Everything you ever wanted to know about pines

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A square with a fireplace in front of Pine Village has opened recently in the Central Highlands town of pine Da Lat. The village is all about pines and the need to protect the iconic plant.

The common pine tree that covers the hills around Da Lat now has its own museum on the outskirts of the Central Highlands' town.

The museum, set up by the Da Lat-based embroidery firm XQ, is the centerpiece of a Pine Village at 258 Mai Anh Dao Street, Ward 8, Da Lat, next to the famous and much-frequented Valley of Love.

All the different parts of the pine tree are on display - wood, resin, bark, pine needles and fruit - along with information about them and staff to explain the parts and their myriad uses.

Vo Van Quan, the founder and director of XQ, said pine might be the commonest tree in Da Lat, which is dubbed "the city of a thousand pines," but few people knew much about it.

"The pine museum will help lovers of Da Lat know about the plant and feel the urge to protect it," he said.

Protection of the pine is sorely needed as scores of pine forests in the Da Lat area have been destroyed by illegal tin mining at least since 1995.

The museum stands amid pine-clad hills where there are many houses built entirely of pine and decorated with the soft timber.

In front of the museum is a square with a fireplace where every Saturday visitors can hear about local legends, chat with the visiting artists, and watch performances of highland music.

The fireplace is decorated with pine wood and a new kind of paper called "pine threads."

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The paper was invented by painter Phan Hai Bang at XQ's invitation after his successful decade developing bamboo paper to promote rural Vietnam.

It has found widespread acceptance as a decorative material in the town of Hue, where it originated. Bang himself considers the paper a work of art.

Like the bamboo threads, each piece of paper from his new pine threads is unique as Bang does not mass produce them.

Their manufacture is based on that for Dó, a Vietnamese traditional paper named after the Thymelaeaceae family of flowering plants.

It starts with peeling the pine, then cutting it into small pieces, soaking them in water overnight, then cooking them in a lime solution for around 12 hours, washing them with water, and later, mashing them into powder. The powder is then mixed with water and the mixture is poured onto thin frames and the water removed by pressing and drying, using machines or blotting sheets.

Water can be sprayed on the paper when it's still wet to create the desired pattern.

The paper, made from pine wood, is the first ever in Vietnam.

Bang and several other invited artists are displaying their creations made from local material at the Artists' Corner of the Pine Village.

While he has lanterns and other decorations made from pine paper on display, Bang's fellow Hue artist Trieu Tam Anh is exhibiting poems and paintings about Da Lat that are carved on pine blocks.

Da Lat-born photographer Nguyen Van Phuoc is showing a collection of his photos of pine trees, trunks and limbs in all their diversity of shape and texture.

Phuoc, known better as MPK, said he took the photos when he first stepped foot in the village and saw people cutting pieces of pine for decorations.

He said he had taken many photos of pine forests but this was the first time he had captured the actual timber.

Quan said several artists from the US and Mexico had agreed to participate next year.

He said, "By establishing the pine village, I want to send a message that the pine forests are an invaluable asset. Da Lat would not be Da Lat without them."

The village will be open to tourists until the end of next year, when the town celebrates 120 years since the French scientist and physician Alexandre Yersin first visited the area in 1883. Tickets cost VND20,000 (less than one US dollar) apiece.

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