Looking for custom-made tailored suits in Hoi An, Vietnam: a few travel Photos, Video (to be posted shortly), Writing. Next: Street Photos and Texture photos, and the Full Moon Lantern Festival. Also see the travel tips if you plan to visit Hoi An as well as the Vietnam itinerary.
Is this love is this love that I’m feeling? Or is it the ineffably scented translucence caused by a bit of je-ne-sais-quoi? Or a mild intoxication caused by the vaporous pork fumes emanating from the central marketplace?
Whichever it is, Hoi An’s grasp quickly grows upon the weary traveler. At once sleepy and vibrant, quaint and mystical, unassuming and extraordinary, the small town smack in the middle of Central Vietnam has kept the best of its multi-cultural upbringing.
Mix one part historic tradition and strict observance to the full moon ritual, add a hint of colonial past (the brightly colored pavilions reminiscent of the Costa Azzurra), and splurge a healthy share of lively mercantile culture, displayed daily on the market stalls that line the river and the ever-prosperous tailoring industry, and you get the Hoi An of now – bountiful yet preserved, preserved yet bountiful, thanks in large part to the cultural recognition and monetary boon granted by UNESCO, as the cynical may observe.
Feast at the hostel’s breakfast buffet: waffles, juice, an omelet station among other unnamable things I haven’t eaten in months. That reason alone would suffice to make our stay enjoyable. Strength flows anew.
Walk around. Yellow, pink walls, cobblestone streets winding through the small, historic part of town, to the river (Was it tar? am I romanticizing? Could be) ; leaning trees share their shadows onto the facades, while the Vietnamese vendors – all female – spread their vegetables and fruit onto the ground, or stew a leafy pot in preparation for lunchtime.
Pass by the better known Yaly’s, and other tailors, big and small, mannequins boasting a variety of intricate Oriental embroidery and classic western fashion pieces, feet of silky textile dangling from the walls: Hoi An is famous for its tailor-made suits and custom-made clothes. I know not whether this is a tradition from its past, or a contemporary, well-executed marketing ploy. Whichever the case, and as is customary, visitors are quick and eager to drop a buck onto the local specialty.
And, as is less customary, I count myself upon them.
For, after several months of tramping around, sweat in palm and backpack on back, I am to attend a media conference in Bangkok in less than two weeks. And for that purpose, I seek to dress differently than my habitual Nike tank top, which would not ‘suit’ the occasion.
A cursory walk through the cobble streets and soon, too soon it seems, we return to our starting point. Amidst the flurry of neo-hip pastel-colored coffee shops and gastronomic joints, pick the smallest street stand: a lady and her lady-sized counter.
She spreads some pate onto a baguette, chops bits of spammy pink ‘gio’ (“yaw”), sprinkles some cucumber bits and pickled vegetables, and Coco and I gobble the resulting Banh Mi sandwich.
Rent a bike (miniature haggle), a slow mile or two on the empty road, the river to one side, rice paddies to the other. A motorbike putters by and disappears: the day is ours.
Two fishermen cast their hook into the river. They don’t look back as we cycle by.
Stands selling hats, reams and reams of them. At long last, a grove of palm trees beckons us to the beach: Vietnamese and foreigners alike skirmish in the glittery waters, or seek the shade of the palm trees while a few vendors, hatted and scarfed against the sun, deliver fresh fruit and the occasional massage.
They take turns to rest in a hammock, slowly swaying between two tall palm trees.
School kids are bunched knee-deep in the waters, laughing and giggling. I watch amusedly. Gathered around a sea animal? I know not.
Along the beach, huts with thin mattresses shielded by sun-brellas, patches of tanned skin scattered here and there.
I still need a suit. A tailored, custom-made suit at that. Been looking around, asking for prices, swiping through shades of grey textiles; a task of the most boresome order.
Return to Yaly’s, lured by their allure of reputation, reminded by the brown branded bags that strut throughout Hoi An (another well-executed marketing ploy). Take some measurements.
Sit down in front of a mirror. A bare-chested man cuts and buzzes through. The air is cool, the wind of night.
By the second and third day, and keeping to the steady diet of breakfast omelets and Banh Mi sandwiches, another walk around, already the town and its people’s faces look familiar.
But once the river crossed, and just a block down from the new cafés and shops that are beginning to appear on the other bank, eager to attract their share of the visitors’ dollars – that is, of those who dare cross the redly lit bridge; past those final façades fanning the breeze of Hoi An’s good fortune, creeping around a corner, suddenly the street looks bare, and the buildings more run down, families sitting together on their porch idly, watching the sun move slowly across the skies.
Enter a home, a couple wafts through heaps of textile laid about the counters. Two kittens play about the slippers, watched sleepily over by their mother. Magical, transient; the cyclical, rumbling surge of the sewing machines hammering their thread through the mounds of cloth: a collar, the sleeves, the buttons…
A small ‘sweat shop’: the girls look up and smile, amused by this chance at a rare distraction. No time is wasted though, and the scissors keep cutting through the cloth as the seamstresses’ fingers conduct the shirts through the rhythmical rattle of the sewing machines.
Sit down by the Café George Brassens, in tribute to a French folk singer, where the beer flows freely.
The chorus repeats “Friends come first, friends come first.”
The beer tastes bitter and refreshing. Another recently re-acquired habit, ever since hobbling through the heat of Hanoi.
Everybody has a Yaly bag. I am still wishy-washing.
We eat at the market, overlooking the rodents skipping from stall to stall. The local specialty dish.
The cook looks at me, says “So handsome.”
I smile sheepishly.
Coco laughs along with the woman: “Hahaha. But: no touch!”
She doesn’t mess around.
Finally settle on suit, thus perpetuating the city’s trade, contributing to the wealth of the city’s core, as the people’s homes edge away further from the river and the shore, and their nimble fingers guide the strips of cloth through the perpetual rattle of the sewing machines…
But for the sake of concision, and to leave you to lean back in your long chair and rest in the quiet, soothing sunlight of Hoi An, which caresses your skin like the slightest of drizzles, here ends this tranquil respite in our account.
For joy suffices onto itself: it reproduces and spreads plainly, evenly, till its sharp reliefs are revealed, and sometimes blunted, by sadness.
And, sad as it may be, the path from a-moral bliss to the fruit of knowledge is the stuff of good stories: joy is an end and has no arc, therefore no story, and even the tale of Eden itself is woven into the treacherous juiciness of an apple. It’s time to bite.
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