Turning over a gold leaf

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The sounds of hammering can be heard long before one reaches Kieu Ky Village.

They have an ancient ring to it, as thought the air around has resounded with these sounds for a long, long time.

They have. For more than five hundred years.

And the work done is reflected far beyond the village's boundaries.

It is reflected in the shine of gilded Buddha statues, lacquered boards, and wooden panels of parallel sentences in Han script in pagodas and historical relics all over the country.

The work that goes into making this golden glow possible is mostly done in the capital city's Kieu Ky Village in Gia Lam District.

Kieu Ky's gold leaf-making vocation dates back by more than 500 years to the time of the Anterior Le Dynasty, when Nguyen Quy Tri introduced the craft and passed the skills on to local residents.

Today, nearly 50 families are currently engaged in the craft, and some of them employ up to 20 workers.

Vu Thi Dac, 75, who has spent over 60 years making the leaves, says the job requires "experience, technique and sophisticated work."

Kieu Ky residents use a mixture of soot and glue made from buffalo skin to spread on a 4-6 square-centimeter piece of traditional handmade paper.

The paper is produced from the bark of tree (Rhamnoneuron balansae) and has been used in Vietnam for centuries. It plays an important role in folk art, and the famous Dong Ho paintings in particular, because of its durability.

Gold pieces of one square centimeter are placed on the paper. The mixture spread on the piece will hold the gold squares for flattening.

Strong men then hammer the gold squares until it spreads thin over the paper.

This is then cut into 12 pieces and each one placed on another piece of paper that has already absorbed the mixture, and the hammering is continued to get the final product -very thin gold leaves.

As these leaves are extremely thin, it is easy to gild any type of material with it.

Good craftsmen can flatten one chi of gold (1 chi =1/10 tael, 1 tael =1.2 ounces) on 980 pieces of paper with a total area of more than one square meter.

Kieu Ky residents typically sell gold leaves in quỳ. One quỳ has 500 gold leaves. To produce one quỳ, locals have to hammer the gold pieces for around 400 times, a process which takes more than an hour.

The last stage of the work is to remove the gold leaves out of the "moulds" (pieces of paper), and this is by no means a simple task, as just a strong breath or the softest breeze would blow them away.

Many big constructions across the country have used Kieu Ky gold leaves for decoration, including the Hanoi Opera House, Uncle Ho's Mausoleum, and monuments in the Imperial City of Hue as well as Hoi An Town.

In recent years, with the rapid growth of the economy, various pagodas and shrines have been restored, giving the opportunity for the old craft to sustain and thrive in Kieu Ky.

Large volumes of these sheets have also been exported to Japan and Thailand, injecting a new vitality to the craft.

Kieu Ky craftsmen can feel proud because they have successfully restored and developed a unique legacy passed down to them by their ancestors, adding to the capital city's fame as a place where hundreds of traditional crafts have thrived for centuries.

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