In the morning, they serve coffee for the middle-aged and in the afternoon, tea and coffee for office workers. Then in the evening, teenagers come here for lemon tea. The staff of the shop consists of 7 members of Mr. Toan’s family and 20 employees.
Iced lemon tea is popular in summer, and hot lemon tea is the favorite drink for teens in winter. The tea is neither acrid nor bitter, and it can be enjoyed with a bowl of black bean or taro sweet soup. In order to serve such simple drinks and snacks, Mr. Toan has to rent all the houses from 21 to 31 Dao Duy Tu for his expanding tea shop.
Truong Ngoc Nam, Mr. Toan’s son, came back from studying abroad to work at his family’s tea shop. As his father said, “There is no place like home.” He quit his job as a photographer and model to sell tea in his homeland.
Nam reflected on his active and friendly style of service, “My father taught me that to talk nicely to customers helps us to do business well.” That’s also the reason why, since the 1980s, many generations of tea drinkers from the same families have come to this shop.
Mrs. Boong’s pickles
Boong is the nickname of Mrs. Nguyen Thi Hoi, bestowed on her by the people of the Hang Be Market.
Laughing to show her shining black dyed teeth, Mrs. Hoi told us, “I have no idea why they gave me that nickname. But it is the trade name for my pickles, salted shrimps and shrimp pastes.”
As a child in the 1940s, Mrs. Hoi lived on Kham Thien market street. She recalled, “I was used to the smell of pickled egg-plants. Just by smelling it, I could tell whether the pickles were sour or not and the egg-plants were crispy or soggy.” When she was little, she was taught to help her mother cut egg-plants’ stalks, make salt water, or wash the vegetables. As soon as she could use the rattan yoke, she was allowed to follow her mother to Hang Be Market to sell pickles.
After 1975, she continued to sell pickled egg-plants, except for a period when she ceased her business lest her husband would be named as a spouse of a private proprietor. In the late 1980s, after the abolishment of the subsidization policy, she returned to her pickle business. She has been with this job for almost 40 years. After selling pickled vegetables and salted shrimps for so long, she has become famous for this food and has raised her four children. She said with pride and happiness, “They all have graduated from university and each has two houses.”
Mrs. Hoi sits from 6 to 10 a.m., when the suppliers come with fresh vegetables. Mr. Sang from Gia Lam, who brings 50 kilograms of eggplants, told us, “My family has been selling vegetables to Mrs. Boong for two generations. We sell vegetables to her and then buy delicious pickles from her for our meals.”
Mrs. Hoi informed us that she buys salted shrimps from Thanh Hoa, egg-plants, vegetables and onions from Gia Lam. In the past Tet holiday, she sold several tons of pickled onion, and hundreds of kilograms of salted shrimps every day.
Mrs. Boong’s pickles are popular amongst a great number of customers (PHoto: Tuoi Tre)
Reserving remembrances and memories
In the street of spectacles on Luong Van Can Street, Mr. Luong Quoc Phong, a great-great-grandchild of the patriotic scholar Luong Van Can, repairs eyewear. His workplace is at the corner of two high buildings, marked by a sign, “Phong, eyewear repair”.
A small grinder, a blow-torch, and a tray of various styles of frames, glasses and nameless eye-glass items are among his equipment. Phong does the repairs, while his wife collects and returns glasses. “I have been here doing this service for 30 years. I learned this skill from my father, who worked in an eyewear shop and learned the job there.” Amongst the eyewear repairers in Luong Van Can Street, Phong is the one who can repair the smallest and most difficult parts.
Phong has done the repair service for as many as tens of thousands of customers. Once, a Vietnamese man from overseas came to his shop with a pair of round glasses in a very thin frame. He said that repairers in the foreign country had not been able to fix them for him, and had advised him to buy a new pair of glasses, but that they were an old piece property he had used for many years and he did not have the heart to get rid of them. The man also mentioned the story of the woman who cried when her milfoil hairpin was lost as she was cutting grass.
In the story, the woman said, “I do not regret a hairpin, but I regret an object that has been with me for so long a time.” Now Phong also said, “My job is sometimes just to help people to preserve their remembrances and memories.”