Nguyen Dinh Hung with his various kinds of ornamental lamps made of bamboo and rattan
People often waste time looking for the key to success elsewhere without realizing it is right in front of them.
Nguyen Dinh Hung of the central province of Thua Thien Hue, who was guilty of making that mistake, not only finally managed to find the key but has also been willing to share it with the less fortunate.
Hung, who has been making the renowned Tre Viet (Vietnamese bamboo) brand of wooden handicrafts in Hue since 2009, was a bit reluctant to talk to Vietweek in the beginning, saying "My story is not all that great to be published."
"It is not merely a livelihood, but also a passion and hobby," the 34-year-old founder says about his work with bamboo and rattan. He learnt the craft from his father, who used to make decorative items and furniture from bamboo in his spare time for their house, since he was a boy.
His love for it was nurtured by making bamboo toys along with his father.
But it was nothing more than a hobby then since Hung never thought he could make a living out of it.
Due to family circumstances he decided to stop studying after high school. He learnt and apprenticed at various jobs to feed himself and support his family. He eventually ended up opening a mobile shop.
"After a few years I realized I was not really interested in the shop and enjoyed making handicrafts from bamboo in my spare time," he said.
His works were highly praised by friends and acquaintances. This encouraged him to start a bamboo and rattan handicrafts business and invest in a power-saw costing over VND20 million (US$950).
"It does not require a lot of money to make the handicrafts. The tough part is promoting your product in the market."
He began by selling his works at bookstores and souvenir shops in Hue, and promoting Tre Viet on handicrafts and trade websites.
Tre Viet sells nearly 100 different items, of which Hung's own favorites are some ornamental lamps like the traditional caster-oil-shaped lamp, hexagonal night lamp, and Linh Mu Tower-shaped lamp. They cost $1-20 and are popular.
Passion, mother of creativity
With patience and a little cleverness, it is quite easy to make these products, Hung said modestly.
"But just like other jobs, it requires devotion and passion. And only passion can result in creativeness."
"Whenever I have an idea about a product, I am very excited, but in reality it turns out different from my initial idea, and it takes me a lot of time to perfect a new model."
His works are not produced on a large scale or exact replicas, and are indeed minor masterpieces.
"I want to sell perfect works to my customers."
In 2010 his traditional lamp won a consolation prize at a handicrafts and fine arts product competition organized by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development. Since then he has won more awards at several contests.
"I compete not for prizes but to promote my products and learn from others."
In recent times Hung has been busy giving free handicrafts lessons to students of Thuy Bieu School for Disabled Children on Bui Thi Xuan Street.
He has learnt sign language to communicate with the children who are blind, deaf, or speech impaired.
The students, all aged 12 to 20, are gifted and smart and so master basic techniques within four to five months to make simple products such as vases and lamps, he says.
Some of them even work for him.
"But because they are not able to speak they easily become angry. We have to be patient, understanding, and gentle, and always encourage them.
"I find life more beautiful when I have this opportunity to be a teacher and make friends with them."
Le Thi Thao Phuong, who was born with both hearing and speech impaired, said she is very happy to be able to make the handicrafts and even some money from them.
It makes her feel useful and helps relieve boredom, Phuong said through an interpreter.
"I like teacher Hung very much. His instructions are very clear and he can communicate well with us.
"He always encourages us to put in more effort, and he never gives up on us when we feel down."
Nguyen Thi Dieu Van, deputy director of the school management board, says: "The students enjoy the class so much. I hope they would find it a job option to feed themselves and also to find the meaning of being able to work."
Earlier Hung had taught others. Though most of his apprentices were normal people, few were really interested in the craft.
"It is unfortunate that most young people nowadays are not interested in weaving. Many of them consider [it] similar to basket-making, and not artistic.
"For me, art is making a perfect bamboo product that pleases the eyes and meets the demand of customers.
Hung is now working with the Hue Vocational School to begin classes on handicrafts from bamboo and rattan.
He is also busy preparing for the upcoming Hue traditional crafts festival in Hue from April 27 to May 1.
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