Metamorphosis – Hoi An, Vietnam Trip #5

March 14, 2008 at 2:44 pm | Posted in itchy backside | 1 Comment
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The thing I like about travelling beside the usual sightseeing, shopping (or bargaining) and food (though I am not exactly a foodie) is how you can learn about something new – be it culture, religion, or even how things are made, like when we accidentally bummed into the old house and saw how the lantern was made.

Incidentally, we found this Handicraft Village and thought it should be another workshop place where they make craft works. But this one looked a bit newer. Again, no one was at the entrance asking us for tickets so we thought it should be okay to just take a look. Before we could take a proper look at the place and decide where to start exploring, a Vietnamese lady appeared from nowhere and asked if she could help bring us around. Er, I think so lor, what do we have to lose? No need to pay one hor? She also never said anything about charging a fee… (Tisu Girl! Why you so naive! Where got such thing as free lunch one!)

So she started to bring us around the open air sheltered areas and explained the process of making pottery and lanterns, weaving of floor mats and embroidery work by the minority tribe from the Northern Vietnam. There were demonstrations on how each craft was done by hand. Although these were interesting, they were not new to me cos I had seen the process before. Then she mentioned about something else which I couldn’t make out initially due to her strong accent. We were promtly brought to a room just across.

My goodness! Now I understand what she was talking about!

silk worms
Er, these are not your fried white noodle for brekky hor…:O

Er, so what were these? Silkworms! Aiyo! Two big trays of silkworms! I mean I am not the squeamish kind of person, but hor, so many worms wriggling around looked a bit gross leh

Eee! Tisu Boy was such an itchy finger! Er, soft or hard one har?

silk worm feeding
Feeding on the mulberry leave. Er, I din lift these up, the old lady did :p

Silkworm is the larva or caterpillar of Bombyx mori, the silkmoth. Today the silkmoths only live in captivity as they have been domesticated and cannot survive independently in nature, especially when they have lost the ability to fly. Each female silkmoth can lay more 300 – 400 eggs about 0.6cm long, with each egg taking about 10days to hatch. The female dies after laying the eggs, and the male properly dies of heartbreak shortly after…:p The silkworms eat like monsters, haha, eat all day and all night on their favourite mulberry leaves, and go through 4 stages of moulting (or skin shedding) for about four to six weeks. After the 4th moult, with colour slightly yellow, skin tighter and at about 7.5cm long, these silkworms start to produce a fine thread by making a figure of eight movement some 300,000 times. Eventually they enclose themselves in a cocoon of raw silk secreted with the salivary glands, protecting themselves in their most vulnerable stage as a pupa.

cocoon shelf
The colour of the cocoon can be white, yellow or even grey, with white
ones producing the finest of silk

“Earthquake!” The pupa inside the cocoon must have been scared to death
when the Vietnamese lady shook it violently in her hand…

The pupa takes about 16days before it metamorphoses into the adult moth. However, in order for it to emerge from its cocoon, it needs to secrete an alkali which eats its way into the cocoon, thus ruining the silk threads. Therefore, during the commercial production of silk, only enough adult moths are allowed to emerge to ensure the continuation of the species. Lucky ones! At least they get to mate before the end of their short lifespan. It must have felt like winning Toto….

So what happens to the suay ones?

They are boiled to death! Help!!!

Okay, this is the part I think I do not know – that they have to kill the silkworm to get the silk thread. 😦  In order to get a long and unbroken silk thread from the cocoon, these unfortunate silkworms are killed by heat! Most of the time they are immersed in boiling water as it also softens the cocoon and removes sericin, a gum that cements the filament fibres of the silk together, thus making it easier to pick up the silk filament ends for reeling. Silk must be reeled off the cocoon quickly before the pupa begins to rot and taint the thread with unpleasant smells. The dead pupae are discarded or in some countries eaten as a cuisine…eeee…steamed pupae anybody?? 😮

A primitive reeling mechanism. It is said that each cocoon can
produce more than 900 metres of silk thread!

About 2,000 to 3,000 cocoons are required to metamorphosize, er, I mean, to make a pound of silk, that is about 450 grams. Goodness…now I am feeling bad about buying my silk sleeping bag at a steal of US$4! Wonder how many tiny lives were killed to keep me warm?? I wonder do vegetarians and vegans consider using silks or other things made of animal matters as taking lives?

Anyway, after showing us the fate of silkworms, we followed the nice Vietnamese lady to another room. Here, the girls kept their hands busy doing embroidery work.

vietnamese girl doing embroidery
Using a photograph as a guide, these girls painstakingly sew
on cotton canvas

Then came the catch for all the guiding around. The Vietnames lady started to persuade me into buying the embroidery work. No, ‘pushed’ is a better word…

“Isn’t this a nice piece of work? The flower is so lovely!”

“Isn’t this lovely to have at home?”

I had no doubts in the skills of these artisans. But the feeling was more like a sweatshop, where one merely repricated similar pieces without putting her own artistic sense into the work. So you ended up having great embroidery work but looked lifeless without any innovative input. But this was just my personal opinion. Anyway the price tag was way too high for us, and where on earth was I going to hang that ‘lovely flower’ in my war-zoned house? So politely, I told her, “Yes, they are very nicely done, but it is a bit expensive for us.”

“What expensive??! Not expensive! The small one only cost xxx (I forgot how much liao) It’s not expensive!” The nice Vietnamese lady seemed to be a bit impatient now.

Ooops. I could sense her displeasure. But it doesn’t mean that every time you go into a shop you must buy something right? So I thanked her for her time and said I did not want to buy them and we left the handicraft village. It was only then that we saw another two ang moh tourists stepping into the place looking blur like sotong, and another nice Vietnames lady popping up from somewhere to entertain them.

Tourists’ trap.

Also see related posts:
> Raise the Red Lantern – Hoi An, Vietnam Trip #4
> The Way of Life – Hoi An, Vietnam Trip #3
> Idyllic Ancient Town – Hoi An, Vietnam Trip #2
> Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon – Hoi An, Vietnam Trip #1


1 Comment »

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  1. I found your blog on google and read a few of your other posts. I just added you to my Google News Reader. Keep up the good work. Look forward to reading more from you in the future.

    Stacey Derbinshire

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