(No.1, Vol.8,Feb -March Vietnam Heritage Magazine)
Phuc Tang Bazaar, Viet Yen Commune, Bac Giang Province,May,2013,
Photo: Doan Viet Hung
Morning around the country bazaar Phuc Tang in Tang Tien Commune, Viet Yen District, Bac Giang Province is a busy time. It’s a scene of flamboyant soliciting, bargaining, selling and buying. But actually all products exchanged here are made of bamboo and rattan only. Just about 5km from Bac Giang City, Phuc Tang Bazaar gathers on the 1st, 4th, 6th and 9th days every lunar month. On these days, visitors can find plenty of everything made of bamboo and rattan, from everyday life objects such as baskets, sieves and winnows to beautiful artistic handicraft items such as sewing baskets, vases, fans, shades, lamps, bags, and dish covers. On kermis days, large bulky baskets of goods are on display, treating the senses with all kinds of woven things. Even bamboo poles are on sale for those who want to build fences. Wholesale traders from Hanoi, Hai Phong, Hai Duong, Bac Ninh come here to get their supply.
Tang Tien folks have always had to be good at bamboo weaving and trading because the limited area and infertile land can’t provide enough. For generations they have had to find extra income from bamboo which they have in abundance.
90 year-old Than Thi Di’s hands are still very supple and quick on thin bamboo splints as she weaves baskets on her porch. ‘It may be not so simple at first, but weaving is not too hard to master. Skilled weavers can engage in a conversation or watch TV while working. The bamboo has to be selected for good quality. Then it is split into thin splints of equal size. The splints must be polished, then woven into elastic patches. The patches are the rimmed to make round baskets. Depending on the purpose the products can be deep bottomed (to be used as containers) or flat (as in the case of winnows and sieves), which in turn decides the rimming techniques used. The products are then smoked to become termite-proof. It is a very strict procedure,’ she says. All four generations of her family including her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren are involved in the trade.
Everybody in Tang Tien, men and women, elderly and kids are fluent in weaving. From furrowed, shriveled hands of the silver haired to the bud-like fingers of the 5-6 year-old kids, all are dexterious with soft but strong bamboo splints.
The main materials used by Phuc Tang artisans are some specific species of bamboo with very fine but strong fibers and the rattan from the lowlands which is supple and has a bright yellow color and ivory touch that greatly pleases the customers.
A few decades ago, Tang Tien folks only weaved to serve the everyday needs of their own and of the people in the area who frequent the local kermesses. But recently, their products have been widely diversified as the market expanded beyond the province to as far as Japan, US, China, Cambodia and Europe.