Expat Rescources

A Retired Man in His 70s Finds Purpose in Creating Wooden Baskets

Source: Vientiane Times

Achieving success is not just about getting a university education and living the good life through the accumulation of wealth – it’s also important to enjoy your life and be satisfied, so that contentment is derived from a sense of fulfillment and a job well done.

Some people study and work hard but fail in the end because they hoped for too much and had unreasonable expectations.

One man, named Oun Xayavong, now aged 75, has found happiness in his retirement by using the bamboo crafting skills he learned from his parents when he was young.

The craftsman, who lives in Nakhanthoung village, Xaythany district, Vientiane, told this reporter that after he got married he tried his hand at a variety of jobs, but didn’t meet with much success because he didn’t have a university qualification.

Most of the jobs available to him involved manual labor and didn’t bring him much money. He kept some livestock and grew rice and other crops in order to support his growing family.

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But he was always worried that he wouldn’t be able to earn enough to give his children a decent education, which he believed was essential to give them a good life. Thankfully, in the end, most of his children were able to take their education to a satisfactory level.

Although Oun is now in his eighth decade, he is still making well-crafted items that can be used as fish traps, fish baskets, steam rice tray, and put to a variety of other uses.

If you drive along the main road in Nakhanthoung village, Xaythany district, Vientiane, you are bound to see the elderly man sitting on a rattan chair outside his house, deftly weaving strips of bamboo using a sharpened stick.

Every morning he sits there, working away until evening. There is a wooden bed beside him where he can always lie down if he feels like having a rest or taking a nap.

Oun is a friendly man who likes to chat and always has a smile on his face. His neighbors, including children, like to gather at his house, especially in the winter when they make a fire and sit around it together. As he carries on weaving the neatly cut strips of bamboo, he reminisces about his childhood and sometimes relates folktales to the children.

He uses a knife to cut a bamboo stem, which he whittles into very thin strips, with a piece of cloth tied around his right index finger so that it doesn’t get cut by the bamboo or the knife.

He is able to make at least two items a day, which he sells for 50,000 kip each.

The shops along both sides of Dongmakkhay Market in the Xaythany district are full of attractive bamboo baskets and household utensils, some of which have been made by Oun.

Every two weeks, his wife or son takes the things he has made to the market, where his handiwork is in great demand. But he always has some items available for visitors and people who drop by to pick up something they need at his house.

Oun said he never imagined that his bamboo baskets would earn him money in his retirement because when he was younger most people made these kinds of things themselves. But these days nothing can be had for free and people even have to buy bamboo stems instead of just collecting them in the wild as they used to.

Oun makes a variety of items for household use, mostly depending on the time of year. In the rainy season, fish traps and baskets are in high demand, but his most popular products are the conical-shaped containers used to steam rice over a charcoal fire.

Many older people get bored because they don’t have enough to occupy their time. And some are sad because they realize that time is running out and they’ve left it too late to do the things they dreamed of. So they end up with heartfelt desires but no strength to fulfill them.

“Making bamboo baskets doesn’t earn me much money, but it’s the only thing I’m any good at now and my earnings help to cover my living costs. The important thing is that I enjoy the work and it relaxes me while I’m doing it,” Oun said contentedly.