Posted by: hoz49 | March 18, 2008

The Handicap Factory

Before heading back to Saigon our guide took us to a factory that employs handicapped people, sort of like a “Goodwill Industries” Vietnam style.

The tour starts with a giant sign over the entry that reads “Handicap Handicrafts, Welcome to our Honoured Guests”. The factory is housed in an open warehouse and we could see many people inside sitting at benches while working on their individual pieces. It was explained that since the workers had physical and in some cases mental handicaps they were each assigned a certain task to perform and that they didn’t have to get up or move around, this was easier on the workers and simplified production.

Explaining the various steps to finished products

The main product of the factory is lacquered trays, pictures and murals. They also make lacquered furniture and specialty items. A young lady in a beautiful AoDai (long dress) greeted us and explained the various steps necessary to make a lacquered tray or picture. Pictures on the trays can be made by hand painting, colored sand, by scratching through successive layers of paint, by inlaid sea shells, or even crushed egg shells! An item often goes through 40 different steps, from priming to polishing before it is finished.

Scratching with a needle to reveal different colors

Applying colored sand to casework

(I helped with this one, he let me sprinkle sand on the edge)

As we entered the factory we began to see the meticulous work these people do. Some were busy priming wooden plates, trays and slabs but as we moved deeper onto the work floor we saw others crushing duck eggshells to sprinkle the pieces onto the work, making pictures. Some were cutting sea shells with small coping saws to make flakes and stars for inlays. Others were busy scratching their designs into the black lacquer to reveal white underneath. It was an interesting process and as a painter I was fascinated.

Fitting and inlaying shell fragments

Crushed duck shell vase

An artiste!

Cutting sea shell shapes for inlay

Inlay sample work behind

One fellow was especially proud of his masterpiece and held it up for me to take a picture.

Though the workers couldn’t speak english I tried to interact with them by pantomiming their actions to let them know I was interested. Some would smile and hold their work up for inspection, to which I would always give big smile and “thumbs up” or a peace sign.

A white lady in a group following us (and we had seen her at the CuChi Tunnels also) had multiple sclerosis and used a wheelchair to enter the building but although shaky, walked with a cane while going through the factory. I noticed lots of reactions from the workers when they saw her coming by. Most were surprised, chatted to their benchmates and took long looks at the handicapped white lady who was touring their factory. I am sure she felt as touched as I was.

Due to health reasons I attended a handicapped school my first two years of high school. In those days handicapped students were kept in the “special” school the thinking being to make it more convenient for them.

Those two years taught me a lot about how handicapped people interact with the “normal” world. For the most part they do not want to be seen as victims, and though they have a harder time than most, all they want to a chance to have a family and make a decent living. I am sure the people we saw at the factory in Vietnam felt the same way.

At the same time I wondered how many of these people actually were victims, handicapped by the long term effects of Agent Orange used by America during the war?

Agent Orange and other defoliants were spread thoughout Vietnam, including the CuChi Region, in an attempt to deny jungle cover to the Viet Cong. Diseases with limited evidence of an association with Agent Orange are respiratory cancers, prostate cancer, multiple myeloma, Porphyria cutanea tarda (a type of skin disease), acute and subacute transient peripheral neuropathy, spina bifida, Type 2 diabetes, and acute myelogenous leukemia found only in the second or third generation. (From wikipedia)

As people who live close to the land dioxin most certainly migrated through their food supply and into their bodies.

Of course the tour ended with a showroom where their wares are on display and you can purchase items. Prices are much lower than what you would pay in America, but then you have to carry them back home yourself.

For $17.00 I bought a black and white plaque of a fisherman throwing his net on the sea. It uses crushed duck egg shells on black lacquer and is not only beautiful, but tells a story too. I will think of the Vietnamese every time I look at it.



  1. I would have to loved to been there to see this for so many reasons…

  2. Im searching for a quad cuff, one that straps to my hand and i can shave, brush hair-teeth,

  3. I would like to buy a large lacquered mural. Do you know if I can buy online from them?

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