Day 5: We Get Fleeced and Wooled in Hoi An

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Guys big news. Last night we smashed through the 12am barrier. I don’t know how we did it, but we did it. Things may never be the same after this, but no man can stand against the tide of progress. So reef the sails, batten down the hatches and keep your eyes open as we explore this strange and mysterious new land known as… late evening. But I’m getting ahead of myself. It started with breakfast.

We got off the elevator at the third floor of the Royal Lotus Hotel. A large breakfast buffet was being served with musical accompaniment provided by a guy playing an instrument that looked like the suspended rib cage of a whale shark. I suppose it was a xylophone. We had our normal feast except this time we added bowls of pho. In the dining room there were televisions showing a video on a loop. The video showed miniature people preparing meals and the message was about not wasting food. It must have had an effect on both of us because we cleaned our plates.

After breakfast we prepared for another small journey. We rode the elevator down to the lobby. It stopped once and when the doors opened and there were two small children standing there wearing Supreme sandals. This country loves Supreme. They took one look as us and nonverbally told us they would catch the next one. We hit the streets,  went to a local shop, and got back. on. those. bikes.

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NVX part II
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Chill Cat part II

We rode them the 25 kilometers to Hoi An which was an easy, fun ride. We were going to Hoi An because we had been told by Joe’s friend Maral that there were tailors there who make nice, inexpensive suits. Specifically she had recommended a place called A Dong Silk.

In my head I imagined Hoi An as a quaint seaside town with a couple of clothing stores  amongst other kinds of shops and boutique hotels and restaurants. The reality is quite different. It’s ALL tailors. As we would soon learn, there are about 450 tailors in Hoi An and the competition for tourist dollars is bloodthirsty.

We got off the bikes and I was immediately approached by a friendly guy wearing a motorcycle helmet. He had an easy-going vibe. He told us about his shop and kindly offered to walk us over there. It was pretty clear what was happening but I thought why not, we are here to buy suits. He told us that he comes from a family of tailors and that out of all 450 tailors in Hoi An his shop was number 5 blah blah blah yeah sure.

I don’t know about their tailoring but they are excellent fishermen. They landed us like a couple of 180 pound marlin. Looking back, the motorcycle helmet was what did me in. It was something we had in common and it made it look like he was heading somewhere instead of patiently lying in wait for his quarry. Joe thinks he may have actually just been riding. I think it was part of his camo. I should have said no right away. I could have used a little help from Joe but he already had suits in his eyes.

As soon as we were dropped off at the market, the rod and reel man disappeared and we were given over to the care of two skilled fishmongers. Once inside, the lethal efficiency of the operation revealed itself. Each role was clearly defined. Advanced interrogation techniques were deployed. Joe and I were kept separated and making decisions so we couldn’t talk it over or back out. When I finally did get to check in with Joe, he was having a fine time.

And so was everyone else in there, as far as I could tell. The seas had been generous that day and they had a full hold of blubbery tourists, mouths opening and closing, eyes bulging out of their heads, looking at fabric samples. I actually don’t really have any complaints about the experience other than the fact that it was forced on me. We were cleaned and gutted in under 20 minutes. Joe bought a suit and two shirts. I bought two shirts and a pair of chinos; it felt like the only way to get out of there, which is, of course, by design.

We looked it up later and Ba-Ri tailors, as they’re called, have a 5 star rating on TripAdvisor with 1,444 reviews and are ranked number 5 out of 447 tailors in Hoi An. Well how about that.

Dizzy and disoriented, we stumbled back out into the bright sunlight. We walked a couple blocks looking for food or maybe just a place to sit down, have a drink and regroup. We’d already bought five garments and we hadn’t even seen the place we were supposed to go.

We stopped on a street corner to look up restaurants, a critical mistake, you cannot stop moving. Not 10 seconds elapsed before we were approached by a friendly older lady named Thu who told us we were handsome and explained that she comes from a family of tailors and might we like to OH GOD! I started walking away and Joe followed trying to give her the, ‘we’ll find you’ blow off. She was having none of it.

“But how? How will you find me?”

“We’ll look on google maps!”

“But how will you look it up? Waaait. Deviiiiiiin”

She’s trailing about two feet behind Joe, Joe’s about three feet behind me, and I’m about 4 seconds from breaking into a full sprint.

She finally treed us in a convenience store and the only way we could get her to leave was to get out my phone and let her put the address of her shop into google maps AND my notes. When I opened maps, the address to A Dong Silk was sitting there and she was like, “don’t go there it’s too expensive.”

I HATE the hard sell. Honestly, fuck Hoi An. Hoi An is a nest of tailors.

We walked another block away, finally got waters and regrouped. Then we took the long way around to A Dong Silk, a nice, minimal shop with no one in it and saleswomen who didn’t give a fuck. That’s what I want in my sales people, skepticism and mild irritation at my even being there.

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Whether they know it or not, all of these people are about to buy suits.

This was a great experience. Joe and I bought a suit each. Everyone was kind and we were never rushed. I only had to refuse to buy a second suit 5 or 6 times. It was great. Thank you, Maral for pointing us in the right direction and thank you Nhung and Le, you were great.

