Saturday, November 7, 2009

Souvenir Shopping in Saigon

I will be giving a Shop & Show lecture (this much like Show & Tell from the first grade) to a group of journalists coming to the opening of the InterContinental Hotel Asian Saigon next week, so I wanted to buy merchandise that made the copy points reflecting the best buys in Saigon.

While this press group is only going to Saigon and Hong Kong, and not Hanoi, I did not know if any of them know merchandsie from Hanoi and I wanted to chose items that represented this destination and this time and place in shopping awareness...not things you could also find in Hanoi or things that were generically Viet Namese.

In my mind I somewhat knew the categories of goods that I wanted, but I wanted them sharp and a la mode. Trendy and to the point. As fresh as the croissants at breakfast. As whimsical as the hair scrunchy doodles pictured above.

We found some very trendy jewelery in the Ben Tranh Market and copies of the famous Matt Laurenza cuffs (over $1000 at Neiman Marcus) which were spot on and I went for some of the more obvious choices-- a faux Chanel wallet which I was assured was of excellent quality because it came from Korea. Korea has a pan-Asian rep for fakes; V-N does not. I fought like mad to get some buffalo horn salad servers for $20, which I knew was the right price, only to watch Sarah find a better pair at a TT for $15 and get hers wrapped in a gorgeous red silk box. She didn't even have to bargain. I think I have CHUMP written across my forehead.

At Ben Tranh, I chose embroidered laundry bags and looked at all the amazing embroidery in various styles. I swooned at stores such as Song, one of the msot famous of the chic boutiques with locations in Saigon as well as Hanoi, and Liti, next door-- more chic merch mixed with French antiques and flea market finds, but slightly different (76e Le Thanh Tan St. District 1). Then I squirmed over the high prices at L'Apothiquaire across the street. Naw, I didn't want Euorpean merchandise for my lecture, I wanted local.

We spent several hours on the main shopping drag, Dong Khoi and saw many marvelous shops. At Authentique I found some different kinds of embroidered tokens, zip bags with dragon flies as well as a little folding box for CD's or television zappers, $11-18. We ignored the likes the the newish Louis Vuitton or Gucci or other name brands and went to tailors and shoe shops and many of the stores that sell lacquer, be it in local finishes or inspired by the works of Picasso or Huntdervasser.

On our way into the Art Alley (truly an alley), we passed a French couple deep in negotiations over a tray of 'antique' Zippos. I went nuts. That was my war and I did not like the idea of anyone finding value in the remains of a few good men...or 58,000 of them.

I gently touched the man on the shoulder and said to him in Bad French, "Those are the things of dead soldiers, you cannot buy them."

Unfortunately, in the heat of the moment, I used the word 'combattant' instead of 'soldat' in my tirade, making it sound like our forces were here as contestants on some really manic episode of the Amazing Race. The man shrugged and then pouted.

The couple then ignored me and continued to shop. I have spent a lifetime in flea markets, antiques stores and garage sales buying things once the property of dead people. But I never bought stolen Nazi art or felt the interest in a Zippo lighter.

Rest in peace.

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