Between tourists and locals, the Overland Club’s pottery class has an everlasting appeal in Ho Chi Minh City. By Ruben Luong. Photos by Fred Wissink.
The Overland Club in District 1 has been around for 17 years, but much like the pottery that is made there, it doesn’t seem to lose its quiet, humble charm.
Inside, shelves of pristine but earthy bowls, plates, vases and figurines line the back walls of the wooden pottery stations, which are smeared in powdered clay and littered with a hodgepodge of tools. One class member of the club is using the pottery wheel to mold a teacup for a tea set. His gaze is fixed, almost hypnotic, and his hands are remarkably steady.
Japanese expat and founder Tomizawa Mamoru began by offering Japanese and Vietnamese cooking classes at the club, but expanded to include pottery classes after visiting the famous Bat Trang pottery village during his first travels to Hanoi.
“I made a small cup there and I really loved it,” he says. “But I tried so many times to make it nice. I would do it, fail, do it, fail. So finally I finished in about more than week, for just a small cup. But I felt so happy just to make it.”
The simplicity and tediousness of ceramics and pottery making doesn’t always appeal to everyone, but the class has attracted 2,900 members since the club began giving the classes. Mamoru says initially there were many tourists that would hear about the club, try it once and return to their home countries. But over the past three years, 50 percent of the pottery students have been local Vietnamese.
“The language can be a problem here,” Mamoru says. “But even if they cannot speak English … we can understand. Because of the touch and feel. We make something together. It’s one of the most important forms of communication: touching and feeling.”
A level-one pottery course (VND 3,600,000 for 12 two hour sessions) teaches students techniques like hand forming, press mold, coiling, slab building, trimming, decoration before baking, or glazing. Students can decide to move onto the level-two pottery course after completing the first.
There’s also a one-time only creative pottery lesson (VND 250,000 for an hour and a half lesson, VND 360,000 for a three hour lesson) that allows students to replicate a ceramic sample of their choice based on shape, size, and decoration. Different baking and glazing fees apply depending on size.
A special themed class (VND 360,000 for a three hour lesson) challenges students to create objects based on select images with an assigned theme, such as a ceramic pumpkin for October, but participants are also free to choose the themes.
Finally, participants can reserve a spot in the pottery painting class (VND 50,000 to VND 250,000 depending on which shapes). Participants select various types of unglazed pottery products, draw and glaze on their own designs and bake them afterwards.
“The point is to do by hand, your hand only,” Momoru says. “You don’t ask others or machines to make it for you. It’s just something made only for you, by you.”
Basic pottery courses have a flexible schedule, but are generally slotted 9-11am, 1.30-3.30pm, and 6-8pm, Tuesday-Sunday. For specific calendars and pottery schedules, visit Overlandclub.jp.