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Thai heritage: Benjarong porcelain

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With delicate colour patterns hand-painted on the surface this national treasure has its origins in the Ming dynasty.

Benjarong porcelain

Photo above of Benjarong porcelain a handicraft which dates back to China’s Ming Dynasty.

Click button to listen to Benjarong Porcelain to download

Economics

Porcelain in living colour

Benjarong artisans make a profitable living at their craft in Samut Sakhon's Ban Don Kai Dee
20/03/2012
Yuthana Praiwan

Urai Taeng-Eim has just finished working out new designs of Benjarong tableware to match her city clients' tastes. Among her new offerings are saucers big enough to hold a snack or a cookie when it's time for tea or coffee.

"I just want the Benjarong to be used in everyday life, not just as a luxury ornament that stands in a glass cabinet or a display window," said Mrs Urai, 56, who was instrumental in establishing the Don Kai Dee Benjarong Village, a small community in tambon Don Kai Dee in Samut Sakhon's Krathum Baen district that specialises in Benjarong porcelain.

Benjarong (literally "five colours") is a Thai porcelain using the primary colours of black, green, yellow, red and white. The primary colours can be mixed to produce different shades or secondary colours.

Benjarong porcelain is made from bone china. Its attractiveness exists not only in the high-quality porcelain and fine shapes but also in the delicate colour patterns hand-painted on the surface.

The porcelain is then glazed to give it a special glow that will not fade over time. It is heated in electric kilns for 10 hours at 800C.

Painted designs on white porcelain originated in China during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). In the early days, Benjarong porcelain was made only for the royal court and the aristocracy.

In recent years, however, Benjarong porcelain has become widely used in homes and hotels as decorative pieces.

The Benjarong village dates back 30 years to when workers at a ceramics factory were left jobless after the factory was forced to liquidate as a result of economic woes.

Mrs Urai was one of them. But in lieu of seeking new jobs at other factories or returning to the farmland and horticulture as most of the village fellows were doing, she and a group of laid-off workers set up their own cottage industry in Benjarong making.

Since production was handmade, their individual businesses suffered when huge purchase orders were made.

"We lost a chance at making a profit several times because we produced Benjarong separately," said Mrs Urai.

It was not until 2001 that the villagers formed a strong handicraft group and got together to establish the Don Kai Dee Benjarong Village.

The government had launched the One Tambon One Product (Otop) scheme and announced support for champion products.

As a consequence, the local Benjarong makers became stronger. They have even shared production when one of their number secured a purchase order above production capacity.

The sales and reputation of the village soared when Her Majesty the Queen unveiled her commitment to preserve Benjarong and the village won several national awards, including first prize for Otop in Samut Sakhon province.

The ceramics produced in the village are of the finest quality and are much sought after by collectors, universally admired for the beauty and grace of their unique form, design and colour.

The unique Benjarong design of Ban Don Kai Dee is called Sakharabenjayamanee, or the Five-coloured Gemstones of Sakhon City.

The design is based on the province's historical background and the Thai symbolism of auspicious colours.

Samut Sakhon is a coastal fishing province and has always been associated with the sea. For that reason, the Sakharabenjayamanee design has a blue-green colour as its main background, representing the soul of the city.

Given the village's unique character, it is now a tourism spot.

The locals prepared their village to welcome visitors, not only to buy their products but also to join in activities as well - demonstrations of the different processes in making Benjarong, tours of the village and visits to nearby orchards and to the coast, even trying their hand at cooking local food.

For those who would like to prolong their stay in the village, standard accommodations are reasonably priced, and food is provided by many Ban Don Kai Dee families.

In 2010, the village was chosen by the local administration, the Tourism Authority of Thailand and the Commerce Ministry for promotion as a trading district and site of the Don Kai Dee Benjarong Fair.

The colourful fair showcases traditional Thai culture and visitors have the opportunity to see the intricate steps involved in making porcelain.

Products on offer include a diverse range of Otop village crafts, gift items and souvenirs as well as orchids from other tambons in the province.

"The villagers' lives are better now than in the past. Our key income now stems not just from Benjarong but also tourism," said Mrs Urai.

But money is not the key focus. Our goal is to develop a happy community in which all members of the family in the village have jobs and a stable income.

(Source: Bangkok Post, Porcelain in living colour, Benjarong artisans make a profitable living at their craft in Samut Sakhon's Ban Don Kai Dee, 20/03/2012
Yuthana Praiwan, link

 Handicrafts Industry Vocabulary

handicraft - "a type of work where useful and decorative devices are made completely by hand or by using only simple tools" (See Wikipedia)
craft - skill and experience, especially in relation to making objects ทักษะ (See Wikipedia)
artisan - a job that requires skill with your hands งานฝีมือ (See Wikipedia)

porcelain -
a ceramic made by heating raw materials including clay in a kiln to temperatures at high temperatures to form a material with "considerable strength, hardness, toughness, whiteness, translucency and resonance; and a high resistance to chemical attack and thermal shock." (See Wikipedia)

