I believe this service is welcome in most any country, at any hotel – a swimming pool with a bar.
We arrived in Hoi An a bit wet and dirty and tired. We’d stopped at this cluster of shops with ceramics on the way from Danang to Hoi An, a place up a narrow road off the highway but with a parking area for a big tourist bus – hmmm, can you say prime pickings. Some folks visited the store where we parked, which also had examples of statues and pottery in the process of being made – but I tried to venture down the street a ways, figuring the farther away from the prime spot, the cheaper the wares and, perhaps, the less predatory the people.
No such luck. People followed you around and soon the high-pitched wailing for our commerce reached a fever pitch – “Come to my store, over here, I give you good deal.” They all had the same things at pretty much the same price, even with bartering factored in. I searched a bit for small Indian elephants. Hannah, who was on the trip with her adopted daughter, Thia, wanted to find 100 elephants to use as part of the wedding of another of her three daughters, who was adopted from India. I thought we had a deal but in the end they wanted more than the budget would allow – and I can’t imagine carrying 100 carved stone elephants around and getting through customs.
I bought three carved cats, white stone but with unique striations. Yeah, cats, I know, is spinsterhood with 38 rambling felines stalking my house far away in my life? But I couldn’t not get something for the cats. And I had to get three because they would KNOW if I left one or two out.
Sad, I know.
Hoi An is an old shipping port, one that rivaled the import of Macau in its heyday. Ships from throughout this part of the world regularly stopped at Hoi An to reprovision and buy silk and other goods. Christianity was first introduced in Vietnam in Hoi An in the 17th Century. A missionary devised the Latin-based script for the Vietnamese language, so different from the characters used by most of the other Asian countries of the time.
Of course, Hoi An’s heyday was about 500 years ago or more so the streets are narrow and cobbled with stone and brick. Our large bus seemed to be on the brink of taking out an awning or a street sign or a persistent motorbike rider and cyclist at any moment. But our driver was astonishing. Still, it seemed risky to turn into an even more narrow street with a small sign that said Vinh Long Resort and an arrow pointing south. We passed by buildings so close we could look in windows and read the papers on the table.
We wondered what our so-called resort would look like given our surroundings but the bus eventually pulled into an open area with a wider circular driveway. To the left we saw an open lobby with the requisite six clocks above the desk. Folks in Vietnam didn’t seem to like clocks – I saw few clocks anywhere, whether it was in hotel rooms or stores or restaurants. That is, except for on the wall above the reception desks in hotels. There, we had a clock ostensibly showing the time in London or New York or Hong Kong. Who knows if they were right, although in a few the second hands were different so I had my suspicions.
We quickly got our keys and headed to our rooms, most of which were located poolside, in easy walking distance to the afor-mentioned swimming pool with a bar. I took my stuff up to my large, second-floor room, grateful for the large bed and large bathroom. It had been a long day, going by cyclo to the market in Hue, traveling from Hue to Danang, seeing the two orphanages, swimming off China Beach, and then driving on to Hoi An. I unpacked a bit, rested a bit and thought of taking a shower. But then I heard the laughter outside. So I pulled my wet swim suit back on, pulled out a large shirt and pair of shorts and headed on down.
The cobblestones killed my bare feet and the stairs assaulted my knees. I have to wonder about a country with people who are so small and yet they make knee-killing stairs, high and uneven. But nothing was going to stop me from getting to that pool.
I looked around. People, some I knew, some I didn’t. None, at that point, who cared whether I would appear in public in a swim suit. So I dropped my clothes and dropped into the pool.
The folks from the group seemed a bit surprised to see me. We’d sort of split off into groups, those who went out at the end of the day for drinks and the like and those who didn’t. I didn’t. Between having mastectomy surgery six weeks before, getting up early to work on this blog and just generally being older than 28, I didn’t. But that didn’t mean I wanted to be antisocial. I was just pooped.
But the pool was too enticing. And cool. And relaxing. It topped off the day.
But that wasn’t the end of our day. Our tour guide, Loan of “Let it Be” fame, had offered to take us to one of the better tailoring stores and then to a restaurant for dinner. It was one of those on-your-own meals on the tour. A group of us gathered at 7 p.m. in the hotel lobby and set off for what we were told would be a quick walk to the store and restaurant.
Quick must mean something different in Vietnamese. Or maybe it was more that, after this long day, I wanted quick to mean three minutes not 30. But off we went, following car-salesman Loan as he lead us with his banty walk, turning around every once in awhile as we straggled in groups, calling, “Come, come.” It soon became clear, in the dark with few lights and strange buildings that all looked the same, we could easily get lost. We tried to stick close.
Famous last words.
We passed store after store, material and shoes and books seemed to be the items up for sale. We passed several restaurants as well, including the one we were supposed to eat out. But Loan didn’t stop, striding on. We turned corners, walked and tripped, and sweated in the humidity.
Finally, we got to a store called Yali. Now I’m not sure this name was meant to evoke a connection to Yale University or was the name of the owner but it was at the higher end of all the tailor shops we saw, which two stories of material lining the walls, sample garments hanging in strategic locations and a dozen or more tourists standing or sitting around, waiting. Some clustered in the middle around fans and a laptop computer while others perused the goods.
I’d come to the store with a mission. I wanted some shirts. I detest sleeveless shirts and have slightly less antipathy for shirts with long sleeves. The recent version with sleeves just past the elbow irritate me as well. I like camp shirts where the sleeves hit just above the elbow.
Picky, I know, but I came with my sample shirt and my money all ready to go.
I wasn’t the only one. One of our group, Laura Dahl, is a New York designer of what I think is called casual couture. She has a line called Wifebeader of casual clothes with one-of-a-kind beading. So she was eager to talk design and fabrics. Her husband, Timothy, and Jacob had their eyes on suits. Still others had shirts and skirts and blouses in mind.
In the end, I ordered seven shirts. The end of my size-indignity day was capped by standing in the middle of the stores, arms out, as this tiny saleswoman tried to reach around my middle with a measuring tape. But at that point, I was so tired and sweaty and, well, over it all that I didn’t much care.
It was clear some of us were nearing Vietnam tour burnout.