With Labor Day approaching, as we think of work, consider the culturally significant jobs in the world that may not be around in the future. Here is a look at seven that are hallmarks of particular regions.
First up. Traditional Glass Blower. In one of the furnace rooms at Cam Fornace in Murano, Italy, a short water bus hop from Venice, is a black and white photo from the 1920s (or thereabouts). In the photo, young men are blowing glass the way that glass blowers in Murano have blown glass for hundreds of years.
One of the men in the photo is the father of the master glass blower in this shot that I snapped two weeks ago when he was demonstrating how to make a vase. This master glass blower has been working at Cam Fornace ever since he was 14-years-old when he started there as an apprentice. Now he is 62.
According to our tour guide at our factory visit, traditional glass blowers are becoming a dying breed. In the past, the art was passed on through generations as sons learned from their fathers. These days, Italian sons are not particularly interested in their fathers’ glass blowing life. Our guide suspects that in twenty years, it will be hard to find a traditional Italian glass blower.
This doesn’t mean there won’t be glass blowers, but there won’t be many–if any– people who will be doing the art the way it’s been done for centuries. Cam Fornace will not be the same.
Traditional glass blowers aren’t the only jobs that are becoming a rarity. I’ve thought of others based on what I’ve seen in my travels. Each are jobs that are impacted by economics and cultural shifts. Here are six more jobs you may want to see people do before it’s too late.
Cyclo Driver. In Vietnam, cyclo drivers are becoming edged out by progress. As more Vietnamese are meeting middle class standards, motorcycles and cars are being traded in for bicycles. And, as city streets are being taken over by motorized vehicles, cyclos are losing ground of where they are allowed to pedal.
Although there will probably always be cyclos available for tourist use in certain historic sections of cities such as Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, I suspect that in the next few years, with economic progress, cyclos will have been swapped for vehicles that aren’t so hard on the operator. Days like the one I had in Hue back in the mid 1990s where I stood taking pictures of the various cyclos as they passed by French colonial buildings will no longer be possible. (The photo was taken in Hanoi in 2000, four years after the Hue visit.)
Bybee Pottery Maker. Not far from Lexington, Kentucky, Bybee Pottery has been in operation since 1809 by members of the same family. Lately, keeping up with the family business at this historic location is becoming more difficult. This article in the Lexington Herald-Leader echoes some of what I’ve heard. I’m hoping that even if family members are no longer interested in fashioning the company’s signature pieces, like this blue pitcher, (the same kind I have), someone else will take over the business and keep the pottery tradition going. After all, Bybee Pottery has the distinction of being the oldest pottery making business west of the Alleghenies. One of the family member cousins is making pottery in the Bybee way in Middletown, Kentucky near Louisville. His business, Little-Bit-of-Bybee, offers mail order which the original location does not. The Bybee way involves a kick-wheel. I easily spent an hour watching the process on a Bybee visit.
Horse Carriage Driver Depending upon the economy and tourist desires, I’m wondering how long horse carriages in Central Park in New York City will last. There have been rumblings about the horses’ care and safety. Here’s a discussion between Alec Baldwin and Liam Neeson about just that. On the other hand, with carriage rides being a signature of a romantic jaunt in Manhattan, and horses, their owners, and the drivers needing an income, the industry might prevail.
Traditional Lantern Maker Lukang, Taiwan, in addition to being one of the most historically interesting towns on the island, Lukang is home to one Taiwan’s living treasures–lantern maker Wu Dun-hou. Hopefully, Wu Dun-hou is teaching people his trade, but I’m afraid like most skilled crafts people, there will be less people willing to pay for the more expensive handmade lantern when mostly machine made knock-offs are less expensive. We were lucky to meet this artist in person and he graciously let me snap his picture. One scenario is that the knock-off sales will help fund the salaries of those making the originals.
Coconut Shell Rope Maker Coconut rope-making is done in India and Sri Lanka. In Sri Lanka, as a matter of fact, many items are made from coconut shells. Some people have the job of breaking apart coconuts all day long. Coconut shell breaking has got to be one of the more low skilled and low paying jobs in the coconut industry. Rope making is a few steps up. This photo was taken near Kerela, India. Interestingly, if you click on this link you’ll find a photo I came upon in my photo search. It was taken in 1960. Let’s see if this job will be around in 2020.
Elephant Washer Another job in Sri Lanka, Thailand and India that may or may not be around in the future is elephant washing. Using these elephants for work, however, is one way to ensure that they are protected. Perhaps economic growth will be slow enough that working elephants will continue to have a place in India, Sri Lanka and Thailand’s economy. Sure they’ll always be tourist shows, but I’m talking about construction. In that case, if the elephants continue to work doing tasks like hauling logs, they’ll get dirty, so perhaps washing elephants is a job that will remain for years to come.