Sunday, November 8, 2009

Super Sunday in Saigon

Sarah and I were up at 4AM on Sunday, unhappy that there was no chance for the Sunday New York Times since it wasn't even Sunday in New York. We decided instead to eat breakfast at 6AM, then I went to write. By 8AM we were at the concierge desk asking if there were any special Sunday markets. I was dreaming of Vanves (Paris).

"Have you been to Ben Ty?" asked the concierge.
"Went there yesterday."
"Really? In the 5th District? I thought you went to Ben Thanh."
Oops, that bad ear of mine.

I don't even know where Saigon's 5th District is and had already been lamenting the fact that the 1rst District is so modern and sophisticated, with little local funk to it. Off we went, totally across town for about a one half hour tour of real people and their hoods. Just watching the families out on their motos was enough to make you stare or gasp. Sarah spied a family of five on one moto. I liked the family of three, with the two year old child up front on Dad's lap, very calmly sipping from a juice box while Dad tore through the traffic wtih a vroom, vroom, vroom.

The market area was an enormous village of commerce unto itself; we wanted to jump out of our moving cab just to get into the action. Like proper ladies, we waited for the driver to pull up to a market building decked out with blue and white tiles and a tower and a hammer and sickle flag. We understood immediately that this was the wholesale market as most items were packed in celo in groups of ten or 12.

Our first conquest was 'silk' charmeuse, as I have been actively copying an Eileen Fisher shell that I recently bought in Manhattan for some outrageous sum. We bought two yards of four shades of nuetrally earth tones (mushroom, butter, burnt siena, dusty pumpkin) and paid $20 USD in cash. At the time, we thought the top could be made from one meter and we would each have four (we were wrong on the math). Never mind.

We bought props for our group-- packs of ten worked fine for this-- and were most happy with the flip-flop socks with one articulated toe; $5 for ten. We took lotsa pictures and fled when the revenge of the durian became too severe.

We went back to 'town' and met up at the InterContinental Asiana for our brunch date-- our friend Hong E has agreed to take us to her secret sources, but we needed to be strong so we ate from the massive buffet and stocked our plates with shrimp, lobster, sushi, roast beef, yorkshire pudding, tien ly flowers (similar to brocoli) and then hit the chocolate fountain for a low cal dessert. Vueve Clicquot was poured endlessly through the meal ($35 per person including Champagne) and we sobered up with coffee before we hit the road.

Alas, Viet Nam has no Starbucks (or no McDonald's).

We changed into our hot-weather hunting clothes while Hong E sailed forth in stockings, high heels, a shift and blazer with her Birkin on her side. She is a size 0 and a perfect example of the face of the new woman in Nam, gorgeous, stylish, smart and well-spoken with flawless English skills and Audrey Hepburn appeal.

First stop was Toan Thinh, a silk shop unlike others I had seen in VN, because the quality was so extraordinary. I asked if the silk had been screened in Japan (known for its high quality printing methods) but was told all the silk came from VN. Hmmmmppph! Why didn't they just make silk, not war?

The store is located at 180 Ly Tu Trong, Ben Thanh Ward, District 1, which is to say it is in one of the shopping streets jutting out from the Ben Tranh Market and therefore easily reached by all. This is inf act the area we set out to find on our first day when the taxi driver from the provences got hopelessly lost.

The store had two floors of elegant and expensive looking silks with a few random bolts of home furnishings fabrics and a handful of bolts of pastel shades of linen. Sarah bought a gorgeous textured black silk for about $10 USD a yard-- a big splurge but the silk was stunning and let's face it, Sarah has such a good eye that she is immediately drawn to the best in town.

Hong E (whom I plan to rename Hannah except I know this is not pc of me) expertly led us around the area, side stepping the crumbling sidewalks in her stilettos. We were on the way to another fabric shop-- one for men-- but made a detour when we spied the merchandise in the windows of Dung Hien Optical (241 Le Thanh Ton) which boasted dozens of novelty eyeglasses frames in the window. I paid $5 for a pair of 60 for a girlfriend (no names, please) and then later regretted I didn't buy 30 for my son's next birthday. Hopefully I can get back there.

The mens' tailor and fabric store had suitings, shirtings and a wall devoted to a gelato inspired selection of linens. Fabrics were priced by country of origin; they suggested two meters for a normal man's shirt and in the case of my special order (for Santa Claus) two and a half meters. The fabric cost $25 USD. Then we went next door to Lan Vy Tailor (217 Le Thanh Ton) and unloaded our satchel of fabrics and samples.

Each piece of fabric and its accompanying sample are bagged and tagged. The customer is given a receipt with a swatch of each fabric sample. The items will be ready in a few days and delivered back to the InterConti Asiana for us on our return from Hanoi.

Hong E took us then to some favorite shops on Dong Khoi, the main shopping street, we were able to return to the Art Alley to buy the paintings we wanted (Hong E negotiated a better deal for us) and we collapsed for tea in the Asiana hotel lobby.

We ended our one perfect Sunday in Saigon with drinks on the rooftop terrace of the Saigon Saigon Bar atop the Caravelle Hotel and at the Hoa Tuc restaurant, tuc must mean tucked into a courtyard you won't find unless you know it's there. The courtyard property was once part of an opium refinery and now houses three restaurants a cooking school and a skin care studio.

We fell into bed just in time to catch Conan on CNBC and drift off dreaming of our new clothes.

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