From my seat by the window, I was sipping the tea and attempting to draw what was in my line of vision: Thap Rùa (The Turtle Tower/Pagoda) in Hồ Hoàn Kiếm (Lake of the Restored Sword, or of the Returned Sword). That cafe, the Avalon Cafe, I visited twice. It gave me views, tongue-rolling tea and new friends, including a writer from the minority tribes of the north…
I was reading the blog of a new follower today, GMan. He randomly rambles like I do, so naturally I had to check it out. The most recent one was about chamomile. It immediately made me remember that I haven’t posted yet on what I’ve been doing every few days since returning from Việt Nam…making tea!
Three of us found the cafe together and fell in love with it. I knew when I had time to myself I would return. I asked if they could give me a recipe for what they called “Avalon Iced Tea.” The best they could do (understandably) was tell me ingredients: “chamomile tea, jasmine tea, green tea, orange juice, lime juice, grenadine.” Or, according to the menu, maybe it was just “orange, lime, grenadine and jasmine.” Either way, I thought to myself perhaps the only thing missing there, was vodka or perhaps rice wine. But no, it actually was perfect without any alcohol.
Maybe it was staring at Hồ Hoàn Kiếm (lake) and Thap Rùa (Turtle Tower/Pagoda) out the window, but I swear that iced tea tasted like happiness.
On my solo trip, I was savoring the tea and writing, when I noticed a pretty, young woman from a nearby table kept looking at me. When we finally locked eyes, she held up her necklace, a piece of jewelry in the shape of a camera, and mock-took my photo. I mock-posed, peace-sign and all, and we both laughed. Her friend, who spoke English more confidently, translated most of our conversation. They invited me to join them, and were so gracious as to purchase my tea for me.
Here we are at the Avalon Cafe. I’m pretty sure my big ol’ American head is blocking that cool Pagoda I was telling you about, but don’t worry, I’ll get you a drawing of it here in a moment. In the meantime, here I am with Phạm Quốc Hưng and Quynh HaNa (Quỳnh Hoa)
She asked about my writing, and told me of her own. As you can see, she gave me her beautiful camera necklace. How generous and sweet! She was as beautiful inside as out, and I kept marveling at how lucky I was to meet such kind and friendly people.
They both told me of their studies at university and dreams to travel and explore the west someday. I invited them to visit and stay for a spell at our home in Pennsylvania. She, in turn, invited me to return to Việt Nam and stay with her family in the north. Wait, I thought, aren’t we already in the North? Hà Nội is certainly considered North Việt Nam. But I found that there are two “Norths.”
There is “North and South” the once separated, now united country of Việt Nam. Then there is “The North” which reaches up toward the borders of China. This is where many minority peoples of Việt Nam live, in relative isolation. I wanted to extend my stay right then and there, go AWOL on my group and just move in with this beautiful girl and her family in the Son La Province.
But as it was, this was my last day in Hà Nội, and it was already getting time to leave for the airport. We said goodbye, exchanged emails, and thanks to the internet continue to be cyber friends.
I hope to return again in a year or two, spending more time with my new friends and exploring The North.
Back in America, I’ve never been able to duplicate that fabulous Avalon Iced Tea, but this is something similar I’ve come up with (after finally stepping past the fear of using a bolder green tea):
1 bag Jasmine Tea
1 bag Chamomile Tea
2 bags (I’ve been using loose leaf so adjust accordingly) Green Tea
Brew (green tea gets bitter so I add it in halfway through)
Sweeten with 1/2 cup raw sugar (or you can try their Grenadine)
1/3 cup orange juice
1/2 lime, squirted into the tea
Throw in a few berries. By the end, the black raspberries are their own soaked balls of sunshine.
I don’t actually know how to draw, but sketching something, no matter how poorly, puts you into a different place, into a moment you will remember more strongly than if you had just looked at it. This was my view from the Avalon Cafe & Lounge. I realized I never took a photo of the pagoda, but I’m kind of happy, because drawing it made it so indelible in my memory that I was certain I had taken a photo. If you know about my “issue” with photos (see previous blog) you’ll understand how momentous this is.
I encourage you to draw something, anything, and see the ways you remember it later.
Make the tea. Draw something related to that experience. Share it. Imagine staring out at an 18th Century Temple on the other side of the world.
Link back your own version of making this tea and/or drawing something, if you’d be so kind.