay' to the Fast Boat, we sailed ahead to the Pottery Village.

Around ten, our two Fast Boats approached and the Green Flag boat moored alongside our ship which was still making headway at about 8 knots. Once the Fast Boat had taken on its complement of passengers, it departed upstream, allowing the Yellow Flag boat to similarly board the rest of the passengers. After a cruise upstream of about 45 minutes, we reached the Nwe Nyein pottery village, with our ship slowly following.

We clambered ashore and started a walking tour of the village. It seemed to comprise one main street of earth with houses and shops on either side. The buildings varied from basic wood-framed with woven bamboo walls to substantial, modern constructions with the inevitable satellite antenna outside. Turning off the main road, we came to one of the potteries. The main item produced is glazed water pots which can be very large.

The clay is apparently brought from a mile or so away. Large pots are made in sections and we watched the base section being made by a potter. A simple 'Kick Wheel' is set in the earth floor on which the potter makes the pot using 'sausages' of clay spiralled to form the walls of the pot and he slowly turns the wheel with his foot. Making pots of this size requires the use of a thick 'sausage' about four inches diameter aqnd quite a number are needed just to make the base section. It takes strength and dexterity to form a reasonable shape. Further sausages may be needed to provide the necessary wall thickening and additional lumps of clay are used to create the finished smooth surface.

Great skill (and not a little strength) is required to build the base of a large water pot from a thich clay 'sausage'.

Wherever we went, there always seemed to be plenty of men, women and children just hanging around to watch their strange visitors. I found it hard to get used to the fact that they love having their photograph taken and they will strike what they consider an appropriate pose as soon as they spot a camera lens. It was difficult to catch them unawares to get a more 'natural' shot. One of the guides, San, was distributing prints of photographs he'd taken on a previous trip. This caused great amusement as the villagers identified the images and showed one another the prints.

The pots are air dried in large warehouses and then glazed and fired. We looked at a kiln in a large, wooden shed. The kiln appeared to be beehive-shaped about ten foot hall, surrounded by massive brick and earth walls. The wood-framed doorway through which the pots had presumably been loaded had been bricked-up, leaving a series of air-holes towards the bottom and a 'firing hole' about 15 inches square at the top. The kiln had be lit the previous day and a man was thrusting length after length of bamboo through the firing hole to sustain the orange glow inside.

We returned to the main part of the village by descending a fairly steep path, passing a number of women climbing up, each carrying two jars about two feet diameter on a wooden board balanced on their head. The ship's staff had arranged a refreshment stop under a roofed area with iced water and soft drinks. On the opposite side of the lane, there was a similar roofed area used for drying pots where a couple of dozen men women and children had gathered, like an audience, to watch the foreigners perform. I found that rather surreal.

We walked back along the main street to the waiting Fast Boats. By this time, the 'Road to Mandalay' had caught up with us and the first Fast Boat rendezvoused with the big ship with the big ship under way. With everybody from that Fast Boat back on board, the second Fast Boat was able to discharge its passengers and then both Fast Boats set off upstream ahead of the big ship.

The Fast Boats went ahead because the Doctor had loaded exercise books and pencils which were to be distributed to a number of schools on the stretch of river to Male. When the big ship reached the first of these schools, all the pupils were on the river bank, waving their new exercise books and cheering. In turn, the passengers on the 'Road to Mandalay' waved back, accompanied by a furious clicking of camera shutters. This scene was repeated as we passed each school to which books had been donated. At at least one school, the pupils had made signs saying 'THANK YOU' which they held aloft. On the previous Bhamo trip ('BHAMO 1') stationery had been distributed to 5 schools but, on our trip, the Doctor had added deliveries to two more villages - Yone Khing and Ma Au.

At each school we passed, all the children came to the riverbank to wave and say 'thank you' for the stationery delivered earlier by the Fast Boats.

At 4 o'clock the Guest Lecturer, Patricia Welch, delivered an interesting talk on Buddhist Art.

At 6.30 p.m. there was a 'Longyi Cocktail Party' when most of the passengers, men and women, wore Longyi following a previous demonstration featuring Longyi and Thanaka on that afternoon.

The day finished with a convivial dinner in the Restaurant followed, for those who wished, by drinks in the Piano Bar to the accompaniment of music played on a Roland Electronic Piano.

My pictures sailing north to Nwe Nyein Pottery Village (by 'Road to Mandalay' and Fast Boat) are here.

My pictures of Nwe Nyein Pottery Village are here.

My pictures sailing further north to Male (past the riverside schools) are here.