A shopping we will go...

Trip Start Apr 15, 2011
Trip End Feb 04, 2012

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Thursday, December 15, 2011

It is very easy to spend all your time in Hoi An flitting from one taylors appointment to the next and not actually see much of place. I get in from my over night bus and find my guest house of choice.  On the bus my pack has been placed harness up on the top of the pile.  Normally this wouldn't be a problem but it’s been raining all night and my harness is now filled with muck and mud from the dirty water dribbling into it.  It’s still raining and I have no choice but to put on my wet, mucky pack and go in search of a moto, lovely.  The dorms at the guest house are full but they have some weird single box rooms on the fifth floor.  It won’t be very social but its cheap and I have my own space and can leave my stuff out while I wash the mud out of my pack.  The rest of the guest house looks quite nice but up here it’s decidedly more ad hoc.  There are bits of rope tying things together and a huge gap between the wall and my door and the wall and my window.  If I was a large bloke I’d be brushing my head against the ceiling but I’m a short ass so it’s fine.  At night with the rain drumming down and the wind blowing it just about sounds like the roof is going to blow off. 

It’s still raining raining raining but I need to go in search of tailors.  Tailors in Hoi An are famed for being about knock something together overnight but in order to get things right you really need a few days to allow for multiple fittings.  I find some cheap Pho (aka traditional Vietnamese noodle soup) and get dragged into a tailor by a tout.  I figure I might as well get an idea of prices while I’m here.  Shopping for custom made cloths in Hoi An is an interesting process.  You can’t just walk in and say 'how much to get a women’s suit made?’.  You have to sit and look at catalogues and choose fabric and discuss what you want.  It is only at the end of this process you finally discuss the price.  The hope is by this stage you’ll go ahead and won’t shop around for something else.  But I’ve heard all about the scams here and told the tout I’ve just come off an overnight bus and am only looking today.  I stand my ground despite a hard sell to buy now and walk out, promising to think about it.  I want to get to the cloths market to find the tailor I found recommended on the internet but ‘pop’ into Kimmy, the tailor recommended by my guest house.  It’s full of back packers, which doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good, it could just mean they pay commission to lots of the guest house to recommend them.  I go through the whole process a second time and am once again heavily pressured to buy now.  Once they have you in their shop they clearly don’t want you to leave again without purchasing. 

I escape and find my way to the cloths market only to have two or three people try to drag me toward their stall.  Again I’ve heard stories about copy cat shops and people leading you to the wrong place so I’m not saying who I’m looking for.  I look at the shop numbers for twenty but they’re not consecutive and it’s almost impossible to find.  One woman accuses me of ‘saying I will look’ but then not sitting down in their stall to do so.  She kinda has a point, I’m just scanning the stalls looking for the right number.  But being pushy and aggressive is the wrong way to get me to buy something and I smile and apologise and drag myself away.  After fifteen minutes or so I think I’ve found it.  The number is right and it looks right.  After a min or two a woman, Miss Forget Me Not asks if she can help me.  I explain I’ve read about her on the internet and want to get some cloths made.  Instead of launching into a hard sell she explains they are closing soon.  It would be better for me to come back tomorrow when we have more time to discuss what I want. 

As I head back to the guest house via the closing market see some ‘silk’ sleeping bag liners being sold everywhere.  I don’t need one but am curious as to how much cost.  Unfortunately I forgot about the ‘once we have you we’re not letting you leave until you buy something’ philosophy which applies to markets here to, not just tailors shops.   I ask about the price and am heavily pressured to buy.  I don’t want one and start walking off.  The woman insists, grabbing my arm and lowering the price.  I’m rather spooked now start hurrying off but the woman practically chases after me, dropping and dropping the price and begging me to buy one.  Apparently no one every told them this kind of sales tactic is about the quickest way to get a western tourist to flee your shop, never to return again, to the point where I avoid that part of the market for the rest of trip, fearful of a repeat performance

The following day I return to the cloths market.  I warm to Miss Forget Me Not immediately.  She is a small, sweet, softly spoken women.  But she knows her stuff and is not the least bit pushy or aggressive.  I am given time to think and peruse and choose fabrics at my leisure which make me feel more comfortable and wanting to buy more.  I’ve always wanted to get a tailor made suit in Hoi An and have budgeted accordingly.  It is still a bewildering process.  They can pretty much make anything you want.  The trick is knowing what you want.  The tailors here are not stylists.  They won’t necessarily be able to tell you what styles or colours look good on you, nore is it like a regular shop where you can try stuff on and you either like it or you don’t.  To have a good experience you really have to have a good idea of the colours and styles that look good on you. 

I’ve been searching on the internet for some ideas and have some photos to show her of what I want. I’ve also be scouring for pictures of me in a dress and a skirt I want copied.  I spent ages last night scanning through my old photos, looking for pictures of me wearing the cloths in full length shots.  It was an interesting trip down memory lane.  As an aside note I can see how my weight seems to have fluctuated slightly over the years, even though I always feel the same size.  And how different cloths, glasses and hair styles have suited me more than others.  

