For 40 years, a Hanoi family has been making funny faces

By Gia Chinh   September 13, 2018 | 09:32 am GMT+7

One Hanoi family has weathered the ups and downs of their traditional vocation to keep making paper masks.

One of the most important accouterments of the Mid-Autumn Festival in Vietnam is the paper mask that children love to wear on the day.

Over the last few decades, however, the colorful, gaudy masks, which are handmade with different layers of paper, moulded and painted, have been sidelined by plastic ones that are cheaper and easier to get.

For 40 years, a Hanoi family has been making funny faces

With plastic and rubber marks coming to dominate the market, the handmade paper ones lost out and many families that used to make them either gave up their vocation or curtailed it significantly.

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In Hanoi’s Old Quarter, there is only one family that has persisted with making the paper masks. The family of Nguyen Van Hoa, 64, and Dang Huong Lan, 60, still maintains this craft in a 20 square meter space in the attic of their house.

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All it takes to make a mask are some pieces of paper, cassava powder and glue, and paint, but production is a time consuming process. The artisans first tear the paper into many pieces, then glue different layers of paper with glue and cassava powder and press them into molds. There are 22 molds for different characters in Hoa’s house.

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From the mold emerge the shapes of faces that will become lively, characters usually found in children’s stories and traditional fairy tales. The masks are dried in the sun, then painted.

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Hoa said painting the mask was not a very complex task, but it demands meticulousness so that nothing stains it.

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The masks need to be really dry before being painted, or else it is difficult to draw correctly and there will be color smudges on the pieces, said Hoa.

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The painted masks will be sun-dried once again before completion.

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"There was a period when Chinese toys dominated the market. We could not sell our own products well then, so many families gave up their vocation,” said Huong Lan.

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Every mid-autumn festival, Hoa and Lan’s family produces over 2,000 masks for VND30,000 - 45,000 ($1.28-1.93) each.

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In the last three years, things have changed for the better, as people worried about toxins in imported products are shifting back to the paper masks. Many retailers have visited Hoa’s family to order the masks. 

In Vietnam, the Mid-Autumn Festival is an important lunar celebration, which takes place on the 15th day of Lunar August. On that night, people watch the full moon, enjoy traditional delicacies and listen to music, watch lion dances and enjoy other recreational activities.

The festival is meant for children in particular, so they have fun, playing with star-shaped lanterns, wearing masks and making a lot of noise, apart from enjoying the traditional mooncakes, which are sweet.

This year, the Mid-Autumn Festival falls on September 24 in the Gregorian calendar.

 
 
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