ASEAN Centre in MGIMO-University the MFA of Russia

Центр АСЕАН при МГИМО

A Laotian Tea Party at the ASEAN Centre

A Laotian Tea Party at the ASEAN Centre

08.11.2013

On the 9th of October, Alexander Zhiryakov – a traveller truly passionate about the art of tea-drinking, and the founder of a tea production plant in northern Laos – visited the ASEAN Centre. We present the following article by MGIMO student Tatiana Andreyeva on our meeting with Alexander, and his business project.

Before our meeting, I had a look at the website of Alexander and his team to gain a rough understanding of the person I was about to meet. I found a photograph of a man in a vest, smiling at the camera. It was such a surprise for me, then, to see Alexander in a suit when I met him. At first I didn"t even realise that this man was our guest. But then I saw that Alexander was wearing his distinctive thin orange wristband. As Alexander later explained to us, in Laos, the human hand represents a passage for the soul. To prevent the soul from escaping, a band has to be tied around the wrist. This is known as "Baci".

That was not the only interesting thing about we learnt about Laos. We also found out that in Phongsali, a northern province of the country, Alexander and his team have set up a tea production factory. Alexander told us that living conditions in the north were very peculiar: there is no airport, and no factories around. Fertilisers are not used, and it was difficult for him to find even such materials as an ordinary cardboard box! The nearest hospital is a 12-14-hour drive away.

Why, then, did Alexander and his team choose this very province for tea production? The answer is simple: its climate – warm summers and cold winters – is ideal for tea cultivation. People from various countries work in tea production there: Chinese, Malaysians, Russians and Abkhazians. In fact, a volunteer project, which would allow anyone interested to come and help with tea production, is due to be launched soon.

While Alexander talked about the process of tea production, the tiny girls who collect the tea leaves (because Laotian tea grows on trees (!), and their branches can only support the weight of the lightly built), the inner peace of the Laotian people, all of us in the audience were curious to find out how Alexander, a graduate of Peking University, suddenly found himself in a land with an unfamiliar language and an alien culture.

As it turned out, all of this happened because... Alexander was late for a flight! His original plan was to stop over in Vietnam to see the country while on his way to Beijing.But when Alexander arrived at the airport, looked at the departure board and saw that his flight had departed, he decided to go to Laos instead. He found himself unable to go back home after that.

As Alexander had been interested in tea production for a long time, he was especially attracted to Laos, especially the northern part of the country, given its ideal climate for tea cultivation. Now, his factory produces various types of red and green tea. It makes use of both Chinese and Western production technology.

It was interesting to talk to Alexander, as he has found himself his dream career, and he does his work with joy and dedication. After all, this is perhaps the best thing that can happen to a person.

Tatiana ANDREYEVA
3rd-year International Relations student