Vietnamese Vignettes

Amanda Hesser, the NY Times magazine’s food editor, wrote about a trip to Vietnam in Sunday’s paper.

“Hoi An, which means “peaceful life union,” is a sleepy place easily traversed on foot. Down an alley off of Phan Boi Chau, we saw a man who stood in the center of the road, tossing bricks up to the second floor where another man caught them. A house was being built, one brick at a time. When we strolled through the central market one afternoon, nearly all the vendors were napping, some lying on bags of rice, others with feet propped up on piles of dried beans, heaps of cucumber.

But the inevitable reorientation to tourists has begun, and it is hard to escape the town’s many energetic tailors. More than one woman grabbed me by the arm and tried to drag me to her store.

I was more charmed by Xuan, a tailor on Hoang Dieu, who simply posted a sign in English, which read: “Stop looking, you’ve found the most honest, friendly, non-pressuring + accurate craftswoman in Hoi An. Surpassed all expectations with her creative flair. Gucci move aside!!!”

Hoi An’s charm is its historic buildings, whose architecture was heavily influenced by immigrants from Japan and China. At Fujian Assembly Hall, a Chinese-style community center, a wooden model of a junk stood near sculptures of the man of the sun and the woman of the moon, two magical Chinese gods. At the back of the hall were altars to deities for beauty, wealth and social position.

A group of young men wearing T-shirts that said “Netnam” – the Microsoft of Vietnam – crowded in behind us. They were there to pray to Tan Tai Cong, the tycoon deity who determines people’s financial future. If an entrepreneur’s prayers are granted, he is supposed to return to thank the deity. If he fails to, it is certain death – or, at the very least, social ostracism.”