At Home in Hoi An

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Almost one week in the house, and still not “settled,” meaning a lot of organizing yet to do. This hasn’t been an easy move for me, physically. The heat is brutal. I take a minimum of three showers a day to avoid heat exhaustion, AND I’m drinking water, lots of water. Still, I have little energy.

Yesterday, I met a young Vietnamese friend, Chung, for a watermelon yogurt smoothie and a lesson in shopping in the big market. We went through my list of food items I most often buy, translating each into Vietnamese and working on the pronunciation of the Hôi An dialect. Just as important, I learned the current general cost of each item. I’ve dared not enter the market place without knowing the max I should pay. Otherwise, I’d be forever known as that ignorant foreigner and would be charged 3 – 4 times the real value. I do love so much about the Vietnamese culture, yet there is no denying that the energy of greed dominates much of daily life. Centuries of trading, of getting the best deal, has created a society in which the most common question is “How much did you pay?” When I say I’m renting a house, total strangers will ask me to tell them how much rent I’m paying.

Hôi An is one of the most popular destinations for visitors to Viet Nam, known for tailoring and custom-made shoes. Unfortunately, unsuspecting tourists pay far too much for everything they buy. Many, I’m sure, never think to bargain. While staying in a hotel, waiting to move into the house, I became friendly with an Australian couple. He paid $400 for two suits (pants and jackets). I didn’t want to ruin their trip by telling them that he paid at least TWICE the going rate, maybe more.

To rationalize that whatever the price, it’s still less than back home, is not helpful to anyone. To overpay because, “by comparison, I’m rich and you are poor” seems condescending and disrespectful. Actually, I believe what often happens is that the foreigner is more willing to pay too much, in order to avoid engaging in the bargaining process, something we, in the West, aren’t accustomed to doing.

Fortified by my yummy smoothie and some basic knowledge, I ventured confidently into the marketplace and had a very positive experience. Okra, cucumbers, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, potatoes, rice, garlic, eggs, eggplant, mango, dragon fruit, mangosteen, banana, watermelon. Then, Stop!  I remembered I’d be holding these bags while riding on the back of a motorbike. I’m in Viêt Nam and I love it!

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