Burning Bright: Vietnam's Golden New Year Tiger

This photo taken on 19 January, 2022 shows a woman posing with a gold-plated tiger model in Hanoi, ahead of the Lunar New Year that will celebrate the Year of the Tiger. (AFP Photo)

Vietnamese are paying hundreds of dollars for gold plated tiger models as gifts as the Lunar New Year draws near, bucking a major economic slowdown caused by the pandemic.

Tet, as it is known in Vietnam, is the most important festival of the year and the occasion for people to give gifts to loved ones and business partners.

With the year of the tiger starting on 1 February, many are choosing pricy models of the striped felines.

Thousands of 24-carat gold plated tigers are hitting high-end souvenir shops in Hanoi, selling for between US$300 and US$3,000.

"The gold-plated tiger model will bring me the feeling of being in a higher class," said architect Pham Quang Duc who bought himself a winged tiger model for home decoration.

The year of the tiger is supposed to bring power and prosperity, and artisans said they tried to reflect this in their work.

"The tiger in my design not only shows the animal's ferocity, but also the power, the aim of striving forward and conquering," artisan Vu Dung told AFP of his tiger with eagle wings.

"Possessing a gold-plated tiger model would mean its owner is in the high class in society and is successful economically," he added.

'Breakthrough In The New Year'

It takes days of detailed work for artisans to make the sparkling gold-plated figurines.

The process requires painting, gilding, and polishing the model, which often starts with clay, then ending with a copper sculpture before being plated with the precious metal.

"We have to make sure the gold plating layer must be spread evenly on the model, including every crevice," worker Lai Huy Nam told AFP at his workshop in Hanoi.

Vietnam has suffered economically from the COVID-19 pandemic, with growth hitting a 30-year low last year and more than 1.4 million jobs lost.

"The tiger with wings model shows my hope for my works to take off and have some breakthrough in the new year," Duc said.