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Good Spring Rolls for Bad Suits

Cooking, Flooding and Fitting in Hoi An

rain 23 °C

We arrived in Hoi An on Tuesday after an easy four hour drive from Hue to news that Vietnam (along with Libya) has been elected to a two-year rotational membership of the UN Security Council. You’ve simply got to give this Communist country its due: as recently as 1989 it was dealing with a nasty border skirmish with Cambodia, and less than twenty years later it has embraced some form of capitalism in the form of ‘doi moi’ and aggressively targeted improved international relations. Vietnam's temporary membership of the UN Security Council, a hotly contested honour, is another sign that the international community is impressed by Vietnam’s efforts. Congratulations!

Not that anyone in Hoi An seemed that bothered. Hoi An used to be a port of major importance to Vietnam, but that business has since moved to nearby Danang, leaving Hoi An almost entirely reliant on tourism. Practically every one of its 16th to 18th century houses is a restaurant, café, tailor or souvenir shop. On the plus side, we once again were able to enjoy terrific Vietnamese/French cuisine. But on the other hand, we were sharing this UNESCO Heritage site with thousands of tourists: this is not the place to attempt an intimate cultural experience!

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The good, the bad, or the ugly? Note the old lady's beetlenut-stained teeth.

The closest we came was a quick stop at a local beauty salon for a haircut. We’ve been looking for somewhere with electric clippers since India as Lloyd didn’t fancy offering his neck to an unknown entity with a very sharp straight razor. Finally finding clippers in Hoi An, we strolled into this salon and were literally stormed by four young Vietnamese women. Lucky for Lloyd, only one targeted him and got to work on the most uneven haircut ever. In the meantime, I was overwhelmed into a chair by three ladies who – before I could object – were filing the nails on three of my four limbs. Within the space of five minutes, I had – according to our final bill – enjoyed a manicure, pedicure, face massage and foot massage. In practice, I left looking a lot worse than when I walked in, and felt anything BUT relaxed! The upselling on Lloyd included the world’s worst head-massage, and would have included a shave with a rusty razor had I not physically intervened to prevent it. But it was all in good spirit, and even with the $9 bill for a $2 haircut, we had to laugh at the experience. Well, I laughed at it. Lloyd will probably start finding it funny in about two weeks when his hair grows back.

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The Butcher of Hoi An with her latest victim

Unless you’re looking for relatively inexpensive custom-tailoring or would enjoy the quaint architecture, we wouldn’t recommend a stop here, but we embraced our two nights nonetheless. In central Vietnam, the wettest season is just a few weeks away, so the locals are gearing up for a couple of months of flooded streets, but the sight of boats sailing up streets and motorbikes swimming through five inches of water is still something of an oddity to us.

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As a nickname for my cat Tammy, a visit to the Tam-Tam Café was a must, and we would highly recommend the Vietnamese/Continental restaurant and patisserie The Cargo Club where we enjoyed a couple of meals overlooking the flooded streets of Hoi An.

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Note the partially submerged benches. Six hours later, the benches were completely underwater.

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At the Tam Tam. I'm holding Tammy's name tag, which has travelled with me every step of our journey so far... And an old picture of the real Tam Tam distracting me from studying way back in May

Perhaps the highlight was a cooking class during which a local chef taught us how to make six local dishes of our choosing: prawn spring rolls, fish in banana leaf, spinach in garlic, coconut shrimp, squid in sesame seed and chicken pho (noodle soup). The spring rolls, made with fresh onion, carrot, turnip and shrimps, were absolutely gorgeous (even if we say so ourselves!) and the chicken pho will likely appear on the menu at our house in the future, as will the others items in some modified form. It was great to learn how to use many of the staple ingredients of Vietnamese cooking that have formed the bulk of our meals in recent weeks: sesame oil, oyster sauce, fish sauce, lemongrass, and vegetable stock powder! No doubt our Vietnamese menu will prove to be one of our favourite souvenirs when we’re back in the Bay Area.

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Views of our cooking class. It's notable that we ate each one of our six dishes before we remembered to take pictures of them.

The clothes we had 'tailored', however, will be lucky to end up back in the States at all. Lloyd had two suits and shirts made-to-measure (as is the vogue in Hoi An and what thousands of European tourists bus in to do daily), but apparently his measurements were confused with Quasimodo. Either that or one tailor made the right side and another one the left as the suit fit Lloyd perfectly on only one side! Nonetheless, we were pleased to have had the quintessential Hoi An experience of rushing between 'fittings'. And we're sure there are very good tailors here. We just failed to find them!

Posted by jacquiedro 16:59 Archived in Vietnam Tagged round_the_world

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