Đọc bài viết này bằng tiếng Việt
Growing up in Việt Nam as a kid, when the lights of electricity had yet to pollute the world and the night sky was truly black, a lantern had mysterious power over my childhood.
How can it not be? Imagine sitting under a sky of a million stars listening to the songs of nature: leaves singing, cricket chirping, earth turning and even the sounds of silence in brief moments. And when that lantern shined as it swayed to the rhythm of the autumn winds, it was as if you had your own little star.
With a culture of “sweets” and “lights”, Tết Trung Thu or Mid-Autumn Festival was indeed the “Children’s New Year”. Even for an adult, it remains a wonderful reminiscence of how simple life used to be.
This will be our little daughter Mây Sơn’s first Tết Trung Thu. Being only four months old, I don’t think she understands the significance of this tết yet. Still, she loves colors and lights; so I set out to learn and create a lantern in time for her own little “festival”.
Mây Sơn was born in the year of the dragon and is nicknamed “Rồng Con” or “Baby Dragon” by my family. I wanted to design a lantern just for her. After some thinking, I decided on a lantern with the intent and spirit of: an egg cracking to give birth to a little baby dragon.
Raw bamboo, multicolor Cellophane sheets, thick paper (for the dragon cutout), metal wires, glue, clear tape, needle and thread.
I made a simple sketch of the lantern and details of certain parts. I was excited to see how this will turn out.
Trying to be authentic to my childhood, I had hoped to use raw bamboo; however, getting raw and green bamboo in the U.S. was challenging due to the shipping cost. After a few phone calls to a bamboo farm in Mississippi, I decided to go with the dried decorative bamboo found in the local art supplies store.
Since these dried bamboo sticks have a lot of knots, splitting them was very difficult at first. I ended up using a combination of my mother’s big kitchen knife, an axe and a hammer to get the job done.
Even in the dried state, I was very surprised at how flexible and strong the bamboo was. Although just to be on the safe side, I ran them under hot water anyway.
Growing up in Việt Nam, I often used rubber band to bind bamboo. It’s quick and strong but didn’t last very long. Here, I used metal wires as a superior replacement for binding the bamboo sticks together.
Another close-up of the wire bindings.
The drum frame and the two main egg rings complete.
Oops. I discovered a small crack in one of the drum frame rings. I really didn’t want to undo all the wire bindings so I slabbed on a supporting bamboo piece and bound them together with wires.
Since I was working with dried bamboo, I needed to use a saw to cut the main bar for the drum. This bar will act as the base for the spinning dragon.
Center bar successfully attached to the drum with a hole in the center. This is where I plan to place the spinner.
Started working on the spinner’s base. I used sand papers to smooth out the bamboo in hope that it will be smooth for spinning.
Drilling bamboo is surprisingly stressful as it can crack very easily. Here, I started with the smaller drill head and slowly moved up until I widened the hole. I was planning to insert a thinner stick of bamboo to hold up the spinning dragon.
Cracked! Well, that didn’t work. When I was trying to “tighten” up the joined bamboo, the nicely-sanded piece cracked. I would have to suspend the dragon from the top rather than holding it up from the bottom.
At the end of the first night, the drum and egg frames were complete. Here, I was testing to see how the Cellophane sheets would look on the drum. Not bad!
Using a glue stick, I was able to attache the Cellophane sheets to the drum. However, I noticed that the glue stick was a bit waxy and left dirty residues on the bamboo and plastic.
My wife suggested that I use needle and threads to bind the Cellophane with the bamboo. Sewing was fun, but definitely much more time-consuming.
All done with attaching the Cellophane to the bamboo frames. I cheated a bit here and used clear tapes where ever sewing was a much more difficult option. Look at all those vibrant colors on the egg shells!
Here, the two egg shells and the drum were now bound together with wires.
Started working on the paper cutout of the dragon to create the silhouette for the drum.
Opening up the dragon’s eyes.
This was me rushing to the finish line before nightfall.
All done. Added the LED candles to the bottom of the egg shells.
Close-up of the dragon chasing a heart.
Another dragon silhouette.
Dragon-in-drum close-up. Notice the bow at the dragon’s tail? Yes, it’s a girl dragon.
Dragon silhouette seen through egg shells.
This was the first time I created a Trung Thu lantern from scratch in the U.S. After gathering the raw materials, it came down to trial and error and ultimately problem solving the design.
It was a great feeling to work with raw bamboo like a kid; but the greatest joy was knowing that I was creating something from scratch for my daughter.
After dinner, we turned off all the lights in the house.
Carried by grandma, followed by mommy singing a popular Tết Trung Thu tune, led by daddy holding the lantern, Mây Sơn had her traditional “rước đèn” or lantern and moon welcoming procession around the house. She smiled sweetly at the lantern but was perhaps more curiously amused at the commotion.
Holding Mây Sơn’s hand as she was falling asleep later that evening, I realized she grew so much in the past few months. She is so much bigger in body and spirit. In a new world, where everything is a new learning opportunity for her, she also gives my family and I many opportunities to learn. Love remains a perpetual lesson.
Happy first Tết Trung Thu, little Mây Sơn. Don’t grow up too fast, con gái; we’re still trying to catch our breath.
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