Monday, September 26, 2016

Last minute alterations

Before we came to Hoi An I watched some Youtube vlogs of other people's visits and wondered how they could have spent so much time aimlessly wandering up and down what looked like the same streets for  hours on end. And yet, we've done just that for 5 days and tomorrow when we leave we will be very sad. Every time you go into the Ancient Town you see something new. And in our case, every time you walk down one of those streets you buy something new. It took me a couple of days to warm to the whole custom tailoring thing- I'm more of a ready made, Target type of girl- but my suitcase now contains 2 pairs of pants, 2 skirts, a dress, a leather belt and a pair of shoes, all designed to fit no one else but me. Geoff has a suit, a shirt, 4 pairs of shorts and some magnificent boots and even Taine has a new jacket. As for Sophie... her last purchase was a leather jacket that she was measured for at 1pm and we picked up at 7 tonight! The pleasure of owning clothes that fit perfectly is quite addictive.

This morning was our first 'sleep in'. We're adapting to the 3 hr time difference just in time to go home. Geoff and I had a very leisurely breakfast while Soph went to the gym and Taine continued to sleep and then we went into town. It's possible to get into the Ancient Town section of the city without paying the requested fee but the ticket sales go towards the upkeep of the temples and Old Houses, so we willingly paid for ours and today we used a couple of the attached passes to look inside the various temples and shrines dotted along the streets. In one, a lovely Chinese gentleman was transcribing the writing at the shrine and he explained that it had been built in memory of hundreds of Chinese Vietnamese traders who, in the 1500s, had been killed by the government when they were on a trading mission to Hoi An. This temple remembers them but also keeps their families safe on future trips. Kids in my English class know that I like to make connections between experiences to make sense of them and this story was so like many we heard in Europe - as the locals love to say here, " Same, same but different."

In between shoe fittings we bought some completely useless souvenirs and had iced coffee and Banh Mi at a cafe. Like so many of the eateries in Hoi An, the front looked like a cafe but it was really a family residence. The food is prepared in the family kitchen and the 'restroom' is the family toilet and shower. I had to wait for one of the kids to finish brushing their teeth so I could wash my hands.
In Australia we'd call it the bush telegraph, in Vietnam I think it's done by text but next minute who should show up at our table but the lovely Kim, the lady I pinky promised I'd have a massage with today. Her sister was worried we'd reneged on the deal but we assured her we were just cooling down before we came to see her. Turns out the cafe is run by Kim's daughter in law, which is a very lucky coincidence because otherwise we might have got lost and missed our 'appointment'.

Down an alley in the market we found Kim's sisters, ready to shave our legs, thread our eyebrows, pierce our ears... pretty much any beauty treatment you can think of, all dispensed from a tray of potions on a shelf above the plastic table cloth coated massage table. We insisted that no, we'd agreed to just a neck and shoulder massage for 100 dong for me and a foot massage for Soph. Kim whisked Geoff off down the street to look at her souvenir shop and just for a milli second I became a bit anxious that I was never going to see him again and that I was going to get the 'works' despite my protestations but thankfully Sophie's assertiveness won out and I was able to enjoy what was actually a fantastic neck rub. Turns out the sisters work together to run both the beauty business and the souvenir stall. They take it in turns to work in each space and to tout for business in the market, rounding up customers like us with their own special charm. By the time the Tiger Balm was cooling, we were old friends and Kim's sister even did something clever with my hair that stopped the sweat from pooling behind my ears for 3 or 4 seconds.

The tailors where Sophie got her jacket made is also a family business. The oldest sister is the manager and the 3 younger sisters, her assistants. They design the clothes and measure the customers and deliver the orders to their dad's factory where the seamstresses work in shifts, around the clock to make the clothes in super fast, same day time for the tourists. All of them have been to university for 4 years, where they studied English and Design and Dressmaking. They work 12 hours every day, with the younger girls having 2 days off a month and the manager just 3 days off a year during the Vietnamese New Year celebration. She told us they are hoping the government will mandate a 7pm closing time in Hoi An so that the shop keepers can spend more time with their children, but she's not holding out any great hope.

Our friends from Phuong Nam dress shop
Sophie's been hanging out to try the local street food by the river. The thought of all that unrefrigerated meat was too much for me but she assures me it was delish and at 25 000 dong ( about $1.35 AU), very reasonably priced! I have lots of Gastro Stop in my bag if it doesn't work out well for her.

On the way home tonight we met our first antsy taxi driver. We've been here 5 days so we're well aware of the route and the cost back to our hotel. Everyone here has been so helpful and trustworthy (people chase you down the street if you leave anything behind in their shops), so it came as quite a shock when half way home he suggested an agreed price of double what it should be. When we made it clear we knew what the price should be he suddenly turned in Mario Andretti and started playing dodgems with the oncoming traffic.
It's the only negative business transaction we've had in Hoi An.

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