Solid-jade Buddha may set record
By Ben Stocking
HAI DUONG, Vietnam — One of the flamboyant entrepreneurs making it big in booming Vietnam this week unveiled a massive precious stone he plans to turn into the world's largest jade Buddha.
Dao Trong Cuong, owner of a Vietnamese gem mine, bought the 35-ton stone in Myanmar last year for $2 million and imported it to Vietnam in October. Once a team of 50 artists and sculptors finishes chipping away at it, the Buddha is expected to weigh nearly 20 tons.
"We hope to get it into the Guinness Book of World Records," Cuong told a crowd of nearly 2,000 people at a ceremony unveiling the stone, which is 10 feet tall, 6 1/4 feet wide, and 6 1/4 feet deep.
Cuong counts some of Vietnam's most powerful political figures among his friends, including President Nguyen Minh Triet, who spoke at Monday's ceremony after about 250 monks in saffron robes chanted and rang bells.
"This unique artistic work will be passed on to many generations," Triet said.
Triet pulled back a curtain covering the massive hunk of jade, temporarily adorned with a painting of a sitting Buddha.
Cuong said it will take two years to complete the statue.
A search of the Guinness Book Web site showed no entries for the world's largest jade Buddha. But according to Vietnamese media reports, the world's biggest existing jade Buddha weighs 4 tons and stands 9 feet tall. It was taken on a tour of Buddhist temples in Vietnam and Australia last year.
Buddhism is the largest religious faith in Vietnam, a nation of 86 million where the government strictly controls religious organizations. The monks at the ceremony belong to the officially sanctioned Buddhist Church of Vietnam.
Cuong struck it rich in Vietnam's late 1980s gemstone rush. Among his business ventures is a studio that makes artworks out of crushed gemstones, such as rubies and emeralds. He has made portraits of Vietnam's revolutionary hero Ho Chi Minh, former President George W. Bush and Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates.
Cuong, 54, is not shy about displays of wealth. He was among the first Vietnamese to purchase a Hummer, which cost him $300,000 to import. When a newspaper interviewed him about it, Cuong said, "I like big, manly things."