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Hoi An

VIETNAM | Sunday, 24 February 2008 | Views [4321]

Hoi An from across the river

Hoi An from across the river

My next stop on the journey south was Hoi An, a small town along a river that is a UNESCO World Heritage site for its architecture, and one of the few towns that was spared bombing. It was a major port in the 16th and 17th centuries, and the wealth of the traders is reflected in the elaborate architecture of the Old Town.  It’s lovely and I imagine it has the potential to be relatively peaceful, but I was there during the frenzied lead-up to the Tet holidays when it seemed like everyone was running around on motorbikes, out shopping to prepare for the holidays. 

The major tourist activity in Hoi An is having clothes made, and you cannot walk a meter without bumping into a tailor’s shop.  I’m guessing that the town elders realized that the charms of the Old Town could be seen in a morning, so they needed to come up with another way to keep the tourists and their wallets in town for a few more days.  They couldn’t have come up with a better plan.  As I learned, it is possible to be very busy going to multiple fittings and not doing much else except going to the ATM and worrying about how much money you’re spending and how will you ever get all this stuff home. (It turns out that the Hoi An post office is well equipped to help travelers solve this problem – there’s even an ATM inside the post office). 

There were lots of cute summer dresses on the mannequins, but I had promised my mother I would have a suit made.  I haven’t worn a suit since 1998.  Suits really don’t work on me, nor do pantyhose, high heels, or make-up.  I only started blow-drying my hair at age 30.  When I put on a suit I feel like I’m impersonating a grown up, and get the feeling that I am slowly suffocating to death.  I do not feel like myself in a suit.  But I do have to find a job as soon as I return home, so I figured a suit might be necessary for this endeavor, even though I have no intention of ever having a job that requires regular suit-wearing.  And to think I thought I wanted to be President when I was a kid! 

I ended up at Mr. Xe’s shop completely by chance.  Later I learned that he is actually quite famous and a Swedish magazine considers him the best tailor in Hoi An, at least according to the people I met at the shop.  It was amusing to watch grizzled Aussie backpacker boys in board shorts and flip flops picking out fabric for suits and shirts, and very difficult to imagine them actually wearing them.  I was assisted by a young woman named Ngo who kept calling me “baby,” and telling me “baby, don’t you worry,” in her sweet voice and swatting my bottom.  I guess she thought I was nervous. 

Mr. Xe himself handled the fittings, rushing in wearing a striped seersucker suit and a motorcycle helmet.  He came up to my chest and expertly measured all parts of my body, calling off numbers to Ngo.  She swatted my bottom again, kissed my cheek and sent me on my way, saying “baby, don’t you worry; everything’s going to be fine.” 

As it turned out, it was more than fine.  When Mr. Xe wasn’t happy with the suit jacket they made for me, he had his tailors make a second one and gave me both for the price of one.  Yes, I got something for free in Vietnam!  It actually does happen.  (I haven’t gotten around to writing about the many scams and rip-offs and rigged taxi meters that I encountered in Vietnam – that’s a whole other story – for now I’m focusing on the positive).  And I even looked somewhat like myself in my Mr. Xe Hoi An suit.

I fell in love with a winter coat at another shop, and figured this was another item I could use, considering that I haven’t experienced a winter since 1999 and will be returning to Boston in March.  This shop was not quite as experienced in the customer hand-holding department.  When I came back for the fitting and said “The sleeves are too tight,” or “I can’t breathe in these pants,” the shop assistant would tell me “I don’t think so,” even though I was the one wearing said item in question. 

The collar wasn’t as high as I wanted, and the buttons showed up in a different color than I had asked, and the fabric was not of the highest quality, but it is a great red, a style that I really like, and for a made-to-fit $37 coat, the results weren't bad.  We’ll see how it stands the test of cold weather.  Or rather, I should say, we’ll see how Justine stands the tests of cold weather and suit-wearing.

Tags: hoi an, shopping, tailors

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