But I digress, back to the cloths making.  I order a suit, show pictures and explain what I want.  To this I add a shirt and pictures of a dress and a skirt I want copied.  And I love the skirt I’m wearing which I picked up cheap at a charity shop in London and change and hand it over to be copied to.  We talk about prices which are stupidly cheap.  Seventy US dollars for a suit, fifteen dollars for a shirt and twelve for an A line skirt.  I choose material for another shirt and finally find some lovely cotton print material and add an A line skirt to my order.  I am measured and the numbers written down.  We discuss styles and fits and skirt lengths.  Finally after a few hours I’m done with an appointment to come back for the first fitting tomorrow.  I am dragged into a shoe shop next by a women who’s been hanging around the tailors.  I say I’ll look but am not intending to buy.  I’ve heard not great things about the quality of the shoes made here but in the end get sucked into one pair of sandals.  The woman pressures me to buy three pairs but I hold my ground (again) and stick to one.  If the shoes turn out badly I’ll chalk it up to experience and not worry about the money to much. 

Sat 17th Dec

This morning I am going to My Son (pronounced me son), a Cham temple complex near Hoi An.  The temple complex is small compared to those such as Ankor and I’ve heard the place can be an anti climax.  But I like it. The main area of intact temples are quite contained.  The French discovered the complex at the beginning of the 20th century, covered in jungle.  Since then an extensive restoration program has been carried out, giving much of the temples their original structure back.  Many of the temples were badly damaged when USA bombed the area during the Vietnam war, trying to flush out the Viet Cong.  Every temple is covered in plants and saplings trying to take root.  It looks as if the jungle is only just being kept at bay.  That if you turned you back for a moment it would be swallowed by the jungle again that protected it for so long.  The boat trip back on the river is cute with an obligatory stop at a village that does wood carvings, with plenty of their work on sale for you to purchase. 

Back to my tailors for the moment of truth, my first fitting.  The a-line skirt is perfect and I promptly choose some fabric for two more.  They’re inexpensive, the style suites me and I’ll wear them lots.  There are minor adjustments to be made to some of the other pieces but the suit needs quite a bit of work, especially the trousers, dam.  I make an appointment for another fitting tomorrow and hope.  My shoes are ready and they turn out better than I expected them to but I’m still not convinced about the workman ship or how long they will last for.  My tailor, Miss Forget Me Not, has been a delight to work with.  One day when I went for a fitting the power was out.  We couldn’t do my fitting as there was no light.  She invited me for lunch and sat me at her table in the dimly light market while she went and got me a bowl of Cao Lau, a traditional noodle soup made only in Hoi An.  It’s delicious, a mix of fresh herbs  and flat noodles made with water from a special well in Hoi An.  The woman who makes it is locally famous so apparently I’m eating the best Cao Lau in Hoi An.  Another day Miss Forget Me Not told me to 'wait here' while she got me something for my mozzie bites I was scratching away at.  Then I’d asked if she could fix my cargoes which I’d torn in Vancouver and badly patched myself.  They came back beautifully fixed and then she wouldn't let me give her any money for it.  On my last day I wanted to take her to dinner to say thank-you.  I told her to pick the place and I would pay.  But instead of taking me to an expensive place she took me to one of her favourite local noodle places which cost me all of twenty eight thousand dong (less than a dollar fifty) for both of us for dinner.  I had hear people either love or hate Vietnam.  There are scams everywhere and some travellers seem to have a hard time interacting with the locals.  Vietnam has one of the lowest return rates for tourists, with only 5% coming back after their first visit.  I had sort of been bracing myself for this but havn’t had any real issues.  Some people have been brisque and the hard sell is a little full on at times.  But I’ve had just as many, if not more good encounter than I have bad, such as with Miss Forget Me Not.  Most of the time I try to smile at people and sometimes make a joke ‘I couldn’t possibly buy another pair of shoes, I’d have no money to eat.  Maybe I can eat the shoes? (mimes taking a bite out of the sandles).’.  

It continues to rain rain rain in Hoi An but clears long enough for me to walk around and do some sightseeing.  You can see in the influence of Hoi An as a major Chinese trading point here.  There are temples and assembly halls lovingly decorated in dragons and fish and statues and fish ponds.  The town its self is small and friendly.  There are more tailors shops than you can poke a stick out.  It is very much a town that caters for tourists but somehow still managed to retain its old world charm of a bygone era.  The old buildings look like they are gently crumbling into the river, especially at high tide when it tops the shallow banks, flooding the front street and providing much amusement for school children who cycle through on their bikes, shrieking and trying to avoid getting their feed wet.  Every where you go there are beautiful silk lanterns hanging in the trees and balconies which glow warming in the evenings. 

After two more fittings my cloths are all ready, just in time for me to put most of them into box to go back to Australia via sea mail, and catch my train to Hanoi.  Hopefully my cloths will be home before I get there, but who knows.  Into the box also goes all the stuff I’ve brought so far (did I mention the markets in Asia are cheap?) including several beautiful silk lanterns I picked up in Hoi An for a song.  Best of all I know they’re hand made here because she had to finish making the second red one I wanted to give to me. 

With a considerably lighter pack, a slightly lighter wallet and some new threads on their way back to Aus I jump in my taxi and head to my overnight train.  Next stop is Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam.

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