Monday, April 24, 2006

Same Same But Different

Well, our final adventure in Vietnam started off with a night train to the southern city of Hue. I have to say, whether we’ve just ridden too many trains in the homeland or we are just jaded, but this was one nice sleeper train. Upon arriving in Hue, we didn’t waste much time since we only had a day…we threw our stuff in our hotel and headed to the water for an afternoon boat ride down the Perfume River. Along the river, we stopped to visit some pagodas and went to 2 of the coolest royal tombs.

Apparently, back in the reign of the Nguyen emperors (ranging from 1200 to 1800),each emperor built these huge totally elaborate tomb for the emperor they succeeded. It was more than just a tomb. It usually first had a steel pavilion, that listed all of the accomplishments of the emperor, then a temple-dedicated to the emperor and emperoress, a courtyard and occasionally a lotus pond. Well, in the courtyard were these amazing sculptures of foot soldiers ready for battle in gear along with elephants and the whole ordeal. Afterwards, we got back in our boat and enjoyed the sunset along the Perfume River.
The next day we set out for Hoi An…now, this is the place I was waiting for…for the historical significance, or unique culture you might ask…hell no…it was to get a ton of cheap clothes made. As we were taking a bus in from Hue to Hoi Ann, Tarak had to literally calm Anar and I down, as we went from simply admiring the rows of tailors and fun pretty much ugly yelps of “oooohhh, I want those pants”…anyway, we settled in our hotel and then quickly set to start the clothes rampage. The best way to describe it is that it is basically this whole area with TONS, and I literally mean tons of tailors with sort of boutiques where they display all kinds of cute clothes. So, basically you can walk up to any tailor and say “hmmm, I like that shirt, but I want it with ¾ sleeves, change the color to red and black and put slits on the side” and it will literally be custom fit to your size and ready in (sometimes) 1 day. You come back for a first, and sometimes a second fitting. Well, Tarak had actually kept one of the cards of the tailors he had used 4 years ago, and we found her. Probably not surprising, we had a LOT of stuff made…we even discovered, you could get custom made shoes..that’s right..they measure both your feet, even taking multiple width measurements (so, if one’s a little bigger than the other, so will be your shoe) and then you pick the heel, the strap and whatever color you want….crazy, huh?? Needless to say, I think Tarak and I had about, oh 15 kg of stuff when we left. And we got some pretty good stuff…obviously, we couldn’t expect super high quality…but we got work shirts/slacks, silk PJ’s (don’t worry, just me), swimsuits (me again), wool coats and Tarak even got an entire suit made. The funny thing was that everywhere we went, when you asked someone, if they could make those same pants or if they had the same shirt we had seen, they wouldn’t immediately say yes, but rather what seemed like the universal response “Same, Same but different”. Well let me just say, that things were more likely to be different than “same same”…but all the sellers use that line so much, that they actually have shirts that say “same, same but different”. We almost bought one, but I think, by that time, we were big time shirted out. Tarak’s tailor, I think, was so touched that he came back and found her (and she sure as heck didn’t mind our business either)…that she treated us to dinner which we had in her boutique. She had ordered all of these amazing local Vietnamese dishes, that we definitely couldn’t find anywhere along the tourist strip. It was nice to get a chance to talk to her and learn about her life and her perspective on life in communist Vietnam.
Besides being knee-deep in getting clothes, we happened to come across some pretty cool galleries and once again enjoyed more Vietnamese coffee with French pastries. ☺

We also visited this place called My Son, which was about 25 km from the city and was yet another site of ancient Hindu ruins from the Champa Dynasty. Now, since we had already been to Ankgor Wat, it was hard to even compare, but it was yet again amazing to see the reign of Hindu influence so widely spread in the 12th century.

Our last day in Hoi An, Anar had gone back, and so Tarak and I had decided to take a cooking class. It was a definite must do experience. We first took a trip to the market, which was overwhelming with sights, foods and smells (very pungent). We then took a boat ride out to the Red River Bridge Cooking school, where we first got a tour of the amazing herb garden…I mean, superb Vietnamese cilantro and Thai basil..along with this disgusting sweet potato herb that reeked of fish. Anyway, in class, we learned to make eggplant in a claypot, stir fry tofu in pineapple, rice paper and then we actually made spring rolls. We then got to enjoy the fruits of our labor and had a great dinner before our boatride back to the mainland.
Well, our initial itinerary was to go down further south to see the DMZ (demilitarized zone) and the Mekong Delta, but we literally made this crazy spontaneous change in our plans. Even though we would have loved to see more of Vietnam, our hearts were longing to go back to India before coming back home. Since we knew my cousin was getting married and we did keep talking a lot about how much we missed the India, we literally within 2 days had bought 2 round trip tickets from Hanoi to Mumbai. We decided to surprise my family and just show up at the door right before the wedding festivities started…so, just like that, we were heading back to India for a quick 10 days….


Patrick said...

I'm thinking of taking my dad to vietnam in a few years. I'll need the name of that tailor.

Vin. said...

So when are you guys going to come home?

Vin. said...

Hey! So you're back in the states and I haven't heard from you guys! (I'm making the call me gesture with my right hand as I'm typing--pretty hard to do.)