18/03/2005 00:00 GMT+7 Email Print Like 0

An Expanding Passion

Because of his love for Vietnam and understanding of the country, Markus Madeja has integrated with the people and lifestyle on the country so well that many say he even looks Vietnamese .

Markus Madeja nearbynbsp;the bar.

Markus Madeja and his Vietnamese friends in Highway 4.

Liquors made in Phu Loc Hamlet, the native place of Son’s wife.

Because of his love for Vietnam and understanding of the country, Markus Madeja has integrated with the people and lifestyle on the country so well that many say he even looks Vietnamese.

Although Son (Markus’s Vietnamese name), a Swiss, owns a number of bars in Hanoi our interview didn’t start with a question about liquor. We talked about his many passions for the country. Most importantly is his wife, Vu Thi Thoa, a Vietnamese woman born in a village in the Northern Delta. Next he lists (not necessarily in this order) the Vietnamese land and its people, language, Vietnamese culture and liquor.

His command of the language is so good, often Son is asked if either of his parents are Vietnamese. If a contest is held for foreigners speaking Vietnamese Son will most likely rank very high. He speaks as a Vietnamese citizen does, from his accent to his gestures and in particular his use of slang and dialects.

We first met Son six years ago when he worked at The Voice of Vietnam radio station, which is also the place where he met his wife. We were surprise to find a truly “Vietnamese Westerner” and today his Vietnamese character is even stronger.

Physically, Son’s slender shape stands out.nbsp; Only he and his wife Vu Thi Thoa know how this special relationship developed in a way that is truly love, as sure as “eggs are eggs”.nbsp; “There isn’t any reason I shouldn’t spend the rest of my life in Vietnam,” Son told us.

Married and the father of one child, Son owns two bars in Hanoi named Xa Lo 4 (Highway 4). He plans to expand and open a chain of Highway 4 around Vietnam, specializing in liquors with a distinctive Vietnamese identity, with such names as “Son Tinh” (Mountain Genie), produced at his wife’s native land (Phuc Loc Hamlet, Cam Vu Village, Cam Giang District, Hai Duong Province) - very well known for its production of traditional vodka.nbsp;nbsp;nbsp; All this started from the small scheme of a young newcomer to this land a few years ago.

In 1993, Son was 24 and he was resolved to learn Vietnamese so that he could travel to Vietnam with a view to studying its people and culture. “A year in Vietnam was enough to prompt me to return to this land and make preparations for longer term schemes. Its potentials for tourism are immense,” Son recalled. A few months later, Son returned to Vietnam and set up the representative office of his travel agency, with its headquarters based in Switzerland. He spent half of his time in Vietnam, and the other half in his homeland to complete his study at the University of Switzerland. In 1996-1997, he conducted a study on the Thai ethnic group in Mai Chau (Hoa Binh Province) and worked for UN Environmental Protection Project and many other projects on tourism. “Working for projects is quite interesting but sometimes you cannot afford sufficient conditions to realize your own ideas.” And so Son chose to seek his own way. “Traditional Vietnamese vodkas are a marvel. I have enjoyed quite a few of them and found I could do business in this direction.” On December 15, 2000, on an ancient street in the heart of Hanoi,nbsp; “Xa Lo 4” (Highway 4) Bar opened. He blew a new life into the not-so-large space of the ancient 3-storey building, with typically Vietnamese decorations: the liquors and colours of the plains and the highlands of Vietnam with palm-leaf roofs, bamboo tables, cushions made from the ethnic brocades… Dozens of types of liquors may be found there: Sa Pa, Tao Meo, San Lung… Many people go there not only because its name sounds strange and eccentric but because they want to enjoy the flavours of the rich Vietnamese delicacies and liquors as well. From time to time, a few artist painters, whom he knows, decorated the walls of his pub by hanging their works to entertain the diners.

Highway 4 is the name of the national road that links the provinces of Cao Bang and Lang Son to Mui Ngoc (Quang Ninh Provinces) at the northern border. And I’ve thus brought the flavour of those provinces to the capital to entertain the Hanoians,” Son confided and that’s the reason why he calls his pubs this name. More and more guests are frequenting “Highway 4” and about one-third of them are foreigners. Also for this reason, Son is expanding his business. In late 2003, at a culinary street of Hanoi - Mai Hac De Street - another “Highway 4 ” Pub went into operation, larger but still very “Highway 4”, very Vietnamese at that.

Story:nbsp; Vuong Mo