It was a rainy afternoon when a number of foreigners gathered to make ceramics under the instruction of middle-aged Japanese teacher Tomizawa Mamoru at the Overland Club in District 1 in downtown Saigon.
First arriving in Vietnam in 1995 after a terrible earthquake in Kobe, Tomizawa said he saw the country’s economic potential as well as the progressive spirit of people here, then decided to stay.
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Before running the Overland Club, Tomizawa had cooperated with his friend to offer tours to many countries. During the time spending on the job, he realized that it would be much greater to learn to make something in the visited countries than just to go sightseeing and buy souvenirs.
Once travelling to Hanoi and visiting Bat Trang ceramic village, the man from Japan was impressed and decided to learn the art.
“I never learned about pottery when I was in Japan. So when I finished my first small cup, I was really moved. That was exactly something I made with my hands, my own small cup,” he recalled the feeling. “I was lonely when I first came here with no friend. Making such a small thing made me happy. I saw it’s a very nice thing to make people happy then I decided to continue,” he added.
Then the Overland Club was formed, with the hope of sharing the happiness and giving tourists something more memorable, rather than just buying something from the country they visit.
Besides teaching pottery making, the club has set up tours in which visitors learn about Vietnamese traditional features like ao dai, folk music, dan bau performance…
Especially, Tomizawa’s place has been known for its regular classes on Vietnamese dishes.
“Vietnamese food is very special. I was really moved,” Tomizawa talked about his first days tasting local dishes. “People come here and want to know a little bit more about Vietnam. Cooking the food is a good communicating way to make them understand and remember the country.”
Quality is priority
Although every month the club welcomes around 300 to 400 learners including Vietnamese, Japanese, South Korea, Hong Kong, New Zealand, America, Australia, France and Spain, Tomozawa said he wants to improve quality rather than just to expand the class size.
“I’m not thinking of a big company, I’m thinking of a small company where cooking and pottery instructions have higher quality,” he shared.
New Zealander Gayle Bridge, who has lived in Vietnam for 7 years, is an Overland Club regular learner. “I like coming here and working with the clay. I’m able to do lots of creative and interesting things here, I’m happy to be here,” she expressed.
Talking about the teachers there, she called them wonderful teachers who are very patient with learners from the beginning to advanced levels, as long as they are interested in ceramics.
Meanwhile, Lottie from UK stops by the club when she has free time during her 7 months in the city.
“I want to come to try something new and creative. It’s hard for me to find such a place in HCMC. I feel relaxed visiting here,” she shared.
Besides, Overland Club has organized exhibitions to showcase the products made by the club’s learners. One is expected to be held in September.