Saturday, February 15, 2014

Lanterns in Hoi An Vietnam

It was a quick drive from the beachside Furama Resort near Danang to the ancient city of Hoi An. We went for the tailors (there are about 500 of them) and fell in love with everything in the charming village - ancient homes with yin-yang clay roof tiles and moss covered walls, ancient temples and plenty of beautiful outdoor restaurants. We strolled through the Old Town, browsed in shops. At dusk, we crossed the Chur Bridge and walked along the riverbank, taking in the beauty and light of hundreds of thousands of brightly lit lanterns.

The lantern stalls are all similar and prices are uniform - $4 for a lantern purchased at night, $3 during the day. The lanterns come in many designs, colors and patterns, and each vendor will be happy to tell the story behind the construction and style. Typically, the artisan selects bamboo an soaks it in water for ten days or so to sanitize it (au revoir, pests and termites!). The wood is then cut, bent and formed into various shapes to make the frame. Silk is stretched cover the lamp et voila, it's ready to go. Less expensive versions have metal frames with synthetic covers. All can easily be collapsed to ship or slip into your suitcase. 

The lanterns range from simple round forms to intricate octagonal, hexagonal and tulip shapes. Each shape and color is symbolic; the simple round ones reflect harmony, balance, warmth, peace and good luck. The craft was introduced to Hoi An in the late 16th century when Chinese traders first settled in the area. According to lore, the first lantern maker in town was a Chinese man named Xa Duong who was an expert in making dragonheads and lanterns for various festivals. Eventually, lanterns that were once reserved for special occasions were used every day.

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