Some are familiar with our style of engaging the services of guides to help us decipher the history or in the case of Egypt, where we felt a personal guide would be essential to guarantee our safety and to easily move from place to place.
Apart from the attractions mentioned in our stories, our guides also took us to Egyptian silk shops, a papyrus institute to see how papyrus was made, a perfume factory, an Alabaster art and craft factory and some bazaars.
We heard a lot about papyrus, especially synonomous with Egypt but this was the first time we actually saw paper out of papyrus being made. The material comes from the papyrus plant which is grown in its abundance in Egypt and its surrounding countries. The plant can grow up to 5 metres - ths is important because the width of the resultant paper produced from this plant is limited by the height of the plant.
The stem of the papyrus plant is first sliced. In this form, the sliced stem is still brittle and may break if bent. To make the stem supple, it is crushed - apparently to destroy the cell structure which lies inside it. Amazingly, in the demonstration - the resultant stem that was pounded with a mallet was indeed supple. The crushed stems are then soaked for up to 3 days to dilute and remove proteins and complex sugars. Finally, the stems are woven in a cross-hatch pattern and then pressed with a blotting press for a few days. The final product is strong, resilient and amazingly waterproof!
The ancient Egyptians use this as parchment for writing and these days, its a great material for works of art and for Jeanette, book marks!
Perfumes have its origins from Egypt as well, where the essence is essentially painstakingly pressed out from the different flowers that exist. The essence is not oily as it sinks in water. Perfumes were used to preserved the organs of mummified Pharoahs in ancient times and in recent times as bases for the more well known brand names in Europe. As European perfumes are mixed with alcohol, they are less persistent since alcohol is prone to evaporation.
We were especially fascinated by the gold lined handblown glassware that are used by the Egyptians to stores their perfumes as the ones we've seen boast excellent workmanship with intricate high quality detail in them. They all looked like they came from an Ali Baba catalogue!
When in Egypt, don't go home without purchasing at least one Egyptian silk shirt because this is one of the luxuries which Egypt is very well known for. They are much finer and softer than Thai silk (although Thai silk is unbeateable in the way it shines when presented) and very comfortable to wear. Of course, there are many variations of this as producers become more creative with their material.
We saw for the very first time, 1000-stitch Egyptian bedsheets. In Australia, where 500 stitch bedsheets cost several hundred dollars, the 1000 stitch version if it were ever to be found would not be affordable! I think Australia uses the term "high percale" for the 500 stitch version. What would the 1000 stitch version be called?
Lastly, we also visited an Alabaster factory. This is a small family run factory who proudly showed us how the quartz crystal material is transformed to a vase. The rock was first cut to size, drilled, milled, waxed and then shaped after being baked. The process takes several hours and is performed by highly skilled craftsmen.
The resultant product is a porous vase, transluscent and really light! Although the piece we saw made was made out of red alabaster, we also saw white alabaster and phosporous alabaster which glows in the dark!
Jeanette and Raymond Han
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