In many streets in Hanoi, there are products that are sold on the sidewalks, do not need advertising or promotion, but people have to queue to buy them.
Green tea for youngsters
Along a several hundred meter long street are rows of plastic chairs adjacent to each other. They belong to an outdoor lemon tea shop. In the winter, despite strong wind and cold air, groups of young customers still flock to this shop.
“Many people like drinking tea, really! But most of them are the elderly. The young prefer ready-mixed lemon tea glasses. I tried it but its taste cannot compare to that of green tea. It is just different because it has lemon and sugar,” Mr. Truong Ngoc Toan, the owner of the above-mentioned lemon tea shop, located at 31 Dao Duy Tu street, Hanoi, explained why he opened this shop, selling green tea with jasmine flavor, mixed with lemon and sugar. This product has become very popular to young people in Hanoi and they also call it “lemon tea.”
“We sell coffee for the middle-aged people in the morning, both tea and coffee for civil servants and office workers at noon and lemon tea to teenage in the evening. All seven family members and 20 hired workers are busy all day,” said Truong Ngoc Nam, Mr. Toan’s son.
In the summer, this family sells iced lemon tea and hot lemon tea in the winter, plus taro, green and black bean porridge, processed by Toan’s daughter-in-law. Family members work in shift, from 7am until midnight. Toan also hires the entire pavement in front of his house to arrange tables to serve young customers at night.
Nam is in charge of the shift from 2pm until late evening. This man just returned home from overseas when he was told by his father that nowhere is as good as home. The 30-year-old man gave up the job of a photographer and a model to sell lemon tea.
Nam constantly asked customers what kind of tea they wanted, hot or with ice, sugar or less sugar and said: “To sell tea, I have to talk to customers. Dad taught me that.” So it is not strange when children of Toan’s coffee customers in the 80s now come to his shop to drink lemon tea.
A wonan named Mrs. Boong is very famous at Hanoi’s Hang Be market for her pickles. Her real name is Nguyen Thi Hoi, 83. “The name Boong is only used at this market. I do not know why people call me with that name. Boong is the brand of my pickles.”
“When I was a child, I got used to the smell of pickles, knew how to distinguish the smell of sour or bitter pickles,” she said. When she could hold a small knife, she cut of egg-plant stems to help her mother. Growing up a little more, she could mix saline and wash vegetables. When she was bigger, her mother let her carry a bamboo frame to Hang Be market to sell pickles.
That was the story in the 1940s, until after the country’s reunification in 1975, Mrs. Hoi still sold pickles. She stopped selling pickles for a period of time and resumed it in the late 1980s. She has sold pickles for almost 40 years. Her pickles are very famous at Hang Be district, branded “Mrs. Boong”. She boasted: “All of my four children are university graduates. They have two houses each.”
Mrs. Hoi sells pickles and shrimp paste from 6am to 10am. She is replaced by her daughter at 11am. Hoi’s stall is very small but it is always crowded.
Hold back some memories
Luong Van Can Street, Hanoi, has many glass shops so it also has a glass repairman. This glass repairman is named Luong Quoc Phong, the fourth descendant of scholar Luong Van Can. Phong’s workplace is a small corner between two walls of two buildings.
One boy gave him two Rayban glasses, and said: “Please fix it early. The customer wants to get it this afternoon.” The boy is an employee of a nearby glass shop.
Phong and his wife work together. His wife receives and returns broken glasses for her husband to repair. Phong’s tools include a small grinder, a light and a box containing meticulous details of glasses.
“I’ve been sitting here for three decades. I learned this job from my father, he said. There are many glass repairmen on Luong Van Can Street, but Phong is the best because he can fix the smallest and most complicated details.
More than 30 years doing this job, tens of thousands of customers went to his shop. One day, an overseas Vietnamese entered the shop with a broken thin-rimmed round glasses. He said he had given it to foreign repairmen but they could not fix it. They advised him to buy a new one but the customer said that this is the glasses of memory. Phong helped him fix the item.
Phong said: “My job sometimes is to retain only memories.”