Bà Hải leans on her piles of beer boxes in the doorway - where she so often stands watching the passing traffic. This is her domain, a corner site by one of the entrances to the market For decades Bà Hải has been running her beer bar, and I have been a regular attender for the last of these. It is strategically placed at the centre of the main shopping street in Tĩnh Gia on the corner of one of the lanes that goes into the market. It consists of a large room with gates on the two street walls. A small room at the back has her bed and there is a kitchen to side with a basic bathroom behind it. The only drink she sells is beer. There is a large chilling unit for draught beer, available when the weather is warmer, and piles of crates of bottled beers which are always available. The vietnamese do not drink without food, so snacks are also always to hand. Beer drinking is male dominated, occasionally there are groups of women, but never a woman alone. Bà Hải's corner site. Passing trade is the name of her game Her personal name is 'Hải', 'Bà' indicates a senior woman, and 'Ngọng' means speech impediment. Her speech is distorted from her profound deafness. A fact some customers cannot fathom - and insist on pointless shouting. 'Thanh Hoá Bia Hoi' the local Province of 'Thanh Hoá's draught beer'. Other words indicate foods on offer. Two tables outside, four tables inside, seating 30 to 40 people A clip of film from a seat in the bar The main street and its inhabitants - motorbikes Business is quiet in the winter. Vietnamese rarely drink beer when the air temperature is below 20 degrees. A custom seen everywhere in the country - used bottles go on the floor These five pictures show some of the family who spend much of their time with Bà Hải. Above, Bà Hải with her mother Above mother with great-grand son-and-daughter, below left and right, Bà Hải's daughter, centre Bà Hải's grandson The pictures above were taken over a number of years - children grow up. And the decor changes; water ingress problems in the pictures above can be seen as cured in other images. Behind Bà Hải are one of her hottest selling lines. The bundles of sausage like products - Nem Chua (sour spring rolls) - these are fermented and cured raw pork rolled in banana leaves Bà Hải's sound system belies her deafness. Much of her life centres on the TV, this is a problem for customers who, to attract her attention, must get up and go round her to get into her field of vision A kumquat tree already in place waiting for the Tết celebrations A be-hatted Bà Hải Posing at New Year with kumquat and plumb - metal tables cleared At Tết the bar's tables and chairs are removed, in their place ornate reception chairs and a table of fruits ready for the 10 days or so when this becomes exclusively Bà Hải's house for her family and friends An enigmatic visitor: a woman's hat and trousers, but most likely an eccentrically dressed man It is very normal to tuck up one's legs in Vietnam; but always without shoes
The view from my table. Above still, and below in motion.
Before every mouthful is taken, by any drinker, glasses (or in this case bottles) must be clinked
Men's shirts, as well as their feet, my go up - to allow air around the torso - sometimes to the chagrin of authorities
However, one sort of raising in a beer bar is mandatory, that of the elbow. Above, he is drinking draught beer from Thanh Hoá City. To the right, a bottle of the same company's basic (excellent lager style) beer. Curiously the label leads in English, very few drinkers will be able to understand this.
In either form the beer costs about 30p per half litre
From beer bar to pagoda is a short hop in Vietnamese society -
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