Hanoi family crafts a dying tradition with hope

Update: 08:58 | 23/08/2018

A steadily shrinking market has not stopped a Hanoi family from crafting wooden mooncake molds for the last 35 years.

Hanoi family, dying tradition, steadily shrinking market, wooden mooncake molds, Tran Van Ban, Tet Trung Thu, Mid-Autumn festival, distinctive shape

Tran Van Ban has been making mooncake molds for over three decades.

The family of Tran Van Ban, 53, in Thuong Tin District, Hanoi, has been making mooncake molds for over three decades. Their working calendar for this product runs from third to the eighth lunar month, when Tet Trung Thu, or the Mid-Autumn festival, is celebrated in September as Mooncakes are a delicacy served during this festival.

Each mooncake mold has a distinctive shape and requires numerous steps. “First off, I have to turn a solid block of wood to a specific frame that the client has ordered,” Ban said. 

The modified block is then carved. There are many types of wood used, but Ban works mainly with xacu, or faux acajen, a kind of softwood. Faux acajen trees line the majority of Vietnam’s streets and parks. The species can sustain tough weather conditions and grow in diverse terrains. Not only is the wood rot resistant, its leaves and barks are said to carry many health benefits. Thus, this wood has high economic value.

Hanoi family, dying tradition, steadily shrinking market, wooden mooncake molds, Tran Van Ban, Tet Trung Thu, Mid-Autumn festival, distinctive shape

Each mooncake mold has a distinctive shape and requires numerous steps.

The timber is sourced from villagers who sell it. The family also goes to Hanoi to buy faux acajen pieces or timber from trees uprooted for traffic projects.

After the mold’s dimensions are measured, the wood block goes on to the drill-press table for carving and smoothing the mold’s interior.

"We didn’t have machinery like this before to smoothen the inside of the mold, so this stage would take a whole day, and we even messed it up sometimes. Now, with this device, it takes less than a minute,” Ban said.

To test the quality of the mold, the craftsman makes a clay mooncake to check whether the measurement and decorative designs on the top and sides of the cake have come out correctly.

The most meticulous work is carving designs into the mold, whether they are mythical creatures or floral and other decorative patterns (Vietnamese lotus flower is the most common). While reframing, drilling and sawing can be done by machines, carving these designs is done completely by hand. Once the intricate design inside the mold is finished, the craftsman makes a handle for the bakers’ convenience.

Hanoi family, dying tradition, steadily shrinking market, wooden mooncake molds, Tran Van Ban, Tet Trung Thu, Mid-Autumn festival, distinctive shape

Ban’s family produces about 500-600 molds every year.

Ban’s family produces about 500-600 molds every year. The prices vary depending on the size, from VND150,000 to 300,000 ($6.5-13) a mold. Their customers are traditional mooncake producers. 

Ban, who says his family inherited the vocation from village elders, says there are less than a handful of families persisting with this vocation. His family makes other wooden artifacts during the rest of the year, when it is not mooncake season. Ban is hopeful that in the near future, people will shift back to using wooden molds instead of those made with plastic or other materials, recognizing its health benefits.

Source: VnExpress

 
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