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Hội & An

I got a call from Huy, a long lost friend from Hoi An. He is going to marry to a local girl on March after 31 years of lonely. I actually can’t wait for this event to see him and the land I love – Hoi An

When economics is booming and changes life at most corners of Vietnam, Hoi An seems to be an exceptional. Well, most of population of the town doing related hospitality industry but they do their own ways, not noisy and short term minded.

My very first trip to Hoi An dated in 1999 when tourism was still so raw, you might have been so hard to find a internet cafe in town and hotels are less counted. The well – known tailor shop Yaly was just a little messy place right heart of smelly Hoi An market. I was surprised that everyone acted so gently and friendly to me, and later on I found that tourist (even domestic) are treated very well and honestly here. I used to stay up late in Tam Tam bar, one night I had walked back to my hotel and there was a guy with his bike coming over and phased ‘do you want a ride back?’ I said ok and jumped over. When we arrived, I gave 5k VND to him and surprisingly he said ‘no worries, Tuan! I am not Xe Om, just offer you a ride as you are tour guide’. Well, how shame I was! And I had invited him for a coffee in the next day. He later became one of many local friends I made in Hoi An.

Hoi An is very small little town, you can’t get lost here. The old town lies along the main river and everything starts from there. The Cua Dai beach is a new development located about 4kms away. The town is mixture between of river and beach, old and new, western bar and many local style coffee shops, it offers a large range of shopping options like gift, clothes and many local souvenirs. Are they the reasons that make people stay in Hoi An longer than other places in Vietnam?

Language barrier does not allow me to express how much I love this land, especially it’s people. By the way, I would like to send my special thanks to all my friends, Tam, Gau, Huy, Quynh, Chau, Phuong, Cu and many others who just spent so much time helping me on early days at work, taught me Hoi An history, took great care when I was not well, showed me places that I would not have known as a normal visitor. I own you guys another coffee!

What you should not miss while travelling to Hoi An

  • Visit Cu Lao Cham Island (if you have time).
  • Eating ‘Banh Dap’ in Cam Nam, Cao Lau and White rose in Mermaid restaurant.
  • Be there on 14th lunar month for colorful lantern night.
  • Order a dining suit or two.
  • Enjoy Chao from vender in Cua Dai beach.
  • Find your way to one of the local coffee shop in Hoi An small alleys
  • Burn an incense and pray in Chua Cau
  • Rock to Tam Tam bar for a Larue beer or two and make sure you will be back after 3:00 am.

Watch your language!

I have many nice memories with customers from leading a large number of groups travelling in Vietnam, but some memories are quite embarrassing, mostly caused by misunderstandings with language.  You aren’t to know that some words you use daily in English that are ‘forbidden’ words or ones rarely used in Vietnamese.

I took a group from Australia to visit a local family for dinner (that is part of the V V T ‘Local Tours’ that experience local activity) that was beautiful group.  They bought flowers and presented them to the local family.  The owner also called all children back home to host my group.  After a few Hanoi beers we sat down for dinner with all members of  the family.  Before the meal I tried to explain a couple of rules on English to customers on the dining code in Vietnam.  Everything had gone fine until the owner came over (she was busy with her last cooked course) and ask in Vietnamese, “Do you like our food?”   I translated.   All the Australians replied, “Yum, yum!” and kept repeating “yum, yum” over and over.  I saw the owner’s face getting red, but she acted with a smile and shot back to the kitchen. The visitors did not know that ‘yum, yum’ sounds very close to ‘break wind’ in Vietnamese!  I followed the owner into the kitchen and explained to her the different meaning of those words to an Australian. Party ended up perfectly.

That was my most embarrassing memory though. So, be careful when you speak to Vietnamese. Some of the English words so far I know below may sound very funny to Vietnamese too:

–         Loan: Never ever speak this word to Vietnamese, especially to girls. You know what I mean

–         Alone: Speak it quickly and try not to repeat it often. That is also sounded like ‘a female’s stuff’

–         Among: sounds very much like ‘bum, butt or ass’ in Vietnamese (people are still very shy talking about it)

–         Still in thinking…

Vietnamese are not ugly

Beauty is said to be ‘in the eye of the beholder”.  Someone from the West may think Julia Roberts is charming.  She certainly may be, but some of the older generation in Vietnam may think differently.

I have a friend who broke up with his girl just because of a comment from his Mum about his girl’s high cheekbones.  The Vietnamese think that a girl like that will bring bad luck to her husband – and may even bring death to him!  The round face shape represents prosperity and wealth to Vietnamese. While you are travelling around Vietnam you may see many Vietnamese woman who cover their faces with masks and gloves, said to be necessary because of the pollution in the streets.  This is only part of the reason; the main reason is to protect their white skin.  That is the second of the two main beauty rating standards of Vietnamese.  First is slim shape, second is pale skin!

These values may be different in different parts of the country too. For example, Hue people have as many as 10 values of beauty: they put the sweet voice first; teeth and hair are also ranked highly. Mountainous areas value strong people: if you possess big and strong legs, that will attract lots of boys and girls around you.

Vietnamese parents also suggest their own standards to guide their children in marriage. They think a girl with a small waist (called a “bee’s waist”) strongly indicate excellent prospects for hard work and bearing of children.  This thinking still exists in most Vietnamese people since 90% are still farmers with limited education.

You are not acquainted with the values above?  No worries, because Vietnamese people think that all Westerners are beautiful because they are white and tall, but Vietnamese have trouble in recognizing or remembering Westerner’s faces as they seem to be all the same. I have heard lots of stories about this situation, so don’t be surprised the next day if your new friend just passes by without a word to you.

Today the values are changing as the young Vietnamese people are exposed to international values, but trust me, the traditional values developed over thousands of years still exist for the majority of the people.

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