March, 13 2014 10:11:48

Laquer brightens a village

All involved: About 500 families living in Ha Thai are involved in the lacquerware business. — Photos Mark Carle

by Mark Robert Carle

Last Saturday morning, I met a group of friends for a trip to Ha Thai traditional lacquer village. I had visited it four years earlier and was interested to see the changes.

I presumed it was still a working village because there was so much lacquer-ware in shops in the Old Quarter. In fact, it was doing so well that many people had shifted their homes and workshops to a more spacious area. This also enabled them to open showrooms and galleries.

Ha Thai is only a short distance from Ha Noi, but the trees and green fields are rapidly disappearing as new buildings crop up everywhere. But the day was ours. The sun was bright and the Autumn weather kept temperatures cool. An occasional cool breeze swept across our faces.

We were smiling of course because the lacquerware was bright and plentiful. Workers everywhere were using their talents to decorate vases, jewelry boxes, tissue covers and other pieces.

Ha Thai village is in Duyen Thai commune next to National Highway 1A, about 30km south of Ha Noi city. The 500 or so families living there are nearly all in the lacquerware business.

Out to dry: A quiet road is used to dry vegetables.

The rural scenes surrounding the village are reflected on many of the craft works. Rice fileds, people resting in hammocks, buffalo grazing, women on bikes, mountains and sunsets are reproduced everywhere.

Years ago, the colours used were dark and muted, but now they are bright and vibrant. Where once the artwork always displayed Vietnamese scenes, artisans are now finding a market for abstracts and copies of Monet, Van Gogh and other European artists.

The material used for the bowls, boxes and chopsticks is usually bamboo, rattan or wood - sometimes even ceramics. It is a tedious job. Workers squat or sit on small stools as they sand, paint and polish for hours on end.

The results are magnificent, even if they were tissue boxes by the hundreds for a hotel chain. The prices were set and there was no bargaining. On my last visit four years ago, I was able to bargain for everything. What a difference a few years makes. Back in Ha Noi later that evening, we visited the night market and were surprised to find the prices were exactly the same as at Ha Thai village.

Anyway it was a nice day for a trip. We had dinner at the Viet Kitchen in Hai Ba Trung District when we returned. The presentation was decorative and the tastes were near perfection. In fact, the calamari was the best I've ever had. It was a perfect end to a nice day in the country. — VNS

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