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Side Note: when they measured us, they did it right in those big front doors and I was PETRIFIED the entire time that Thu was going to walk by. Nhung kept telling me to relax and I was like, you don’t understaaand. She’ll find us!

We exited A Dong Silk and got the hell out of dodge. The fucked part is that we have to go back today for a fitting! If we make it through without buying more clothes, it’ll be a miracle.

We got back to Da Nang and walked to the beach. On the way we stopped for lunch at Tam’s Pub and Surf Shop. A lot of places diversify here. In Hanoi we ate a a restaurant that was also a hostel and travel agency. At Tam’s you can eat, rent a surf board, or rent a motorbike. The food was ok. We spent most of the time googling the various tailors in Hoi An we’d been assaulted by. There are these bicycle food vendors in Vietnam that ride around town. They have speakers mounted on their bikes and through these speakers they play a recording of an odd mechanical voice saying something in Vietnamese over and over again on a loop. I’m sure it’s just telling people what kind of food they’re selling but it sounds like robot overlords telling humans that it’s illegal to be out past curfew.

At the beach we saw a guy with a huge bird tattoo on his back and a smaller thunderbird tattoo on his belly button. Joe dubbed him Thunderbutton.

We got back to the hotel and swore up and down that we wouldn’t fall asleep and REALLY go out. I don’t know what was different about that night but, we actually made it out. We took one scooter over the dragon bridge which is lit up at night and very cool, and found a happening Thai spot.

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This girl kept circling our table, refusing to stand still for a photograph.

We ordered beef larb, pad thai and a hot pot. I’ve never had a hot pot but Joe seemed to know what he was doing.

“I’ve never had a hot pot.” I told him.

“Oh when you come to New York we’ll get hot pots in Sunset Park.”

This made me think Joe was an old hand at hot pots, but neither of us were fully prepared for this meal.

The pad thai was delicious but about a quarter of the way through we mixed in all of the side ingredients including the peanuts the sprouts and the chili powder.

“That chili powder is legit.” Joe noted accurately.

It was hot. Not too bad, but hot. Next came the larb and the larb… the larb was not fucking around. We weren’t even halfway through it before we were both sweating profusely from the face. We would not finish the larb, and we took a short recess before the hot pot landed. The waiter lit the sterno and put the hot pot down along with the food we were to cook inside of it. An eerie calm settled over the table as we waited for the broth to boil. The restaurant cleared out. I shifted in my seat, suddenly unable to get comfortable. Two geckos chased each other on the wall. I poked the larb. Finally the broth was bubbling and the battle was joined.

I’ve never been as engaged with a dish as I was with this thing. We laid siege to the hot pot. It was throwing off sparks and burning my arm. I kept putting my face too close to it and my face would get hot and I’d have to back off. I tried to eat noodles straight out of the broth and burnt my mouth and then while I was slurping up the noodles, they’d splatter me with drops of boiling oil and I’d burn my arm again. I’d get a piece of lemon grass in my mouth and it would stab my cheek. I got skewered by fish bones. Joe lost some arm hair. It was intense. In the end the hot pot came away with the victory and we got three tasty clams and first degree burns.

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All I did was eat dinner.

By all rights, the night should have ended there, but since it’s possible we never leave the hotel again, we walked over to a Da Nang rock club called On the Radio.

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It was jumpin’ and a hard rock band was on stage. They had three singers and they could all wail. They closed with Zombie by The Cranberries. After the band played, a DJ did a set. He was also very good. It was around this time that we first noticed the balloons. A waiter carried three LARGE balloons filled with something over to a table and the people who’d ordered them began to inhale them. I was mystified. Weed? It kind of reminded me of a Volcano bag. We would find out later that it’s nitrous. You can order fucking whip-its at the bars here.

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We take in the scene.

By all rights, the night should have ended there, but we decided to walk over to this other bar called the 1920’s Club which I guess is a jazz club since there was a duo playing jazz in there.

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Soul Candy

Despite the more classy, subdued nature of this place, the nitrous was still flowing and these huge white balloons were everywhere. Joe ordered a margarita, which wasn’t on the menu, and we listened to some neo soul. We hung out with these two after the set, since we all spoke english, and they told us what was in the balloons and where to find the cool bars where all the expats hang out. He’s British and she’s a self-hating angelino who’s been living in Da Nang for two years.

By all rights, the night should have ended there, but for some incomprehensible reason we agreed to meet them over at a bar near our hotel called Minsk Pub, mostly because it was by our hotel. We almost bailed but swung by to see what that weird scene was all about. The jazz duo was missing, and there was no bottled water. Someone was on a microphone freestyle rapping which is quite possibly my least favorite thing in the entire world.

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Just because you’re good at it, doesn’t make it ok.

We left after five minutes. And THAT, mercifully, was where the night ended.

Woof. Long day. We have to go back to Hoi An now, but something tells me tonight’s going to be an early one. Maybe we’ll just have some nitrous sent up to the room.

 

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