27 April 2007

Fine Porcelain

Thursday was a public holiday, King’s Day, and we also got Friday off. Then next week it’s May Day, so we get both Monday and Tuesday off. I thought about going to the beach too late to get a room at a reasonable price. I thought about flying up north but was too late to get plane tickets. So it’s a stay at home long weekend.

Aside from paying bills, cleaning the house, and catching up on way too many things to even list, I did want to at least take one little trip. Today, with the help of my Vietnamese teacher and her husband’s work car and driver, I was finally able to go to the Minh Long porcelain factory.

I’ve been admiring their products since arriving here. They make beautiful plates and dishes and teapots and bowls. Some are reasonably priced and some are seriously expensive. I generally don’t spend much time looking at the costly items because they are made of very thin, delicate porcelain, and decorated with either dark blues or red, bordered with a lot of real gold. The type of china you’d find at a presidential dinner, or maybe Buckingham palace. I prefer their sturdy dinnerware, the kind you can sometimes drop on the floor without breaking or, if it does smash, you don’t worry about the cost.

Many of their design motifs are based on traditional Vietnamese symbols. Others are quite modern; today I saw green polka-dot dishes. They also have plain white, or white with a tiny line of color around the rim. All of it is beautiful.

It takes about an hour to drive there from where I live, mostly because you have to wade through parts of town that are always jammed with traffic. The main reason for going was because of their stock of seconds. Naturally, I expected a big, dusty room with dim lighting.

I was totally surprised to walk into this incredible palace of a building, with a four story atrium and showrooms on either side of the main entrance. We meandered around the displays, admiring the beauty and craftsmanship. Then it was on to the second floor for the discounted items. I bought a few bowls and plates and tea cups. The fancy gold stuff would be nice as a souvenir, but even at a discounted price, it was too much to spend on something so impractical.

Back on the ground floor, there is a large studio where you can watch a few craftsmen working on wheels or painting vases with glaze. You can also buy unfinished items, paint on glaze, then pick it up the following week after it has been fired in one of the massive kilns that are also in the room.

I wasn’t allowed to take pictures of the items, but if you are really curious, you can go to their website and see some of them: minhlong.com.

I generally eat out of bowls, and since I didn’t own a plate before today it might be a novel experience to try them out. I have a funny feeling they’ll just sit in the cupboard, or maybe I will leave them out as decoration.

Happy May Day