Bat Trang Pottery Village


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Bat Trang pottery village

Photo of Entry:  Bat Trang pottery village

The good life crew take time to get out of town and into the villages surrounding the capital; far from the hustle bustle, life is still far from idle.


Bat Trang village has is praises sung on a regular basis. As the ‘home’ of ceramic production – everything from your sanh dieu (stylish) noodle bowls to the traditional ceramic Alsatian – Bat Trang has a lot to see and do, making it an ideal afternoon escape from the big smoke.

 

Despite only being the tail end of July, we were out in Bat Trang seeking Christmas ornaments, perhaps a tall order for the non “tet noel” celebrating village folk. They would turn out to be, however, un-phased by our requests.

 

The village is around eleven kilometres from Hanoi, nestled on the far bank of the red river south of ChuongDuong Bridge. Bat Trang is a member of the exclusive clique of celebrated so called ‘handicraft villages’ that encircle Hanoi. Here, they say, long traditions of handicraft production have been passed down through the generations, leading to the perfection of the arts… well, as perfect as they see fit at least.

 

The great thing about these handicraft villages is that their wares make perfect gifts for all occasions, for all types of folks. And if that ain’t enough for you, the products are also proving to be highly saleable commodities.

 

Crossing Chuong Duong Bridge gets you onto the outskirts of Gia Lam – a somewhat seedy neighbourhood that really needs no frequenting besides passing through. Simply s of country lifestyles right on the edge of the city.

 

It’s a long way to Bat Trang if you consider in days gone by people had to walk with their heavy pots in the summer heat. Now days the road smells of fertiliser and the roadside grass has been mown rather than eaten down to stubs by grazing cows. Here the tell tale signs of Vietnams swift steps into the now are all too evident. Nicely designed houses and a cool public swimming pool have sprung up where not too long ago were simple dwellings and rice paddies. This is where in days not so distant, the suburbs will sprout and the conical hatted locals will be all too old skool.

 

A sign worryingly promises 100% Hanoi bia hoi (do they water it down?) while another boasts a countryside gym, where you can hone yourself into the Adonis it bears. It’s been a while since this intrepid reporter came this way – three odd years – and upon arrival, as I sink down into a seat to clear the heat from my head with a cold coke, I notice that the ice here is no longer served with algae in it.

 

The town is all spruced up, as he hard working families pull in hard currency for their labours. Show rooms line the streets, while down back alleys production facilities are in full swing, churning out the goods by the thousands.

 

Its stock standard moulded ceramic ware, but the designs are varied and there is something to suit all tastes if you take the time to look. But today, it’s not the pieces on show that are the attraction. Interest is drawn towards the town itself, and what’s going on behind the rank and file of ceramic showrooms.

 

The back alleys of the village are quiet, with the odd ba (grandma) wandering around, always ready with some sage advice for anyone who will lend an ear. Rows of curiously designed houses lock together, with little or no space between. Shuttered windows look onto the deserted alleys, with the occasional shy child peeking out.

 

The ceramic production sector of the village is a hive of activity. Wet ceramic slip delivery men push carts into converted house factories while carts full of finished product are shipped out. Inside, teams of young men and women work on production lines, baking, sanding, painting in the sweltering workshops, protected from the summer heat by nothing but standing fans.

 

While plate and bowl production was in full swing, neither sight nor sound was to be gained of the production of the myriad of ceramic animals to be found in the showrooms. Perhaps these are raised in special ceramic farms just out of town? It’s too hot too think straight in the factory.

 

Of course, production like this takes a great deal of energy, not just in human terms but in fuel for the fires to bake the goods. In these modern times, gas tanks stand in lines outside the mechanical kilns. In days gone by however, huge volumes of charcoal were needed to fuel the fires, and the practice of charcoal cake production still goes on to this very day.

 

Charcoal cakes like mud pies are dried on the walls of many a house, ready fro use in just a day. The lumpy texture of the black pies on the red brick walls gives some alleys an odd seventies sci-fi feel, albeit seventies sci-fi heavily influenced by classic oriental villages.

 

Of course, tourism has been a big bread winner too. While the majority of money is made through large scale trade, the inbound tourist buck cannot be overlooked. Bat Trang, like any other tourist town, is a touch overpriced when it comes to buying bottles of water or what have you, but the ceramics ultimately are surprisingly affordable – for example a charming vase with a delightful lotus motif was purchased by a tour member for just VND50k (approximately US$3).

 

Wandering around the back alleys as the afternoon wore on we discovered a temple under construction, with large wooden beams lying all asunder next to the river. In the temple courtyard, young men worked in the hideous afternoon heat, some tapping away with chisels at the dragon motifs, others sawing the hardwood logs down to size.

 

While there is some sadness to these felled trees – of which there are diminishing numbers by the day – not to mention their dubious acquisition, one of the tour party jumped on the end of a two man saw to help chop the log. Later he said he was proud to have participated in some small way in the construction of a temple, although once he had finished, one worker pointed at me, then the saw, nodding towards another lengthy piece of wood. It seemed the builders on the site were a little too willing to allow us to continue doing there work for them, but I had other plans that definitely didn’t involve sawing huge logs in thousand degree heat.

 

 

The xmas decorations we had been searching for were finally acquired – small ceramic globes that could be attached by string to the xmas tree. They bore traditional blue ink designs and seemed ideal for their intended application, although they were not available in the quantity required. Dealings in Bat Trang, as anywhere in

Vietnam, can take a fairly long time. Hurried business dealings are not the way of the Vietnamese. Good things take time, whether you want them to or not. Purchasing ceramic globes I now know, takes all afternoon.

 

And why shouldn’t it? Take a stroll around the quiet village, or if that’s too much in the heat, you can jump aboard a buffalo pulled cart for a tour of the town. Feel free to poke around, the locals are well used to having strangers in their midst and are welcoming. Sit and talk turkey with a draft of tea and pick up some gifts or souvenirs before heading back into the big city.

 

Bat Trang is easily reached by bicycle (not advisable in summer), motorbike, taxi, or by booking through a tour agent. For more information on production and sales, search the VietNamNet website for other articles.


Source The Good Time


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