The People of Vietnam: Viên Trân (The Tea Lady)
By Allie McGrath
I felt literally like a bull in a China shop, or in this case a Vietnamese shop. Loud, sticky with sweat, and a little overwhelmed from the recent bargaining experience in the market, we clamored in the tiny tea house. Walls of the store front were lined with beautifully intricate tea cups, plates, pots, and we were directed upstairs into a small room set up with a low table and cushions. Once everyone arrived, the tea house owner joined us, maxing out the tiny room at 15 people.
Our tea lady, Ms. Trân, was a lovely woman, and as she floated into the room dressed in her traditional aoi da (pronounced “ow-yai”) with the most tranquil smile on her face, I felt relaxation wash over me. How could she be anything but tranquil, drinking and serving tea for a living!?
Ms. Trân began the traditional tea ceremony and, with the help of our wonderful Vietnamese peers translating, carefully explained every detail about the ceremony for us. Her passion for the ritual was made clear as she described everything from how to properly steep the tea to the elaborate steps in producing lotus tea.For example, through a complex and time consuming process, one kilogram (2.2 lbs) of lotus tea requires the stamen and pollen of 1,500 lotus flowers! She was incredibly knowledgeable, and I was later informed she is a scholar and teacher as well–and the dots connected.
Once the ritual was over Trân thanked us many times, even gifted a cup and saucer to Lione, and concluded by saying how happy we had made her by coming in and showing such interest, when really she was the one who made our whole day! Although it was a brief encounter, her generosity and peaceful demeanor were very welcoming and humbling, putting everyone in her presence at ease.