Ly Sang and the Art of Porcelain by Minh Long

By: Patrick Gaveau

How did Minh Long I Co, your porcelain company, start?

My family has a long history in the porcelain and tableware business. I’m not sure how many generations, because we emigrated from China. My great-great grandparents came from China to Vietnam to continue their business, and then my father continued it, and then me.

minh longImage source: Ly Sang - Minh Long

It’s like our blood is running with the porcelain.

Where did porcelain originate?

Many thousands of years ago it came from China. That’s why it’s colloquially called fine china.

However, today in China, in general, the mass production is still on the low end. They have some good companies, and they have some high-quality porcelain as well, but they don’t produce top quality porcelain. You’ll find the top quality today in Japan. In the past, it was Germany, France. But now it’s definitely Japan.

minh longImage source: Ly Sang - Minh Long

Why did Japan rise to the top?

I think it just has to do with the many characteristics that make up quality. The most important part is the material. Secondly, the equipment. And then the formulation of the kaolin as well. If you don’t have the correct formulation, it never goes anywhere. So, in Japan these days, I think the breakthrough is the formulation and materials that they find. It’s pushed the quality of their products up quite a bit.

Where do you source the material that you use for your porcelain?

From all around the world. To have good quality kaolin, we have to balance all sides of the product. The strength, the elasticity, how scratch resistant it is, the translucency... There’s many characteristics, and one mine can’t fulfill all of these qualities. Maybe one has the wetness and one has the elasticity. One has the strength.

minh longImage source: Ly Sang - Minh Long

So we have to select the best mines for each quality and mix them. So that’s why our formula becomes very complex.

How does Minh Long make a piece of porcelain?

We have a few processes. Before anything, we have to boil down the raw material, because Minh Long doesn’t buy any processed materials: we buy the raw material straight from the mine. We purify, grind and mix the materials ourselves. After we’ve finished making the porcelain mix, we put it into the machine. The traditional method people used in the past is they melt the clay into a liquid and they fill this liquid clay into water and into a plaster mould made of gypsum. And then they dump all of the water out, and the deposit of the clay left onto the mold forms the shape of the product. And the more contemporary way, they use the machine. The machine is forming, it’s spinning fast. You see in some video that they have a spinning table, and the people use your hand to form it. So it’s the same method, but with the machine. And the most advanced today is what we call high-pressure casting, which also uses liquid, but we use pressure to push the water out. It results in a more even deposit onto the product, and a more complex design for the tableware and the artform, especially for a symmetrical design. But this technology is very complex.

What’s important to customers in high-end porcelain?

First of all it’s the price. Because there’s no doubt about the quality – the quality they can see and feel. Normally the price is not so sensitive to certain levels of quality, but because our product is made in Vietnam, the reputation cannot compare with Japan, Germany or France. In branding we cannot compete despite our high level of quality, which people can see.

minh longImage source: Ly Sang - Minh Long

What should a customer look for when assessing the quality of a porcelain product?

When you buy a piece of porcelain, you can’t know how strong the product is until it breaks. The only visual difference you can see is the glossiness and the whiteness. But there are many ways to cheat the glossiness. They can put lead inside. It’s very glossy, but it’s very soft on the glazed surface. So the end consumer cannot tell. Is it glossy from lead, or is it lead-free?

Our products are lead-free. It’s important to trust the quality of a company.

Banner image source: Ly Sang - Minh Long

 


Finding Furniture in HCMC

By: City Pass Guide

Some time ago, you couldn’t find quality furniture in Ho Chi Minh City - there were fewer malls, fewer local furniture makers, and anything of quality was made for export only.

These days, finding furniture is getting easier. For example, you can find valuable items still left over from when the French were here. There’s about five to six great “junk shops” around HCMC that sell quality colonial French furniture.

Photo by: Jara D&B

Treasure at the Junk Shop

Junk shop brokers scout the country, pursue old properties and buy all the old furniture - wardrobes, chairs, and an assortment of other furnishings - then repurpose it and paint it. Basically, taking old bits of furniture and turning them into creative new domestic products. At these shops, you can get items like aged French pharmaceutical chests and redecorate them - these compartments are ideal for storing small things like jewellery, kitchen cutlery, or other personal items. You have the chance to piece together an assortment of selected items to create your own unique style of interior wooden decor. One such shop is Mr. Au’s, located at 122 Pasteur, across from Saigon Centre and past the rusting gates.

You can also easily attain old shipping pallets and, with a bit of creativity, turn them into attractive pieces of furniture. If you don’t want to spend lots of money to decorate your home, this is really manageable way to make your space look good on a budget.

The Overlooked Wood Street

There’s also wood street (on Ba Hat, stretching from D5 to D10), where you can give the carpenters a design and they will replicate it out of Vietnamese redwood. Most people that walk down wood street might think it’s nothing notable - like scissor street, boot street or safe street . But when you actually go in and visit these shops you can see everything, including laser cut wood with intricate latticework, big chunks of wood being repurposed into everything imaginable, old furniture being restored, and so on.

You can do things like take a nice piece of old wood and have them cut it to size, restore it and then make it into a proper table. You’ll find everything from giant slabs of wood to thin sheets here - and you can utilise them as you see fit. Most of it is Vietnamese redwood, which is extremely hard and sturdy. As you can see, all this requires a bit of work and imagination.

Finding Modern Furniture in HCMC

Quality furniture depends on the wood, as well as how it’s been dried. In the past, this was a big issue and wood was not dried well. This caused furniture to break apart over time. Nowadays, there has been much progress in this regard. There’s great furniture being made here, and although not prevalent, there are definitely stores to check out.

Photo by: Jara D&B

Reasonably Priced Furniture: For more reasonable prices, Nha Xinh (25 Tran Cao Van, D1; 111 Ton Dat Tien, D7) and Hoa Phat (121 Nguyen Cuu Van, Binh Thanh District; 391 Dien Bien Phu, D1) are good options for those on a smaller budget.

For IKEA-style furniture in Ho Chi Minh City, visit Uma (428 Nguyen Thi Minh Khai, D1) and Index Living (Vincom Mega Mall, No. 159 Hanoi Highway, Thao DIen, D2) at one of their many locations. Here, the pieces are cheap and cheerful, but made from lower quality materials.

Photo by: Jara D&B

Local Mid-High End: Saigon River Factory (Tran Ngoc Dien, Thao Dien, D2) is one of Saigon’s well established companies that make furniture out of alabaster and concrete. District Eight Design (E4/52 National Highway 1A, Binh Tan District) is also a delightful find. They craft all their furniture from reclaimed wood and produce tables and desks, seating, and games like foosball tables, pool tables, shuffleboard sets and other items. Gomo Shop (7/30B, Road 13, Binh Hoa Commune, Binh Duong) is one of the leading mid-high end retailers specialising in modern and trendy European style furniture. There’s also Linh Furniture (67 Xuan Thuy) and Decosy (112 Xuan Thuy), as well as Austin Home Interiors (42 Nguyen Dang Giai) - all in Thao Dien, D2.

Photo by Gomo Shop

Imported High End: Although it’s getting easier to acquire imported furniture because of new malls, you will bear the burden of the heavy import tax, as a sophisticated sofa can hit you for around VND200-300 million. The Times Square Building (22-36 Nguyen Hue) has several furniture stores on the ground floor that have some of Italy’s most well-known and respected brands - and probably the most expensive in Ho Chi Minh City.

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