Decorative artworks at Tran Van Kieu's workshop
Thach That District in Hanoi is known as the land of laterite where almost all construction is done with the soil and bricks made from it.
Locals also make ornamental objects from the rusty, iron-rich soil.
It is not known when people here started to use it to build houses but it has brought them wealth.
Laterite is soft when underground but hardens after being quarried. Houses built using it are not only cheap but also durable, cool in summer, warm in winter, and easy on the eye.
Laterite mines can be found in many areas in Thach That, but the soil in Binh Yen is considered to be of the best quality. The commune thus has the largest number of mines which provide jobs for hundreds of locals as well as workers from neighboring areas.
Though laterite quarrying is very hard work, locals have been, for years, doing it with simple tools. With just a spade and a shovel, they create bricks usually measuring 40x30cm and 20-25cm thick and leave them to dry. Unlike clay bricks, these do not need to be fired and are ready for use once they dry.
The work does not only require hardiness and but also very skilled hands to make the bricks in uniform shape and size.
According to locals, a normal worker can only dig out 15-20 bricks a day. Thus, if they want to build a house it takes a year or two to ready them.
Over the years, people have also discovered that laterite can also be used to make statues and other decorative items. The craft of making fine-art items is only a decade old, but it has already created a new opportunity for earning a livelihood.
At a shop owned by Tran Van Kieu in the village, one can see lots of laterite ornamental works like tigers, elephants, lions, lamps, vases and others. Kieu says that besides his wife and son, he also has more than 10 other workers in his workshop.
"While producing bricks requires only health and skilled hands, making these works also requires creativity," Kieu says. "Therefore, not many people can earn money by this work."
While a brick fetches him VND8,000-10,000, the statues and decorative works rake in millions. He and some other skilled artisans have also been invited to other places to create decorations for houses, temples, and pagoda gates and walls.
"Thanks to its rustic beauty, laterite bricks and decorative works have recently become popular," Kieu says.
"More and more people are spending a lot of money to buy laterite to build a country house."
Thus, in addition to old houses, temples, and walls in Thach That, we can also see new structures with the dark brown bricks mushrooming in many other places, enhancing the rustic beauty of the countryside.