Benjarong porcelain - a kind of painted porcelain made in Thailand เบญจรงค์ (See Wikipedia and youtube)
Benjarong tableware

bone china - a type of porcelain first made in Great Britain in 1748 made from the ash of animal bone which contains the chemical phosphate, "known for its high levels of whiteness and translucency, and very high mechanical strength and chip resistance" (See Wikipedia)
glazed - decorated and protected by a smooth and shiny too outside layer (See Wikipedia)
kiln - a very hot oven for baking ceramics and porcelain (See Wikipedia)

royal court
- 1. where the King and Queen live; 2. all the people surrounding the King and Queen 
aristocracy -
the families in the highest class of society who have land, money and power (See Wikipedia)

make a living - do work to earn money (to pay living expenses)

Benjarong artisans make a profitable living at their craft in Samut Sakhon's Ban Don Kai Dee.

match - to look the same as or very similar to something else ซึ่งไม่คู่ควร
client - customer
tastes -
the sorts of things that a person likes
city clients -
customers from the city (Bangkok)
city clients' tastes -
the sorts of things that customers from the city like
new offerings -  new products and services that a company is selling
saucers -
a little plate to put a cup on

Urai Taeng-Eim has just finished working out new designs of Benjarong tableware to match her city clients' tastes. Among her new offerings are saucers big enough to hold a snack or a cookie when it's time for tea or coffee.

luxury - the best and most expensive of something ที่หรูหรา
ornament - a small attractive object used for decoration เครื่องประดับประดา
luxury ornament - an expensive and high quality object used to decorate (the home, clothes, the body, etc)
glass cabinet
display window
instrumental - involved in an important way in making something happen
instrumental in establishing the Don Kai Dee Benjarong Village
community - local people, all the people who live in a local area or place ชุมชน
specialise - to spend all your time doing a small number of things very very well
specialises in Benjarong porcelain


"I just want the Benjarong to be used in everyday life, not just as a luxury ornament that stands in a glass cabinet or a display window," said Mrs Urai, 56, who was instrumental in establishing the Don Kai Dee Benjarong Village, a small community in tambon Don Kai Dee in Samut Sakhon's Krathum Baen district that specialises in Benjarong porcelain.

literally - the meaning of the words (the direct translation of the words)
primary - first and most important
primary colours - sets of colors that can be combined to make a useful range of colors, the three colors red yellow and blue are usually used (See Wikipedia)
shades - colours that are only a little different

Benjarong (literally "five colours") is a Thai porcelain using the primary colours of black, green, yellow, red and white. The primary colours can be mixed to produce different shades or secondary colours.

fine -
thin
fine shapes -
thin shapes 
delicate - easily damaged or broken
surface - the outside or top part or layer of something (example, the flat surface of a desk)
glow - to produce a continuous light and sometimes heat แสงแวววาว
fade - to slowly disappear, lose importance or become weaker อ่อนลง,หายไป,ค่อย ๆ ตาย
Ming Dynasty
- an important period in Chinese history (1368-1644) (See Wikipedia)
decorative pieces

Benjarong porcelain is made from bone china. Its attractiveness exists not only in the high-quality porcelain and fine shapes but also in the delicate colour patterns hand-painted on the surface. The porcelain is then glazed to give it a special glow that will not fade over time. It is heated in electric kilns for 10 hours at 800C. Painted designs on white porcelain originated in China during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). In the early days, Benjarong porcelain was made only for the royal court and the aristocracy. In recent years, however, Benjarong porcelain has become widely used in homes and hotels as decorative pieces.

dates back 30 years - started 30 years ago
ceramics - cups, plates, dishes, sculptures and other objects and ornaments made out of clay
woes - great problems or troubles ความเสียใจ, ความทุกข์ร้อน
liquidate - go out of business , sell off a business
forced to liquidate as a result of economic woes
X in lieu of Y -
X instead of Y, X replacing Y  
laid-off workers -
workers without a job
cottage industry -
making things at home (in a village, for example)
individual - relating to or involving a single, separate person or thing แต่ละบุคคล
individual businesses  
purchase - buy
purchase orders - an order from a customer to buy a quantity of some product

chance - what happens when you don't control events (example: gambling = games of chance)
lost a chance - lost an opportunity, had an opportunity to do something but did not use it
profit
- money that you make from selling goods and services after all your costs have been paid กำไร
lost a chance at making a profit

The Benjarong village dates back 30 years to when workers at a ceramics factory were left jobless after the factory was forced to liquidate as a result of economic woes. Mrs Urai was one of them. But in lieu of seeking new jobs at other factories or returning to the farmland and horticulture as most of the village fellows were doing, she and a group of laid-off workers set up their own cottage industry in Benjarong making. Since production was handmade, their individual businesses suffered when huge purchase orders were made. "We lost a chance at making a profit several times because we produced Benjarong separately," said Mrs Urai.

establish - to start a company or organization that will likely continue for a long time สถาปนา, ก่อตั้ง, จัดตั้ง
launched - started เริ่มต้นดำเนินการ
scheme - a plan that is developed by a government or large organisation in order to provide a particular service for people แผนการ โครงการ
support - help, by giving money, for example สนับสนุน
champion - to publicly support or defend a set of beliefs, political aims, or a group of people
support for champion products.
local - in or related to the area that you live, or to the particular area that you are talking about ท้องถิ่น
local Benjarong makers
secure - get
secure a purchase order - get an order from a customer to buy product
production capacity - the amount of something that can be produced ความสามารถในการ (ผลิต)
secured a purchase order above production capacity.

