We left Hoi-An yesterday, and I was sad to say goodbye to the friendly little town and its gorgeous Life Resort. I broke out my extra bag upon departure, so I could fit in all my new clothes. All in all I spent $330 and got 11 pairs of pants, 4 shirts, and 1 skirt. Nick spent $650 and got a suit, 4 pairs of copied pants (which were more expensive), 2 pairs of jeans, 2 pairs of pants, and 11 shirts.
Now, I have to be honest: Our experience getting these clothes was pretty thoroughly insufferable. We were lured by this girl outside our hotel directly into the belly of the beast: the Hoi-An Clothing Market, a huge warehouse filled with little sewing machine stalls, shelves and shelves of fabrics, insistent children hawking post cards and cheap necklaces, and at least a few rats. We picked our stuff from patterns in a catalog, then went around grabbing different fabrics from the shelves. Then they take your measurements and send you home. When you come back the next day for the fitting, you basically have to strip down to your undies in clear view of an entire marketplace, sweating torrents in the tropical heat, while the little child-vendors accost you in mid-strip, even though you've told them over and over you won't buy anything, especially not while in your underwear. Then you have the tailors make all the adjustments and pick the clothes up later.
The overall quality of the finished product failed to meet my high expectations, though I think this has more to do with my inability to pick good fabrics than the actual workmanship. Cotton is king; polyester deadly, right? Any fool knows that. But the harsh truth is that most fabrics these days are a mixture, and it's really hard to tell, as a novice, what's going to fit well. Light, stretchy denim feels really flimsy on the bolt but great on the body. Certain stiffer denims, on the other hand, seemed like great choices on the bolt but have absolutely no give on the body. It's also tough to pick the right cut, so while I'm pretty sure the seamstress made the pants I ordered, I'm not sure I ordered the right pants. (Also, I completely forgot that you have to designate a thread color; when you see my clothes you'll notice that pink thread must be really big in Southeast Asian fashion right about now.) Next time I'll have to be a little more careful about my fabric and pattern choices. I'd say the best results we saw were Nick's copied pants; they made perfect replicas in much better fabric than the originals. I definitely should have brought stuff to copy, using a tested quantity as a guide through the hullabaloo, rather than relying on my ability to summon gorgeous couture on the fly.
I also think our experience was probably a lot less pleasant and user-friendly than it needed to be. Outside the main market, there are tons of storefronts with mannequins wearing replicas of all sorts of different clothes. They have dressing rooms, mirrors, fans, etc., and they take your order over to the market and have it assembled for you. We're also guessing you don't pay a whole lot more, as the prices we paid weren't exactly cheap. Ah well, next time...
I'm still going to miss Hoi-An a lot, and I would love to do it all over again... As you all know I was really looking forward to the clothing thing, and now that it's behind me and I've gained all this knowledge (and wardrobe!), I think I might have to start planning my next trip to Thailand, where Jeff and Nancy say they have the same services but in a bit more orderly and calm environment.
We arrived in Hue yesterday and toured the walled citadel built in the early 19th century when this was the country's capital. It's very stormy and wet—the power in the Life Resort kept flickering on and off before we left, so I didn't get to post this from there. The three-hour drive from Hoi-An wasn't bad. We've all been impressed at the good roads, especially Nick, who says Vietnam's infrastructure and cleanliness put India to shame among developing nations. Unfortunately, we're eager to leave Hue, which has presented us nothing but heavy rains and meager sights. Our hotel, the Saigon Morin, is old and stately; our room's filled with carved wood, marble, porcelain vases and the walls are covered in old black-and-white photographs from the colonial days. Unfortunately it all has this very slight tinge of mildew, despite the fact that everything is completely spic-and-span. Must be tough fighting the creep of dampness in this climate, in October, the wettest month of the year.
Today we leave for Hanoi where it's supposed to be dryer. From there we depart for home in a few days. The trip is already halfway over!