Our trip to Vietnam over a month ago was not just all vacation. It was also meant for learning. Kayo devoted a lot of time exploring coffee, spaces and shop culture while I tried to find makers and crafters to connect with and learn new things from.
While planning our itinerary and hit lists, I searched online for workshops I could attend in HCMC and one of the first things that popped up on my screen was Overland Club Pottery Studio. After having seen their site and services, I almost immediately reserved a slot because they are very reasonably priced, they hold regular classes and their studio is not very far from where we booked to stay. Registration was super easy too. All I really did was send an email expressing my interest to join one of their classes. I sent my personal details and chose a time slot from the weekly calendar posted on their site. After explaining that I was coming from Manila and will be there only for a few days, they didn’t require me to give an advanced payment. I simply had to show up.
Overland is located just outside central HCMC and is about 20 mins away from District 1 via Uber. It’s a small building with many different rooms where they hold classes and work on projects. The room where we held the class was simple, mostly white and soaked in bright natural light. Bright red roses which one of their craftsmen painted dotted the room’s ceiling and walls. Shelves full of ceramics and clay sculptures are situated all around it. Upon entering, I chanced upon a man working on what looked like a serving platter on an electric wheel. He molded it so quickly and effortlessly! My jaw literally dropped as I watched him transform lumps of clay into flawless pieces.
I chose their “Play and Practice Basic Pottery Class.” I’ve never used a pottery wheel before and I didn’t have enough time to do the two or three-session class so I chose this most basic one. Yes, it was very basic but it was still very challenging. I’m pretty sure I would have needed to do the same session three or four times more in order to get the hang of it. Sadly, I’m not a natural at it as I hope I’d be. 😛
The instructor, Jason, was very gracious and patient with me (Thank God!). He helped me make a soup bowl which I got very close to wrecking a number of times during the two-hour session. I’m glad the bowl turned out pretty okay in the end. It does look like a bowl, as you can see (haha).
Unfortunately, I couldn’t bring it home with me because they needed at least 25 days to fire and glaze it. But I’m still so happy to have devoted time to take that class and get a feel for the pottery wheel. The Overland Club staff was a very friendly bunch too and I thank them for being so helpful and accommodating.
During our second day in Saigon, we discovered NauNau DIY Studio inside the Café Apartment at 42 Nguyen Hue. Obviously, we were there for the coffee shops but Kayo and I were delighted to discover some cool spaces too. NauNau was one of them. NauNau is a place where they make and sell natural beauty and skin care products. They also hold various workshops teaching how to make soaps, bath salts, perfumes, lotions and so much more. So if you can just imagine, their studio smelled like a field of flowers!
The friendly girl who attended to us (Her name was Moc Khiet but introduced herself as Mint) invited me to try making something at the studio. She offered to teach me and encouraged me to come back. So I did! The very next day, I took a 30 minute session and made a lip balm. I chose peach fruit for the scent and a nude tint. It was an easy but fulfilling activity that cost me only Php 300!
What made it an even more awesome experience was the chance to talk crafts with Mint and Uyen, another one of their resident makers in NauNau. They told me about their farm in beautiful Da Lat province where they grow and harvest flowers, herbs and fruit which they used as ingredients for their products. It all sounded very lovely! I will just have to go back and include Da Lat in the hit list! In return, I told them about the flourishing “makers community” in Manila and how almost every week, you’ll find a gathering of crafters in the city making things together. They seemed so surprised and impressed by the idea, wishing it was something young people in Saigon could have and be more interested in.
SCRAPBOOK & LOVE
I was not expecting to find a scrapbooking store in Vietnam when doing my pre-trip research, so I was quite surprised to find Scrapbook & Love in the map. Unlike the modern pocket page scrapbooking system I’m used to, Scrapbook & Love is a studio where they teach how to make fancier, more elaborate types of memory keeping. Specifically, they do accordion albums, exploding boxes and memory frames.
I must admit, these scrapbooking methods don’t exactly appeal to me and don’t suit my lifestyle. I feel like my kids will crush them in no time! However, they are quite pretty and the amount of work put into them is impressive! I can imagine they’re lots of fun to make.
Aside from holding regular classes, they also sell scrapbooking supplies which are mostly imported from the US and can already be found in Manila. Prices are no different either. So unfortunately, I didn’t get to buy any supplies that were out of the ordinary or hard to find but the trip to this shop was nice and interesting nonetheless.
Within our first fifteen minutes in Hanoi, we spotted several of these hand carved wooden stamp stalls by the streets and I was so thrilled! I knew I had to get myself some. Kayo writes about this in the previous blogpost which I encourage you to read (30 Hours in Hanoi Part 1 of 2).
We got a total of five stamps, three of which we had personalised by having the carver add words. The first one was of a turtle, a very sacred animal in Chinese Hanoi culture, on which we had Cu Rua carved which meant “great grandfather turtle” and was what they called the sacred and legendary giant turtle found in the Hoan Kiem Lake (I found all this so interesting!). The second one had a lady in a bike and a blooming flower which are elements I thought are characteristic of Vietnam — that’s also why we had Vietnam carved on it. The third one we chose was a lucky cat just because it was so cute and simply said “Meow.” The other two are slightly bigger and are not only stamps but are also meant to be decorative pieces. These are now sitting on shelves in our living area, reminding me daily of our beautiful trip.
In general, Vietnam. most specifically in Hanoi where we spent the last two days of our trip, is brimming with arts and crafts. There are even streets dedicated to specific handicrafts such as woodworks, national costumes, ceramics, leather, paper lanterns, hats, fabric and so much more. Shopping is so pleasurable because of how beautifully intricate and colourful the local products are!
Art is undoubtedly a very prominent part of Vietnamese culture. You will find all types of makers as you explore its streets — wood carvers, florists, painters, weavers. It’s impossible to walk down an alley and not discover something made by hand — something raw and sincere — that will inspire.
The handmade movement in Vietnam, specifically in the progressive cities such as HCMC, may not be as popular or hip among the young people as it is slowly but steadily becoming here in Manila these recent years, but it is undoubtedly there. It sure has always been a big part of their everyday lives and It’s easy to see that it runs deep and strong in their culture. I do hope it stays that way and that all these new small and local businesses sprouting in the cities such as Saigon and Hanoi keep appreciating, supporting and promoting their own.