Quang Nam commune makes cottage industry from old craft

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Le Cong Thanh, 77, in the making of a house from mangrove palm in Cam Thanh Commune in Hoi An outskirts. Photo: Doan Cuong/Tuoi Tre

A commune in the central province of Quang Nam has started a cottage industry based around the plentiful mangrove palms that grow on the outskirts of Hoi An.
According to locals living around the Bay Mau mangrove palm forest in Quang Nam, a father-and-son team is responsible for breathing new life into an old tradition.
Le Cong Thanh, 77, and his son Le Cong Thang, 40, harvest their materials from a 500 square meter tree farm behind their palm frond home.
“My grandfather planted the first 2,500 palms, and the garden has provided for generations of our family,” said Thanh, who was born and raised in Cam Thanh Commune.
His son told Tuoi Tre that they've lived in palm houses their whole lives, and they only just began to attract attention from visiting tourists.
The material generated so much buzz that a resort manager in Da Nang sent a representative to meet Thang and order a palm bar.
“I agreed to build it, but I was anxious because I had to work out a design that was more artistic than simple like the house we live in,” Thang said.
He asked the village's most experienced craftsmen to help out and the team spent 15 days making a 100 square meter bar.
The resort was happy and Cam Thanh quickly became a brand.
Reaching out
Last year, the pair built an entire coffee shop for a customer in the town of Buon Ma Thuot.
They loaded local materials like bamboo stalks and rattan onto three trucks bound for the Central Highlands town, where they put together the entire shop.
He was paid VND80 million (US$3,745) for the job.
Thang said the new interest in the commune's materials and craftsmanship has brought new interest and prosperity to his community.
A normal 100 sq.m. house now costs VND50-70 million here. A more complicated structure can fetch up to VND200 million, he said.
Some tourists have had a few built to ship them home.
Houses to go 
Le Lieu from Cam Chau Commune sold his first house to a group of US tourists a couple of years ago.
Lieu said the tourists were led to the commune during a particularly hot summer day by a Da Nang tour guide named Hung.
They first caught sight of him building a house, then asked to take a rest inside and realized it was surprisingly cool.
“I told them that it also retains heat well in the winter thanks to the thickness of the palm stalks," Lieu told Tuoi Tre. "One of the tourists immediately ordered a 30 square meter house to bring home.” 
He shipped the house over in pieces and emailed an instructional film Hung had recorded about how to put it together.
Lieu sold two more houses to Americans after that. Last year, he sold more to buyers in Japan and the Middle East.
New ideas
Vo Tan Muoi, 70, and his son Vo Tan Tan in Cam Thanh have sold ten mangrove palm umbrellas to buyers in Singapore. 
Muoi said the local palm products don't contain a single piece of metal.
“Using metal would ruin them,” Tan said. He and his father now produce a wide array of all-bamboo products at home, including bicycles.
Tan said they have learned a lot online about crafting sophisticated items -- everything from hot tubs to an entire restaurant.
He said customers usually just give them a rough idea and they have to come up with a design.
The craftsman said that's a difficult job even for professionals because mangrove palm doesn't function like metal or wood.

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