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Plaster pig in “harvest” season

Update: January, 30/2019 - 14:40
Quality: Dương Ngọc Tuấn works on his products. VNS Photos Lê Hương
Viet Nam News

By Lê Hương & Bảo Hoa

As the Year of the Pig, approaches, the demand for souvenirs increases.

And that means good news for the many families in Đường Hồng Village in the west of Hà Nội.

For more than ten years, dozens of households in the locality have earned a good living making zodiac animals.

And this year they are banking on the pigs by creating ‘piggy banks’ for children to store money.

Porky: There are dozens of samples for pigs in Tuấn’s workshop. VNS Photos Lê Hương

“My brother initiated the craft in Hà Nội first,” Dương Ngọc Tuấn, who first introduced the skill to the village, told Việt Nam News.

“In 2002, we decided to move the workshop here to increase production and use up free time between harvest seasons.”

Now Tuấn’s workshop is among the biggest supplier to wholesale customers countrywide. Each month, he produces around 16,000 animals.

He’s so busy, his family and ten staff have to work day and night to meet demand.

Nearly done: Plaster pigs are waiting to be painted on.

The producing process includes designing, making plaster moulds then adding artwork.

“Designing sample products is the most challenging stage,” said Tuấn. “This requires artistic creativeness and is crucial to the attraction of the final products.”

After he and his younger brother brought the craft in the village, many locals came to work at their workshop.

“Our experience and creative designs confirms our product quality,” Tuấn said. “Customers are the most objective judges. They choose the best products. That’s why we keep regular customers for years.”

When the mould is made according to a sample design, workers make many plaster pigs, dry them and use sandpaper to smooth the products before painting.

Satisfying: Dương Ngọc Việt feels happy as he complete beautiful products. VNS Photos Lê Hương

“A worker with an artistic eye makes the pig more vivid with beautiful eyelashes, nice smile and cute dimples,” said Nguyễn Thị Oanh, Tuấn’s wife.

“Women can make plaster pigs from the small moulds, but bigger moulds require strong men to work on,” she said.

Oanh said even when customers need the products quickly, they don’t let quality slip.

“Children will save money in the pigs,” she said. “The pigs will stay with the children for a long time so they must be beautiful and good quality.”

Brush strokes: Nguyễn Thị Oanh paints a plaster pig. VNS Photos Lê Hương

“I feel happy to finish a beautiful pig,” said employee Dương Ngọc Việt. “If customers say I make ugly pigs I will learn from that and improve my work.”

Tuấn said in 2015, one of his nephews introduced the products to the online marketplace alibaba.com and received an order from Pennsylvania in the US for 2,500 pigs.

“Exported products require stricter criteria for deadline and quality,” Tuấn said. “Now we just focus on the domestic market.”

Pig in folk culture

According to historian Lê Văn Lan, it is not clear how Vietnamese people started to save money in clay pigs.

“When we excavated at historical sites dating back 4,000 years ago, we found skeletons of domesticated pigs,” he said.

“So pigs became close friends of human beings for four thousands years. They have been friends of hard-working peasants. They have been featured in Đông Hồ ancient folk paintings,” he said.

Off they go: Final pig products are ready for customers.

“I remember at small age, I made my own clay pigs and put a hole in its back to put coins in,” he said.

The clay pigs that are used to save money could even be described as having qualities similar to peasants.

They are diligent, thrifty and work hard to save money for the future. — VNS

 

 

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