Day two in Vietnam consisted of touring the rural areas around Hanoi. We had the luxury of an English-speaking guide and a driver to accompany us the entire time, making it possible to see and understand things that perhaps otherwise would have been a bit out-of-reach. Rico and I constantly marveled at the incredible value we were getting for the reasonable price of our honeymoon.
Our first stop was the traditional ceramic-making village of Bat Trang, about 45 minutes outside Hanoi. We drove past vibrant rice fields, lumbering water buffalo, and old colonial structures - such as a beautiful but slightly crumbling Catholic church from the early 1900's - mixed in with modern constructions, all brightly colored and carefully decorated on the front façade, while the lateral walls were all left in unadorned gray concrete. We asked our guide why only the front parts of houses and shops were decorated, and he said it's in anticipation of neighbors moving in at some point, smashed in cheek-by-jowl, thus obscuring the side part of the buildings anyway. The idea seemed to be, what's the point?
At Bat Trang, we were led on a tour of one of the ceramic factories. We walked through what was essentially a big, narrow, tall house that had been converted into a workshop. We saw the giant kilns ready to be loaded with porcelain vases, and room after room of artisans working on various stages of ceramic production. The air hung thick with clay dust, and the lack of circulating air made us sweat until drops ran down our backs, legs and faces. I wondered how all of the Vietnamese managed to look so clean and composed, when Rico and I were obviously suffering in the humid heat. I suppose after enough time, humans are able to adapt to just about anything...
Entrance to the ceramics factory we visited. Our private vehicle is the one sitting in the driveway, a Toyota model that is quite popular in Vietnam but doesn't exist, to my knowledge, in the US or Brazil.A woman making the base for ceramic tile paintings. She used pre-made concrete molds, then packed in red clay and used a wire cutter to evenly cut the back of the tile. I used a similar technique, albeit on a much smaller scale, to make relief tile murals while in college.
Using colored glazes, this woman paints the relief surface of the tiles the woman shown in the second photo was making. She was very excited when I said hello in Vietnamese.
There were about 6 of these ladies working at one table, in what used to be the living room of this house. They worked all day sitting on plastic chairs, with a small fan in the corner to keep everyone somewhat cool. I think I would have passed out in these conditions, but they all seemed so composed.This woman was one of the master painters at the factory. Here she is illustrating a large tile mural that would sell for several hundred dollars.
At the end of the tour we were, of course, taken to a large shop where we could purchase the pieces we'd just seen being made. This was one of the things that most impressed me and Rico about Vietnam - they are exceptionally good at integrating traditional crafts with the tourism market. Every artisan workshop we visited had a store attached ready to receive international tourists. They even had signs displayed with the per-cubic-meter price to ship a container to the principal ports of the world, as well as FedEx points for shipping smaller items. This is a massive contrast to the state of crafts and tourism in Mozambique.
Rico and I ended up practicing restraint (we got some teacups and small bows), though we were certainly tempted to buy a couple of these larger-than-life porcelain vases and have them shipped to the Casa Rosa. Apparently you can get a good-quality set of these large vases for about US$900.
Admittedly, I was happy to be back in the air-conditioned vehicle!