I thought I’d never reach the top when I climbed the huge tower at the centre of the Temple of Dawn in Bangkok. Built in the 1700s by King Taskin the tower reaches more than 79 meters upward and features steep stairs that are said to lead all the way to heaven.
The outside of the tall tower is covered with millions of broken bits of porcelain. They have been arranged into intricate patterns and pictures in a way that is incredibly lovely and required gifted artists to design.
I learned that ships coming to Bangkok from China centuries ago carried two valuable exports for sale, tea and silk. The tea and silk needed to be carried in the middle sections of the ships because they were sensitive to the water damage that could occur in the upper and lower sections. But to balance the boat so it could sail properly about half of the cargo’s weight needed to be below the waterline in the ship’s bilge. Chinese porcelain dishes were the perfect solution. They were not susceptible to water damage. They were sufficiently heavy and could be produced cheaply. Often however storms and high waves caused the porcelain to break, leaving the boats’ holds filled with mountains of pottery shards. What to do with the pieces? King Taskin knew. He had his royal artists and craftsmen use them to decorate his now famous temple tower. They put wet plaster on the exterior and then imbedded the porcelain in complicated designs and patterns. They also created beautiful nature scenes with the bits of colorful pottery. Taskin had probably never heard of recycling but he certainly knew how to do it in a big way.
Walking slowly around the temple’s first level and looking at all the lovely artwork that had been created out of the colorful porcelain it was almost impossible for me to imagine the endless hours of labor that would go into such a project. What an amazing recycling project!
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