There are times when I must come off as a kind of travelling contrarian. While I occasionally allow myself Big Dumb Tourism trips, I generally prefer to act aloof and uninterested whenever I am confronted with the usual traveller path. Roads, after all, are for suckers: gravel is better, topped only by beaten earth, and surpassed only then by wild jungle, completely untouched by man. If the road has already been hoed, it probably already sucks.
This tendency was particularly pronounced in Hoi An, a city in central Vietnam famed for its shopping. Fine suits, handmade dresses, and uncountable varieties of custom shoes are available for perusal and crafting. There are bins stuffed with thousands of black market DVDs, including up-to-date boxsets of Breaking Bad. Other shops swell with piles of coppery jewellery, or thousands of books turned in by previous travellers (meaning numerous copies of 50 Shades of Grey, and most of Dean Koontz’ catalogue in German). Storefronts sag with the weight of shoe displays, tiny columns stretching to the sky, each piece of footwear displayed on glass and metal and wooden pedestals. There are shops bursting with fabrics, lined with dapper and elegant mannequins, and operated by hungry, nimble-fingered seamstresses ready to shred and sew a custom three-piece suit for you in under twenty minutes or your pizza is free, including hand-made, cruelty free pocket square, sewn from real yak’s brain.
Given that I hate suits, and also being measured, and also shopping, the finer consumerist points of the city were lost upon me. I walk down a busy central street past dozens of quaint , Chinese-styled buildings, and dozens of shop owners call out to me. Some wave, some gesture to their wares. A few times, people run across easygoing pedestrian roads full of bicycles and rickshaws to talk to me. They tell me their names, and ask me for mine. They want to know what brings me here. They want to lull me into a sense of trust and convivial spirit. Maybe I would be interested in going to their shop afterwards, just for a peek, maybe a cup of tea, perhaps a free, no-pressure taking of all of your measurements and silk preferences?