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Saigoneers Prefer Vietnam's Paper Lanterns Over Chinese Ones. Artisans Can Barely Keep Up.

In recent years, locally produced paper lanterns have slowly taken back the mid-autumn market from their Chinese counterparts.

Every year, during the eighth month of the lunar calendar, Vietnamese of all ages look forward to participating in the various activities surrounding the Mid-Autumn Festival. Traditionally considered “children’s Tet,” now the occasion is enjoyed by people from all walks of life.

Older Vietnamese see the festival as the perfect time to express gratitude to their clients, colleagues and supervisors, kids are eager to congregate with friends over lanterns, and young revelers trek to the local lantern enclaves to take in the festive spirit.

With less than a week remaining before mid-autumn — which falls on September 24 in 2018 — lantern shops are pulling out all the stops to cater to local decoration demand. In Saigon, these shops line the famous “lantern street” of Luong Nhu Hoc, as well as nearby lanes like Ngo Nhan Tinh, Nguyen Trai and Hai Thuong Lan Ong in District 5.

Nguyen Chau, who sells lanterns on Luong Nhu Hoc, told Zing that she started preparing products at the beginning of the seventh lunar month with both traditional Vietnamese paper lanterns and battery-powered plastic lanterns from China.

“The demand [for lanterns] at that point was modest, mostly I used the first batch to survey market interest and then decide which of the two types to focus on,” she said. “Now, I only get stock from traditional sources; the Chinese products are there for some diversity in case any customer requests them.”

Locally made lanterns usually originate from artisan communities in Saigon, like those in District 6 or 11. The most-recognized type in the city is made of red glass paper and a bamboo frame with a coil spring to hold a candle. Chinese-produced lanterns are usually made of plastic or printed paper, with a handle containing the battery for the light bulb and music box inside.

Quoc Huy, the owner of a lantern shop on Ngo Nhan Tinh Street, told the news source that customers tend to go for traditional lanterns this year, although they’re usually more expensive than battery-powered ones. As we inch closer to the day of the festival, demand for paper lanterns is draining the supply of materials, while driving costs higher.

Some lantern workshops are constantly experiencing shortages of glass paper, while prices for this material have almost doubled, according to Zing.

“I already ordered a few days ago, but the glass paper still hasn’t been delivered,” Binh, who owns a traditional lantern-making workshop in Saigon, shared. “An inadequate amount of glass paper affects our craft a lot; orders arrive constantly but we’re reluctant to take on more.”

Binh added that this is the first year this has happened, and other artisans are also reeling from the unprecedented demand and paper scarcity.

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