It was not until 2001 that the villagers formed a strong handicraft group and got together to establish the Don Kai Dee Benjarong Village. The government had launched the One Tambon One Product (Otop) scheme and announced support for champion products.  As a consequence, the local Benjarong makers became stronger. They have even shared production when one of their number secured a purchase order above production capacity.

reputation - the opinion people have about how good or bad someone or something is ชื่อเสียง ความนับหน้าถือตา ที่เป็นที่รู้จัก
unveiled - introduced แนะนำ announced something officially that was previously a secret เปิดเผย
commitment - a promise to continue doing something for a long time การใ้ห้คำมั่น การมอบความไว้วางใจ ข้อสัญญา, ความรับผิดชอบ
preserve - to keep something as it is, especially in order to prevent it from being damaged or destroyed อนุรักษ์ ทำให้คงอยู่, สงวน
national
awards - an award given at the level of the whole country
unique - very special, unusual or good ที่มีลักษณะพิเศษ เป็นเอกลักษณ์
unique form - special shape, different from everything else
universally admired - everyone likes and thinks highly of it and respects it
universally admired for the beauty and grace of their unique form, design and colour.

The sales and reputation of the village soared when Her Majesty the Queen unveiled her commitment to preserve Benjarong and the village won several national awards, including first prize for Otop in Samut Sakhon province. The ceramics produced in the village are of the finest quality and are much sought after by collectors, universally admired for the beauty and grace of their unique form, design and colour.

background - personal history and experience
symbol -
something such as a shape or picture that represents another thing such as an idea or quality
symbolism
- the use of symbols
auspicious - lucky; showing signs that suggest that something is likely to be successful โอกาสอันดี เป็นมงคลฤกษ์ ที่มีฤกษ์ดี
reason - an explanation of an event, why an event happened เหตุ ; เหตุผล ; สาเหตุ
soul - the spiritual part of a person or thing วิญญาณ

The unique Benjarong design of Ban Don Kai Dee is called Sakharabenjayamanee, or the Five-coloured Gemstones of Sakhon City. The design is based on the province's historical background and the Thai symbolism of auspicious colours.  Samut Sakhon is a coastal fishing province and has always been associated with the sea. For that reason, the Sakharabenjayamanee design has a blue-green colour as its main background, representing the soul of the city.

tourism spot - a place where tourists like to go
locals - people who live in a particular place ชาวบ้าน
coast - an area of land beside the sea ชายฝั่ง
prolong their stay in the village
accommodations
- hotels, guesthouses, inns, places where travellers can spend the night

Given the village's unique character, it is now a tourism spot. The locals prepared their village to welcome visitors, not only to buy their products but also to join in activities as well - demonstrations of the different processes in making Benjarong, tours of the village and visits to nearby orchards and to the coast, even trying their hand at cooking local food. For those who would like to prolong their stay in the village, standard accommodations are reasonably priced, and food is provided by many Ban Don Kai Dee families.

administration - one government that a country has for a period of time
local administration - local government
promotion - giving an employee a higher position or job than they already have
site - a place where something is located or where something happens ที่เกิดเหตุ สถานที่ สถานที่เกิดเหตุ
site of the Don Kai Dee Benjarong Fair.
showcase - shows people and the public something special (about a place or a company or organization)
traditional - things (clothes, music, customs, etc.) that have been part of a country or society for a long time
the colourful fair showcases traditional Thai culture
opportunity - a situation when it is possible to do something that you want to do (See glossary)
visitors have the opportunity to see the intricate steps involved in making porcelain.
range - a number of different things that are of the same general type ขอบข่าย, ประเภท
a diverse range of Otop village crafts
orchids - a variety of plant with many different species, perhaps as many as 25,000

In 2010, the village was chosen by the local administration, the Tourism Authority of Thailand and the Commerce Ministry for promotion as a trading district and site of the Don Kai Dee Benjarong Fair. The colourful fair showcases traditional Thai culture and visitors have the opportunity to see the intricate steps involved in making porcelain. Products on offer include a diverse range of Otop village crafts, gift items and souvenirs as well as orchids from other tambons in the province.

key - important คนสำคัญ
focus - the main thing it is concerned with ให้ความสำคัญ
key focus - the most important thing they are concerned with
money is not the key focus
income - money that people receive from work or some other source, used for household consumption and savings
key income - important income
X stems from Y - X comes from Y
our key income now stems not just from Benjarong but also tourism
stable - not changing frequently and not likely to suddenly become worse คงที่, มั่นคง ไม่เปลี่ยนแปลง
stable income
all members of the family in the village have jobs and a stable income

"The villagers' lives are better now than in the past. Our key income now stems not just from Benjarong but also tourism," said Mrs Urai. But money is not the key focus. Our goal is to develop a happy community in which all members of the family in the village have jobs and a stable income.

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