Phu Binh Village used to be very busy for the weeks leading up to the Full Moon Festival every year. However, although less than two weeks remain until this year’s festival, the village is quite quiet with just over ten households working on lanterns.
Nguyen Son Lam, a Phu Binh villager who has nurtured an interest in making lantern since he was a little boy, said that all of his siblings practiced the craft but some of them have left for other well-paid jobs in recent years.
Lam himself also found a stable job at the Children’s Hospital 1, but when the Full Moon Festival is around the corner, he resumes working on glossy glass papers and bamboo frames after his working time.
“I made around 3,000 lanterns each year in the past, but the figure was only several hundred this year as the schools and people have been avoiding mass gathering due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Lam said.
Facing the same situation, Nguyen Duc Thang, another Phu Binh villager, said that the number of orders for lanterns he has received from this year’s customers is only one tenth of that in 2019.
"Last year, we sold around 2,000 lanterns, but now less than 200 have been made. This year, our products are only made to order, most of them being traders from Dong Nai Province. Some shops and bookstores in the city have also made orders but with small quantity.”
“We have to promote our goods. The days when traders have to come to our house to make pre-orders and leave some money as deposit weeks ahead of the festival like it used to be in the past have gone,” Thang said with a sigh.
Several years ago, traditional lanterns struggled to win customers’ favour against fierce competitiveness from made-in-China electric lanterns. They now have to face a second attack by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Phu Binh villagers strive to preserve the craft of lantern making (Photo: nld.com.vn)
Assorted lanterns in a wide range of prices from VND70,000 to VND200,000 are now being on sold along many streets in Ho Chi Minh City, such as Luong Nhu Hoc (District 5), Cach Mang Thang Tam (Tan Binh District), and Lac Long Quan (District 11), but they attract few customers.
Thu, a shop seller in District 5, shared that her shop has displayed lanterns for more than 20 days, but they are not well consumed.
Due to COVID-19, customers tend to avoid going out for shopping while tightening their budget. In previous years, Thu often received orders from businesses and management board of residential blocks, who hosted annual Full Moon banquets for children of their employees and residents. This year, most of the above-mentioned customers have cancelled the activities, making a slump in both lantern making and selling places.
Not being discouraged, Phu Binh villagers have fought ways to revive the gloomy situation. Le Van Thanh, a 16-year-old student who have five-year experience working with traditional lanterns, has suggested his parents to create new designs for their lanterns which can draw the interest of children, including Doraemon, Pikachu, and Princess Elsa.
He also has made video providing instruction on how to make lanterns and published them on social network, thus advertising Phu Binh lanterns to viewers.
Le Xuan Si, a resident in Lac Long Quan Street, District 11, said that the lanterns he has produced this year are not only for sale but have also been made as gifts for charity activities. He decided to present them to children at orphanages and pagodas.
Si always bears in mind that, although the craft cannot generate a high income, he has responsibility to preserve his ancestors’ practice.