It is widely accepted that traditional craft villages are being pushed into oblivion due to the advancement of technology as machines outperform people and artisans have to look for other ways to earn a living.
But there are still exceptions. Tuong Binh Hiep, the oldest pottery village in the southern province of Binh Duong near HCMC, has a history going back more than 150 years.
It makes various kinds of clay jars and pots for agriculture, fisheries and daily use.
At Dai Hung clay-jar kiln, the province’s oldest, Nguyen Van Binh, 60, who has devoted half his life to this work, hurriedly puts soft clay into water and mixes them into mud.
For long artisans here have followed the traditional method of production: making pottery by hand with materials available locally.
Binh said: “The soil for making jars is mainly taken from Ben Cat District in the Mekong Delta province of Long An. The soil there is quite good, clayey and smooth, suitable for making pottery.”
“Small jars are called jugs, and just one mold is needed while large jars need up to three molds and the pieces are then joined together before drying,” a worker explained.
Large jars made from 40 kilograms of clay can hold 200 liters of water, and are usually used to store rainwater, alcohol or fish sauce.
An artisan pours a layer of glue to make the product smooth and shiny.
A group of workers carry jars to the yard to be dried before putting them in the kiln. If it is sunny, the jars will dry in a few days.
One kiln contains nearly 40 large jars and each facility has an average of 15 kilns. “Usually the facility starts to burn when the kilns are full. The jars must be burned with dry wood at 1,200 degrees Celsius for five hours straight to finish the products,” a worker said.
Most of these products are enameled in brown and decorated with embossed dragons and phoenixes.
On average, the facility produces 150 items of all kinds in a day and sells to Mekong Delta provinces, Cambodia and Thailand. They are usually transported by boat.
Many boats belonging to traders from Mekong Delta provinces dock on the Saigon River to load jars for transport.
Large jars are priced at VND380,000 ($16.3) while small ones cost VND150,000 ($6.42). During the rainy season they sell like hotcakes.