After having breakfast at then borrowing bicycles from our hotel, we rode to Old Town Hoi An. Many visitors already arrived. Besides the planning and architecture, perhaps the energy of a busy trading port of East and Southeast Asia from the 15th to 19th centuries are also “exceptionally well-preserved” here. The chattering mixed in different languages occupied all corners. Even though many shops were closed because it’s Sunday, visitors still shared the excitement of strolling the streets and taking as many pictures as they could. Earlier this year, users of TripAdvisor, one of the world’s largest travel website, ranked the Quang Nam Province city 13th of the best world destinations.
Reaching Out Tea House is like an oasis away from all these Sunday activities (except for photography) of Hoi An. Despite its location at the center of the historic district and its own busy hours of operation, the tea house, run by hearing and speech impaired staff, retreats from all noise. Customers are encouraged to whisper or remain silent. We communicated via provided pencils and papers or written cubes with the staff.
Personally, I’m very fond of Reaching Out. It’s the type of establishment hard to find in Vietnam: local tea, elegant teaware, lovely decor, and a tranquil atmosphere. Bonus: a great cause to promote inclusion and Vietnamese craftsmanship.
We sat at a large traditional table (will have to update this later because I don’t recall what it’s called in Vietnamese). I ordered oolong tea, while my partner jasmine tea and almond cookies.
However, my experience at Reaching Out also demonstrates the other side of reaching out that is also prevalent in many other major cities of Vietnam: The best that Vietnam can offer are seemingly only reserved for foreigners, particularly foreign tourists. Even the call-outs for cause supporters are directed to foreigners.
Cubes for communication in English. Menus in only English. Price tags with only the dollar sign. Receipts with only English and the dollar sign. I looked around to other tables before heading out; there were also a couple Vietnamese among customers. But perhaps Vietnamese, or even other Asians, are not the target market that many previous travelers already warned Asians need not to come here? Or perhaps, we Vietnamese in general have been so enthusiastic with almost everything associated with foreigners, especially those from the West, that we’ve become this open?
The Reaching Out experience – both touristically local and locally touristic- isn’t unique, both in Old Town Hoi An specifically and Vietnam generally. It actually isn’t unique around the world, either.
As Vietnam is ‘catching up’ with other richer, more powerful neighbors, the rate of its development is unprecedented. We usually say, ‘hoà nhập chứ không hoà tan’ – literally, to integrate but not to be dissolved, but what can we do to preserve our Vietnameseness in this process?
And before that, what is our Vietnameseness?