Woodwork village overcomes Knotty problem

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Le Van Truc (R), who owns the Thuong Truc Company, guides a worker assembling a carved wooden bed. Truc is one of the Le Van's family members, who are considered to have started the wood craft in My Xuyen Village.

My Xuyen Village in central Vietnam is famous for its woodwork, which it sells not only at home but also abroad.

The village in Thua Thien-Hue Province, home to UNESCO heritage town Hue, has been renowned for its wooden handicrafts since the Nguyen Dynasty era in the early 19th century. There are poems about its craftsmen building everything from palaces and temples to houses and incense tables.

Many of them are made to this day, including the rường, a kind of traditional Vietnamese house in Phuoc Tich Village, and wooden temples and pagodas in the central region. Especially noteworthy are reproductions of the worshipping house of the Le Van family built in 1881 at the center of My Xuyen Village. The Le Van's are considered to have started the wood craft in the village.

But it was not an easy path to glory. The village in Phong Dien District, more than 40 kilometers north of Hue, went through tough times that challenged the very survival of its traditional craft.

The Vietnam War saw the work cease for a long time, and it seemed unlikely there would be a revival.

It was after the war ended in 1975 that a famous artisan, Le Do Tuy, established the My Xuyen Art Sculpture Cooperative. It not only sparked a renaissance but also soon made the village a famous name in the domestic market as well as in many European countries.

But 15 years later, in 1990, there was trouble again, this time due to a lack of funds.

Many artisans left the village to look for greener pastures elsewhere in the country. The most famous woodwork artisans in places like Ho Chi Minh City such as Le Van Cu and Bui Quang Thanh in District 12 are from My Xuyen.

GETTING THERE

From Hue Town (Thua Thien-Hue Province), tourists can reach My Xuyen Village by car/motorbike or by train. If going by car, tourists should take National Highway 1A, go north to the My Chanh Market three-way intersection, turn right into National Highway 49B, then pass Phuoc Tich Bridge, turn left and drive along the O Lau River about 500 meters to the entrance gate of My Xuyen Village.

Visitors can also take a Hue-Dong Hoi train at Hue and get off at My Chanh Station near the My Chanh Market three-way intersection.

The train leaves at 5-6 a.m. and returns at 5-6 p.m. every day.

The village itself again saw a revival in 2003 when Le Van Man set up a handicraft export company with 50 workers, including many who had left.

In 2006 Le Van Truc, a skilled craftsman, opened his own business which is now the profitable Thuong Truc Company which has revenues of around VND5 billion (US$238,000) a year.

Last year the business started to focus more on antique interior furniture. It has sold three rường houses, each priced at around VND1.5 billion ($71,300), to HCMC, the Central Highlands resort town of Da Lat, and Thanh Hoa in the north.

Truc says: "My Xuyen is already a known brand. What we need to do is strengthen the brand with products."

He is not interested in the mass market, he adds, but wants to focus on good design and quality wood.

Besides the two companies, there are also 11 smaller workshops in the village, each with 10 to 20 workers who earn up to VND8 million ($380) a month.

Each business focuses on certain lines of products, such as the one owned by Le Van Huu which has become famous for sophisticated wooden statues.

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