27
Jan
10

Custom Clothing Chaos

Hello again!

We just arrived in Hanoi on the overnight train and are waiting in the lobby of our hotel for our rooms to be opened up at 12PM. Oh, did I mention that it’s only just past 5AM right now? We have to wait in the lobby until noon, or else pay $15 to use a room for four hours… anyway, I figured I’d use this time to catch up on our travels from Hoi An onward…

Clothing Shop in Hoi An

Last Friday we arrived in Danang, and were taken by bus to Hoi An, for four days of mayhem! Hoi An is the premier place in Vietnam to get custom-tailored clothing made, and I’d been looking forward to this stop on our trip for months. Since we arrived before 6AM, we caught a quick nap before going into town for a tour of the shops, where custom clothing, shoes, and jewelery can be made.

Friday afternoon was spent looking through catalogues of dresses, suits, skirts, shirts, shorts, shoes, necklaces, rings, bracelets, and anything else one can wear. Initially, I had pictures of two dresses from a magazine that I wanted made, but I finally ended up with three more dresses, a pair of shorts, two coats, a suit (including pants, skirt, and blazer), shoes, two necklaces, a pair of earrings, and a charm for my anklet.

The process in Hoi An goes like this:

Me getting measured for my blazer

  • First visit: show the tailors what you want made by pointing it out in the catalogue, or one of the designs on display in their shop.
  • Second visit: usually a day after the initial order, go in for the first fitting. THE ITEM WILL NOT FIT. GUARANTEED. You and the tailor will work out what needs to be looser, what needs to be tighter, what needs to be tucked, pinned, undone, etc. They will not, under any circumstances, decide that the design is too difficult for them to do, or that it won’t work, even if they know it is and it won’t. They will just keep re-sewing until it looks somewhat wearable.
  • Third visit: usually a few hours after the first fitting, you go in for what you hope will be the last fitting. But it never is. It took an average of four visits for the five shops I visited to get the items fitted right. This got very frustrating, especially when an item fits too loose, and then it fits too tight, and then the tailor has to go and try and make it somewhere in between, which usually requires more fittings.
  • Fourth visit: more fittings. This should be the final nips and tucks, as the item should fit pretty well by now. The salesperson marks the item with chalk, to signal to the tailor what to do and where (i.e. take in, let out, shorten, lengthen, etc.)
  • Fifth visit: final fitting and pay for the items.

Now, multiply this by five, or four, or whatever the number of shops you have ordered items from, and there you have a relaxing (NOT!) trip to Hoi An. I tell you, at least twelve hours, and probably more, were spent running around the town from shop to shop, trying on clothing. There is a reason they give you four days here, and only two on the beach in Nha Trang – you need it!

On a Bike Ride

Besides the clothing, we had time for some activities, which included a bike ride through the countryside. I really love the bike rides. The rural children always run out from their houses, waving and screaming “hello!” and sometimes they will hold their hands out for a high five as we ride by! Even the parents get into it, and they will bring their babies out to wave at us. It’s really quite special, and entertaining, as they get such a kick out of seeing westerners!

Other activities included a sunset bbq dinner on an island, a trip to Cham ruins, and lunch at a local house. All the home cooked meals are nothing short of amazing! A typical Vietnamese meal will have many courses, and many dishes are shared between the people who are dining, and they always include soup and rice, tofu, two veggies, beef or pork, and chicken or fish. For example, our meal for twelve people included soup, rice, stir fried noodles, grilled veggies, pork, tofu, and fish. Even though there are always many of us eating together, we can never finish everything! Dat, our leader, reassured us that the food doesn’t go to waste – whatever the family doesn’t eat at lunchtime, they will pack up and eat for dinner. Since most houses don’t have freezers, the food is bought fresh every single morning.

In Vietnam, the motorbike is a way of life. EVERYBODY over the age of 16 has one, and I’m pretty sure that babies are born knowing how to drive one (this fact has yet to be confirmed 🙂 So it pretty much goes without saying that when in Vietnam, one must at least try driving one. I think most of you know where this is going… Sunday night I finally got a chance to ride a motorbike, and what fun it was! The bike was surprisingly heavy, but easy to handle once you get the hang of it.

Motorbike!

It was slow going at first, but by the time we got back to the hotel I was flying! (well really only 40kmph, but it feels like more when you’re on a bike!) It was such a thrill, and I can’t wait to get behind the handlebars again!

I think that’s enough excitement for one morning, I’m off to eat a coconut bun and I’ll be back again soon!

Lex

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