|Craftsman's paradise: Hue style houses have most details and furniture made of wood. — VNA/VNS File Photos
Le Van Truc in the central province of Thua Thien-Hue is famous for making traditional wooden houses, with a growing reputation throughout the country.
Truc only finished 2nd grade, but he is renowned as the best carpenter in My Xuyen traditional carpentry village in Hoa Phong Commune, Phong Dien District of the central province of Thua Thien-Hue.
Truc did not have an easy childhood. His father died when he was four years old, and when he was seven, his mother left to get married. So he had to live with his aunt in their rural village and earn a living for them by raising buffalo.
This also meant he had to quit school in 2nd grade, even though his teacher praised him as being very clever.
When Truc was 14, his aunt sent him to learn carpentry from a village foreman, Bui Quang Dich. After only one year, Dich allowed his hard-working student to graduate with these words: "You are a dynamic boy, and you will be a skilled artisan in My Xuyen Village. Even if it's difficult, I hope you do not quit carpentry!"
His teacher's statement followed Truc throughout his life. In the 1980s, when the My Xuyen wood carving village fell into gloom because local products could not be sold, Truc had to find another place to earn a livelihood.
So he followed some local workers to the South to search for jobs.
Truc recalls: "With only a few chisels, I went to many places, from the Central Highlands to Binh Thuan and HCM City. Actually, with my skill, my income was very respectable. But money was easy come, easy go. After 10 years working far from home, I learned that as long as we do good work, we will not let people down. In 2000, I decided to return home to restart my career from the beginning."
When Truc went home, carpentry as a fine art was yet to make its comeback. So he worked as an ordinary carpenter and raised pigs. From his pig breeding, Truc saved up enough to make his dream come true.
Establishing a business
Determined to restore the traditional art of wood carving, in 2004, Phong Dien District People's Committee built a zone for My Xuyen handicraft village next to Highway 49B and called for locals to set up furniture workshops there.
Truc was one of the first to join. He used VND200 million (US$100 earned from raising pigs as well as a VND30 million bank loan to set up a wood carving workshop called Thuong Truc.
Unlike other workshops that specialise in smaller wooden products such as statues, cabinets, tables and chairs, Truc concentrated on making Hue-style wooden houses (nha ruong).
"I knew that My Xuyen Village has been famous for making beamed houses since ancient times, so in terms of techniques other localities could not compare with My Xuyen's carpenters.
Moreover, as development proceeds at a rapid pace, many people want to own these traditional houses."
After only two years, that idea has blossomed into a full-fledged workshop.
Since 2006, Truc's private enterprise has been the only business in the zone of the handicraft village.
After six years, the enterprise completed 12 Hue-style beamed houses for customers from Thanh Hoa, Hue, Binh Duong and HCM City.
|At one with nature: Nha ruong (traditional wooden beamed houses) were common in Hue in the old days.
Making a beamed house requires at least 6-7 skilled, diligent carpenters and at least six months.
Truc says, "The Hue-style houses have a structure with three chambers and two sub-rooms, supported by a system of columns and beams and decorated with numerous wooden carvings.
"The most difficult part is the two sub-rooms, which require workers to be precise and meticulous. That's why I always work together with my workers during each difficult stage."
For the artisan, maintaining and developing the brand name of Thuong Truc shows how far he has come from his humble beginnings. "To make my dream come true, I had to take out loans from age 27 to age 45. Now, at 50, I can be proud that I have no more debt. To develop a bigger business, of course, I have to continue to take out loans. But I can now pay back the loans on time."
In the business world, transactions are easier and more convenient if one has a reputable brand name.
Truc showed us a contract for up to VND350 million for his enterprise to make four Buddha statues for a monk in the northern province of Nam Dinh.
"We have never met each other, but the monk knew about us so he sent a contract to us, and we signed it. People believe in us, so we have to keep up our reputation," he says.
Truc works just as hard to gain his employees' trust, too.
"I always keep in mind that even if I ‘die', my workers will stay alive, so they love and trust me. I am also proud that I pay their salary on time every month."
This is also the secret to why his enterprise has the best team of workers in My Xuyen Village.
He has 30 skilled workers, with an average monthly income of VND8 million each. Some better workers receive from VND12 million to 15 million each. Truc also has a special carpenter he often calls his "trump card", who receives VND30 million every month.
That carpenter is Bui Quang Thanh, also a My Xuyen villager, who was already famous for his wooden statues. Thanh was working in Binh Duong Province when Truc came there to invite him to join his company on a monthly salary of VND30 million.
"Since we got Thanh, we have gone into a new area of business: carving statues. We have orders till the end of 2013."
Truc is now preparing to invest VND10 billion to expand his workshop to 3,000sq.m and buy more machines to build a new wood workshop that is expected to attract 30 more local workers. — VNS