Saigon family helps light up mid-autumn fest with huge lanterns

By Thanh Nguyen   August 22, 2018 | 11:05 am GMT+7

For five decades, this Saigon family has produced thousands of paper lanterns for every Mid-Autumn Festival. 

Inside Phu Binh hamlet (District 11, Ho Chi Minh city), Nguyen Trong Thanhs family has been well-known for their unique lanterns made from transparent plastic sheets. Every mid-autumn festival, the family produces thousands of big-scaled lanterns to supply for the market.

Inside Phu Binh hamlet, Ho Chi Minh City's District 11, Nguyen Trong Thanh’s family is well known for the lanterns they make with transparent plastic sheets. Every Mid-Autumn Festival celebrated in September, the family produces thousands of these large lanterns for the market. “Two generations of our family have pursued this career. My parents moved from Nam Dinh Province to Saigon and make lanterns, then my siblings and I followed their footsteps. In the beginning, all eight of us were doing it, but as the work got more challenging, only two of us have stayed with it,” said Thanh. Thanh, 50, stands with Nguyen Trong Binh (R), 40, with a 1.5-meter-long dragon they'd just finished. 

It takes a lot of time to finish a giant lantern, said Thanh. We usually finish our products a month before the festival, but we start preparing bamboo, transparent plastic sheets and other materials since the beginning of the year, Thanh said as he briskly sliced bamboo sections.  

It takes a lot of time to finish a giant lantern, said Thanh. “We usually finish our products a month before the festival, but we start preparing bamboo, transparent plastic sheets and other materials since the beginning of the year,” Thanh said as he briskly sliced bamboo sections.  

In the past, our lanterns were shaped as stars, rabbits or chickens. Now the demand has changed. We do whatever customers need, Thanh said as he showed a goldfish pattern ordered by a supermarket in District 1. This year, the family has received about 4,000 orders, mainly from big companies and overseas Vietnamese (Americans and Canadians).

"In the past, our lanterns were shaped as stars, rabbits or chickens. Now the demand has changed. We do whatever customers need,” Thanh said as he showed a goldfish pattern ordered by a supermarket in District 1. This year, the family has received about 4,000 orders, mainly from big companies and overseas Vietnamese (Americans and Canadians).

Thanh frames a fish-shaped lantern that is 1.6 meters long and 1 meter high. This would cost VND2 million ($86).

Thanh frames a fish-shaped lantern that is 1.6 meters long and 1 meter high. This would cost VND2 million ($86).

Sticking the plastic sheet is the easiest step, so my family hires our neighbor Van to do it, said Binh, who has been crafting lanterns for 20 years. 

“Sticking the plastic sheet is the easiest step, so my family hires our neighbor Van to do it," said Binh, who has been crafting lanterns for 20 years. 

Painting the lantern is the most challenging task, requiring skilled and experienced craftsmen.

Painting the lantern is the most challenging task, requiring skilled and experienced craftsmen.

Powder paint is used to avoid any harm to the consumers, the lantern makers said. 

Powder paint is used to avoid any harm to the consumers, the lantern makers said. 

In the final stage, Thanh attaches a plastic ball to the lantern, which shows a dragon releasing gems from its mouth.

In the final stage, Thanh attaches a plastic ball to the lantern, which shows a dragon releasing gems from its mouth.

Colorful plastic feathers will be used to make peacock-shaped lanterns costing VND30,000 - 80,000 ($1.3-3.5).

Colorful plastic feathers will be used to make peacock-shaped lanterns costing VND30,000 - 80,000 ($1.3-3.5).

Giant lanterns are hung in Binhs house, waiting for customers to pick them up. The largest lantern the family has created was a dragon more than four meters long.

Giant lanterns are hung in Binh’s house, waiting for customers to pick them up. The largest lantern the family has created was a dragon more than four meters long.

Some merchants come to Phu Binh Hamlet to buy lanterns for the festival. The prime time for lanterns was the 1990s, when the whole hamlet worked all day and night but could not produce enough to supply the Mekong Delta provinces. When Chinese lanterns entered the market, the demand for homemade ones dropped sharply.  Over the past few years, Vietnamese people in the U.S., Canada and Singapore have begun to take interest in these lanterns, which is a good sign, Binh said.

Some merchants come to Phu Binh Hamlet to buy lanterns for the festival. 

"The prime time for lanterns was the 1990s, when the whole hamlet worked all day and night but could not produce enough to supply the Mekong Delta provinces. When Chinese lanterns entered the market, the demand for homemade ones dropped sharply.  Over the past few years, Vietnamese people in the U.S., Canada and Singapore have begun to take interest in these lanterns, which is a good sign," Binh said.

 
 
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