Back to basics: Saigon paper lanterns shine in the age of plastic

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Handmade cellophane lanterns are making a comeback after losing the market to plastic toys 

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Lantern shops on Lac Long Quan Street in District 11 ahead of the Mid-Autumn Festival, which falls on September 15 this year. The business had it best days in the 1990s. Then came the invasion of electronic plastic lanterns made in China. Only a few of hundreds of the original families have stayed with the craft.Photos: Phuong Dong/VnExpress
But following news reports of toxic chemicals being found in Chinese plastic toys in recent years, Vietnamese paper lanterns have made a strong comeback. 
One maker said the business was very bad until around three years ago. This year the family has received big orders and everyone in the family has to stay busy.
 "Three generations of my family have been making these lanterns,” Nguyen Manh Tung told news website VnExpress.
 Nguyen Huu Phuc, Tung’s 17-year-old son who is attending a local high school, helps paint the lanterns, a task he has done for around six years. “Helping my family also helps preserve some beautiful traditional values.”
 The lanterns cost between VND14,000 and VND120,000 (US$0.6-5.4) a piece, depending on sizes.
 A frame in the making. One artist said they use fine bamboo from the nearby Binh Phuoc Province.
 A butterfly lantern gets the final touch.
 
Colorful rabbits and butterflies, being aired for the paint to dry.
 Thu, owner of a lantern business, said insiders are happy about strong sales these days. But they are also worried about the high costs, which make traditional handicraft products less competitive than mass-produced toys. 
 Each lantern brings less than VND7,000 ($0.3) of profit, according to insiders.
 Makers have added new designs. These lanterns of the Japanese anime cat robot character Doraemon are loved by many children.
You can find the original Vietnamese story here on VnExpress.

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