Vietnam’s ‘incense village’ blazes pink ahead of lunar new year

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This picture taken on January 3, 2019 shows Vietnamese woman Dang Thi Hoa sitting in a courtyard as workers stack incense sticks in the village of Quang Phu Cau on the outskirts of Hanoi. (AFP)
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This picture taken on January 3, 2019 shows Vietnamese woman Le Thi Lieu carefully picking incense sticks kept for drying on a street in the village of Quang Phu Cau on the outskirts of Hanoi. (AFP)
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This photo taken on January 3, 2019 shows a Vietnamese woman collecting dried incense sticks in a courtyard in the village of Quang Phu Cau on the outskirts of Hanoi. (AFP)
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This aerial picture taken on January 4, 2019 shows incense sticks kept in a courtyard for drying in the village of Quang Phu Cau on the outskirts of Hanoi. (AFP)
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This picture taken on January 3, 2019 shows Vietnamese woman Le Thi Lieu carefully picking incense sticks kept for drying on a street in the village of Quang Phu Cau on the outskirts of Hanoi. (AFP)
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This picture taken on January 3, 2019 shows a Vietnamese woman carrying bamboo sticks for dying at a workshop in the village of Quang Phu Cau on the outskirts of Hanoi. (AFP)
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This picture taken on January 3, 2019 shows villagers driving past stacks of incense sticks kept on a street for drying in the village of Quang Phu Cau on the outskirts of Hanoi. (AFP)
Updated 08 January 2019
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Vietnam’s ‘incense village’ blazes pink ahead of lunar new year

  • Hoa’s family started making the sticks more than 100 years ago and her mother still pitches in along with her teenage daughter who helps out after school

HANOI: In Vietnam’s “incense village,” dozens are hard at work dying, drying and whittling down bamboo bark to make the fragrant sticks ahead of the busy lunar new year holiday.
It is the most frantic time of year for workers in the cottage industry in Quang Phu Cau village on the outskirts of Hanoi, where families have been making incense for more than a century — a great source of pride for many.
“It is a traditional and spiritual job making these sticks,” Dang Thi Hoa told AFP, sitting amid bundles of bright pink incense sticks drying under the afternoon sun.
Her village is among several dotted across Vietnam making the sticks, the scent of each batch tailored to the tastes of regions they will be sold in.
Sales tick up every year ahead of and during the Tet lunar new year in February, when throngs of people crowd into temples to light incense during worship, or burn the sticks on the ancestral altar at home.
Hoa’s family started making the sticks more than 100 years ago and her mother still pitches in along with her teenage daughter who helps out after school.
Selling her sticks to central Vietnam, Hoa can earn up to $430 a month leading up to Tet, a tidy sum in the country where the average monthly income is $195.
Most households in the alleys of Quang Phu Cau are involved in the ancient trade.
Some hack bamboo planks down to be fed into a whittling machine; others dip the thin strips into buckets of pink dye, leaving hundreds of brightly colored bushels fanned out like bouquets on the streets to air out.
After, women donning cloth face masks coat the dried sticks with aromatic incense paste before redrying them and shipping them off for packaging.
The work offers more than just pride for many in Quang Phu Cau: like Hoa, many earn good money making incense compared to factory work nearby.
“This job is hard work, but I am earning enough to raise two of my children to become doctors,” said Le Thi Lieu as she laid her incense out to dry.
That said, she’s happy her two other kids have decided to work with her.
“We need at least one to work in the business so they can take over in the future.”


No politics please for Baghdad bikers aiming to unite Iraq

Updated 20 January 2019
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No politics please for Baghdad bikers aiming to unite Iraq

  • That is why the first rule of his bikers club is: you do not talk about politics
  • The Iraq Bikers — who now number 380 — are men of all ages, social classes and various faiths

BAGHDAD: Roaring along Baghdad’s highways, the “Iraq Bikers” are doing more than showing off their love of outsized motorcycles and black leather: they want their shared enthusiasm to help heal Iraq’s deep sectarian rifts.
Weaving in and out of traffic, only the lucky few ride Harley Davidsons — a rare and expensive brand in Iraq — while others make do with bikes pimped-up to look something like the “Easy Rider” dream machines.
“Our goal is to build a brotherhood,” said Bilal Al-Bayati, 42, a government employee who founded the club in 2012 with the aim of improving the image of biker gangs and to promote unity after years of sectarian conflict.
That is why the first rule of his bikers club is: you do not talk about politics.
“It is absolutely prohibited to talk politics among members,” Bayati told Reuters as he sat with fellow bikers in a shisha cafe, a regular hangout for members.
“Whenever politics is mentioned, the members are warned once or twice and then expelled. We no longer have the strength to endure these tragedies or to repeat them,” he said, referring to sectarian violence.
With his black bandana and goatee, the leader of the Baghdad pack, known as “Captain,” looks the epitome of the American biker-outlaw.
But while their style is unmistakably US-inspired — at least one of Bayati’s cohorts wears a helmet emblazoned with the stars and stripes — these bikers fly the Iraqi flag from the panniers of their machines.
The Iraq Bikers — who now number 380 — are men of all ages, social classes and various faiths. One of their most recent events was taking party in Army Day celebrations.
Some are in the military, the police and even the Popular Mobilization Forces, a grouping of mostly Shiite militias which have taken part in the fight to oust Islamic State from Iraq in the last three years.
“It is a miniature Iraq,” said member Ahmed Haidar, 36, who works with an international relief agency.
But riding a chopper through Baghdad is quite different from Route 101. The bikers have to slow down at the many military checkpoints set up around the city to deter suicide and car bomb attacks.
And very few can afford a top bike.
“We don’t have a Harley Davidson franchise here,” said Kadhim Naji, a mechanic who specializes in turning ordinary motorbikes into something special.
“So what we do is we alter the motorbike, so it looks similar ... and it is cheaper.”