Vietnam Time

9/30/2018 10:53:10 AM

Coffee shop brings Truong Sa to the heart of Hanoi

At first glance, Lê Nổ Tổ Chè at Hanoi’s 35 Nguyen Cong Hoan Street looks much like any other coffee shop in the capital. The establishment, however, boasts a unique draw: its décor focuses on the Truong Sa (Spratly) archipelago, confirming Vietnamese sovereignty over the islands and instilling in visitors a sense of national pride.

The coffee shop has beautiful pictures, clear notes, and a map of Vietnam to show the country’s sovereignty over the Truong Sa islands. VNS Photo Hoang Linh

Hostess Tran Thi Thanh Liem warmly welcomed us and passionately recounted how she turned her idea of a coffee shop focused on the Truong Sa islands into reality. Her husband, who works at the General Political Department at the Ministry of Defence, made two trips to Truong Sa. He told her stories about the people on the islands and showed her photographs he took, and love for the motherland’s territory rose in her soul.

Unsure when she might have the opportunity to visit Truong Sa, she came up with the idea of opening a coffee shop about the islands—a place where all who hold the islands in their hearts may have the chance to learn more about these outposts of Vietnamese territory. 

Describe herself as a connoisseur of business, Liem created the menu, found clean ingredients and chose the chef quite easily and quickly. However, she had no experiences in the design field; she wasn’t sure how to deploy her ideas. Initially, she could only think of printing the most beautiful pictures and hanging them on the wall. But with the support of her neighbour—Major Nguyen Quang Cuong  from the People’s Army newspaper—in measuring the walls and sketching on the computer, she was able to have a map of Vietnam to give the message: Vietnam has indisputable sovereignty over the Truong Sa islands!

Children from nearby schools often come for snacks and learn about Truong Sa in the coffee shop.

On the opening day, her family and friends effusively praised the small but cozy coffee shop, the delicious fast food and especially the very meaningful design that provides education about the islands. Some of her friends who are journalists and artists asked: Why not make bookshelves featuring works on Truong Sa and other Vietnamese islands to make it a book coffee shop? Why there are no objects brought from the Truong Sa islands like flags and soldiers’ uniforms? Why not recreate the landmark?

Liem noted their comments and quickly implemented changes to give the coffee shop more distinctions. With the help of a friend who is a book collector, Liem collected dozens of books and maps of Truong Sa and other islands by prestigious Vietnamese and foreign authors such as Luu Van Loi, Nguyen Thang, Nguyen Hong Thao, Nguyen Nha, and Monique Chemillier-Gendreau.

Among the books are many precious materials such as the last issue of the Journal of History and Geography printed in 1975 with specific information about Hoang Sa (Paracel) and Truong Sa. After the writers and musicians Nguyen Xuan Thuy, Nguyen Quang Hung and Mai Kien learned about this coffee shop, they immediately sent poetry books and music sheets about the islands to enrich the bookcases.

The objects associated with Truong Sa are what make Liem feel most proud. All of them were given to the couple by their friends and relatives who love the shop, and some of the objects could never be purchased with money.

The Truong Sa landmark - the symbol for Vietnam’s sovereignty over the Truong Sa islands - is erected in the coffee shop.

Major Nguyen Van Thang (of People’s Army Cinema), who has visited the Spratlys several times, collected the national flag with the signatures and seals of the military commands on the islands. The flag became a sacred object, but Thang did not hesitate to give it to Truong Sa coffee shop.

The café also boasts a plaque depicting the sovereignty landmark on the Truong Sa island proper, thanks to the enthusiasm of Lt Col Nguyen Manh Tien (a painter from the People’s Army newspaper) who designed and constructed it.

"I wanted to make a landmark to give to the Truong Sa coffee shop to convey the message: ’Today we must strive to firmly maintain the sovereignty of our territorial waters’,” Tien said. “The landmark symbolises a connection between the heroic tradition of fighting foreign invaders in the past and the determination to protect the sovereignty of Vietnamese islands today.”

Besides taking care of the products of the coffee shop and enthusiastically serving guests, Liem has continued to perfect the space and create more accents for the shop.

We met Mai Ly, a fifth grader at Ngoc Khanh Elementary School, as she pored over pages of books about Truong Sa.

"Coming to this coffee shop, I learned many new things about the islands,” the student said. “Although I don’t have much knowledge, I now have the dream that when I grow up, I could visit and give gifts to the soldiers stationed on Truong Sa."

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