Wandering in Hoi An

We spent time wandering throughout Hoi An and found some truly delightful experiences.

Reaching Out

Red Lantern Herbal Tea with a small cookie

I read about the Reaching Out Tea house on a travel blog and knew that I wanted to visit it.  Reaching Out Tea house (and Workshop) was created in 2000 to give people with disabilities meaningful employment opportunities.  The tea house operators were deaf and used gesticulation, word blocks, and scratch pads to communicate.  I chose the Red Lantern Herbal Tea, Kylie got the Jasmine Green Tea, Alyssa ordered coffee, and Sharleen ordered the Lime juice.  Although we are not aficionados, none us were blown away by the tastiness of our orders.

That said, I found the experience wonderful.  The cafe was quiet and signs were up asking patrons to whisper.  Each order was served with intricate settings, prepared with care, and delivered with respect.  We each got a small sweet to go with our order.

Drinking Tea at Reaching Out

I had the privilege of growing up with deaf people in my life and cherished being welcomed into a small deaf community.  They were happy times in my life and I relayed stories of deafness and the challenges faced by that community with Kylie and Alyssa. We took our time talking about life with disabilities and the many challenges they face.  Kylie particularly enjoyed the presentation of her order and loved pouring her tea through the strainer.

Perhaps the tea and coffee was great and we just didn’t know how to appreciate it.  Regardless it was a great way to pass the time, people watch, and enjoy quiet moments away from the tourists mobs.  It is definitely a hidden gem!

Iced Vietnamese bitter coffee with fresh milk

Lantern Lady

Showing off their lantern creations!

Many arts and craft opportunities exist in Hoi An.  Making a lantern is almost a right of passage for visitors.  There were many shops that offered classes, but one name kept coming up: “The Lantern Lady”.  We walked through Old Town through the central market, following a map application on Sharleen’s device.  We turned down a narrow ally and we arrived during siesta time.  Grandma got us started and soon the Lantern Lady came out.

The small foyer of her house had been turned into a craft center.  16-20 lanterns of different shapes and sizes filled the ceiling.  There were 3 small tables that fit 4 people each.  A large bamboo basket sat on top of each table to collect the crafting material scraps.

Kylie was jumping up and down and could not contain her excitement about making a lantern.  Alyssa was more ho-hum about it.  “I’m not really into crafty things.  I’m more into science.”  After some cajoling, she agreed to make one.

The Lantern Lady coaches Kylie and Alyssa

We opted to make a lantern with a preformed skeleton, as making the bamboo skeleton from scratch was a 2-3 hour process.  The girls selected their silk fabric from little baskets on the wall and received instructions on how to put it all together:

  • Put glue on skeleton
  • Put fabric on skeleton
  • Use scissors to trim.
  • Repeat for each of the 4 pieces of silk selected.
  • Put trim on top and bottom.
  • Select a tassel.

At each step the Lantern Lady took great care and patience to walk the girls through the instructions and ensured they were doing it correctly.  As an educator, I’ve been in a lot of classrooms.  Some teachers over scaffold and helicopter instruct.  The Lantern Lady was a class act, filled with passion about what she does, and had the right amount of all the teaching ingredients to get the girls going.  Time slipped away as the girls started and stopped, and trimmed, and evaluated.  It was nice to have the time and the relevant expertise to complete the project.  Kylie was so focused on getting things just right and Alyssa found herself strangely absorbed in the process.  Other customers filtered in and the Lantern Lady bounced back and forth.

In the final analysis the girls made some fantastic, high quality lanterns. “I glad I did it, I found that very satisfying.” Alyssa commented as we left. “I’m so happy with my lantern.” Kylie said multiple times for the rest of the day.  When we got back to our homestay, Kylie emailed Nana right away and wrote a whole page in her journal about the experience.  As a teacher and a parent, I’ve wanted Kylie and Alyssa to develop the ability to sustain focus on a task.  Too many times in the classroom, students focus for a few minutes and then are on their phones or thinking about other things.  It was great to see both Alyssa and Kylie focused for more than an hour.  The Lantern Lady was a phenomenal person with a great talent, and visiting her and making lanterns was certain a hidden gem of Hoi An!

Silk Village

One of the major exports of Hoi An throughout the centuries was silk.  We walked to Silk Village to get a tour.  Starting with some cool mulberry cider certainly started us off on the right foot.  Our guide explained the history of the architecture, spirituality, and the various types of looms used throughout the years.

Next, she showed us the silk worms feeding on some mulberry leaves and explained the mating, egg laying, and cocooning process.

Silkworms eat two kinds of mulberry leaves.  Each worm eats between 5-10 leaves a day.
Kylie’s new friend.
Worms are places on branched racks where they spin a cocoon.  There were two types of silk worms yellow and white.  White silkworm produced higher quality,

Next we got to witness the spindling of cocoon silk.  The cocoons were dropped into boiling water to relax the thread and to kill the pupae inside.  A woman started the thread on the spindle. “Why do they have to kill the pupae?” “If the moth comes out it breaks the thread and we cannot unravel it.”.

At this stage the quality of silk started to be separated.  If many (20-50) cocoon threads were combine into one strand of thread, this became low quality silk.  If a few cocoon (3-5) were combine, it became high quality silk.

Fine high quality silk on the left (3-5 cocoon threads). Low quality silk on the right (20-50 cocoon thread per strand).

After washing and rolling the silk it was ready for looms.  In the factory (I use this term loosely as this was no longer a working factory, but more of a demonstration center for tourists), two women demonstrated how the different looms were used.  They peddled as the shuttlecock moved back and forth until the bobbin was empty and needed to be refilled.  This looked like hard work.  The next room showed a Champa Style Loom operated by a woman of Champa decent.  This style loom was more complicated and required quite a bit of skill to operate.  The guide said that a talented loom operator could weave nearly 1000 meters of silk fabric in six months.  Their fabric would then sell for 450,000 Dong per meter.

The Champa loom is a crows beak feeder loom.  Multiple threads are streatched and feed from multiple sources to the where the action happens.
The operator uses two pedals to weave.  She tamps the thread down after passing the bobbin through.  Also she adjusts weights ahead of the weave to adjust the pattern on the brocade.
This technique allows for complicated non drawn or dyed patterns.
A single roll is about 600-1000 meters long and will sell for about 450,000 per meter ($20 per meter).  This takes about 6 months worth of work.

If you want to nerd out on the chemistry of silk this is where you want to go: Click Here

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