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Hoi An: "Shirts"

July 26, 2003

Hoi An
Vietnam

At last Hoi An, a picturesque riverside town famous for its dozens of custom tailor shops. The driver brought me to a new hotel, with very comfortable guest rooms that surround an inviting swimming pool. The receptionist was apologetic when she quoted the rate of $15.00, including buffet breakfast.

Hoi An is a centuries old Chinese market town. Three hundred year old homes use construction materials and design to capture the breezes - cool inside, despite the considerable heat outside.

The numerous Chinese Assembly Halls are very large wooden buildings with high ceilings supported by tall wooden columns and beams. There are colorful statues, sculptures and murals depicting myths and old sea stories. Also replicas of important members of the various congregations: Fujian, Cantonese, Hainan, Chaozhau, Hakka.

Just out of town is the popular attraction, My Son, the ruins of ancient Cham temples. I wander among the broken Buddhas and fallen towers.

Did I mention tailor shops? Mae West once said, "I never let anything tempt me, unless I can't resist it." Your friend Jan is an easy mark.

I am strolling around, successfully resisting the importuning of the shop owners. Then I spy a large shop where young women are embroidering table linens. Several men are carving wooden scenes of the four seasons. Timidly, cautiously I step in for a "look see.”

Thuy, a tall charming woman dressed in a traditional gown, greets me warmly and guides me on the "tour." The tour includes cages of live silkworms at different stages of development, women spinning silk thread from the chrysalis, and others weaving cloth. Quite a show. Thuy then gently leads me upstairs... you guessed it...to the showroom and fitting room and a dozen men at sewing machines.

To make this long story a little shorter, I select three silk fabrics for long sleeve shirts. I also choose one short sleeve shirt off the rack. They take my measurements and tell me to come back the next day.

When I return, the shirts do not fit properly, so they take additional measurements and agree to change the collars and pockets to my liking.

Finally, four really elegant silk shirts - one off white, button down; one cream button down, no pocket; one deep blue-green plain collar, no pocket; one delicately patterned short sleeve shirt. Total cost for four shirts is the same as one fine cotton shirt from Macy's. “Totally Awesome.”

The three-hour bus ride from Hoi An north to Hue is “an incredibly mountainous stretch of highway with spectacular views,” says the guidebook. The guidebook is correct.

On Highway 1, about 30 km north of Danang sits Hai Van Pass - 500 meters above the South China Sea. We stop for the breathtaking views above the sea and beaches below. I must return one day.

The mountain pass is the unofficial border between south and north Vietnam.

My Tour is Up Country.

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