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Touted to intolerance before reaching tailor town.

VIETNAM | Tuesday, 2 November 2010 | Views [918]

Uma slugs some water thankful she can do so in peace

Uma slugs some water thankful she can do so in peace

Most tourism involves some test of patience when confronted by conditions or customs completely at odds with what is considered normal back home. One's understanding and appreciation of the diversity of humanity is broadened by approaching such experiences with an open mind and a broad smile. It's why most of us travel. Seeing how other people of different fortunes, history and lifestyles cope in the global community gives us a better perspective on our own position. And often gives us the opportunity to buy a lot of cheap crap.


I admit I am often tempted by some worthless yet appealing consumable being thrust in my face. It is never something I needed or I would have been actively looking for it. And showing any interest shouldn't require the vendor to run through speeding traffic to hawk their hardware to me. Enough tourists are tempted by tricks and trinkets that are either illegal back home, or being sold at a tenth of the price. A tenth of the Western price still being five times the local price.


My party in Hanoi proved that the locals are just as keen to blow some hard earned on cheap crap that is unlikely to last a week. Lucky for them though, they know to bargain hard and don't relent until the vendor has sworn black and blue that they're the ones being robbed and their six children won't have anything to eat now. It's part of their culture, not ours, yet our propensity to pay proportionately more for the same garbage has made targeting travellers part of their culture as well.


Hearing “Taxi, sir?” on every street corner, or offers of assistance if I linger even momentarily at a stall is fine and part of the appeal knowing I never have to wait long to get what I want. Having people pull me towards their store intoning “Have a look sir. Something?” incenses me for two reasons. Firstly, their “something” appeal sounds like they can offer anything my heart desires; as long as it's a t-shirt or a carving. Secondly, the last time I was grabbed so forcefully was after a successful raid on the cookie jar, and the childhood associations of sulking do not incline me to spending.


I understand the vast social and financial gulf that separates me from these people and how the most insignificant expenditure from me can change the fortunes of their day. But there is 87 million of them here in Vietnam alone, not all of whom need to sell me stuff but most will try given the chance. During one meal, we counted 14 sales pitches by people who thought that having our wallets out for food might incline us towards buying something far less necessary. Simply ignoring them nearly gave way to some hot noodle head gear for one newspaper vendor who tried three times in 20 minutes. Have some fried rice if that would make a difference, but show me the paper again and I'll make you eat that instead.

I thought better of writing about such things as I realise my tone is negative and my position somewhat pompous by comparison. But this is an issue everyone who comes to Vietnam will have to face at some point. The only way to avoid it is to never leave the hotel room or mortgage the house and succumb to every service and stock being offered. We all deal with it differently, and have different opinions on how much we are to blame for it. Ultimately, it is not just cause to dislike the place but some gloss has certainly been lost.


In contrast, everything else still seems airbrushed as our beetroot eyes see out through vasoline coated lens. The associated pain has subsided but we still look like over-indulger's and continue to bathe the blood red marbles in anti-biotic fluid every 2 hours. Doing so in public has provided untold amusement for locals like scratching my ass could result in a two hour analysis of Western behaviour. The beauty of travel is you're often more of a spectacle to them than they are to us. It's just they don't have their camera at the ready as often as we do.


We were an unusual spectacle when the bus dropped us off in Hue. A night in the 5 person party bed at the back of the sleeper bus would have been more fun if it had have been shared with the four girls who were originally supposed to take it. They were none too impressed with being squeezed in with three Vietnamese guys so we were asked to take their place. We had just been felt up at the market place so some more curiosity satisfying gropes in bed wasn't going to make much difference.


Old mate to my right wanted to sleep like a starfish so I was wishing for some groping before long as the elbow alternative was not inclining me to comfort. Adding sleep deprivation to stink eye made the waiting hotel touts somewhat sceptical about giving us a room. Luckily the bus stop was their front door and looking like zombies doesn't change the value of our money. After climbing 4 floors just to check the room out, neither of us could be bothered going anywhere else at 630am to see possibly worse or more expensive rooms.


Unfortunately Hue didn't have much of worth to tempt us out of the hotel room. It was just another big town except for the citadel, the seat of power for the Southern lords before Uncle Ho forcefully convinced them to share the wealth. The amount of historical sites it contained looked worthy of at least a day of wandering. Not so, and not merely because our map was woefully out of scale. Most of the complex looked like it was built relatively recently, and abandoned soon after. It's history wasn't long enough to make them ruins, or interesting in themselves to reminisce about a by-gone era. And all the half completed restoration had too much scaffolding around for the site to avoid comparisons to India's Commonwealth games.


Hue's worth was it proximity to the DMZ, or the de-militarised zone of the American War. After the complete absence of useful information we found in previous war sites, I felt less inclined to look at big bomb holes in the ground, small VC tunnel holes that most Westerners would struggle getting a leg through, and another big hole in my wallet. I have a mild interest in war history, particularly one that ended 28 days before I was born, but the Vietnamese have negligible interest in it. Virtually everyone who lived through it, lost a loved one and would therefore prefer to avoid the painful association. Anyone who didn't live through it, is far more interested in a prosperous future, and ways in which we, as tourists, can help make it as prosperous as possible for them.


Again, I apologise for the negative tone of this entry. I am currently writing to escape the tailor touts of Hoi An, some of who managed to make me a suit in the time I paused outside their shop to have a swig of water. The next entry will detail the beautiful old city of Hoi An in a much better light than what I see it now after a day of persistent pestering.

Tags: philosophy, shopping, touts

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