Happy Buddha Needs Trousers

We reached Hoi An in the early evening and checked into our riverside hotel.  But before we reached there, our guide stopped in a courtyard with a large open storefront.

“Here we make clothes,” he announced. It goes without saying that the CS (Chief Shopper) was agog at the prospect of a new jacket, though he bemoaned the fact that he’d packed one and not worn it yet. And I must admit that even I felt a little frisson at the prospect of some trousers that actually fit me. That’s what I went in for. I came out having ordered an Armani knockoff trouser suit in heavy black silk. They took about 75 different measurements, some of them in places I never even knew I had measurements.

“You come back tomorrow at noon,” said the charming and efficient sales girl.

And it continued to rain. We didn’t mind though, because we felt we’d done a lot to contribute to the Vietnamese economy, and besides, the sun would come out tomorrow, as the charming redhead Annie would have sung, had she been there. She would have been wrong.

Our guide picked us up the next morning at 9. He had long ago given up trying to get us awake, never mind alert, before 9. Off we drove to the old town , to visit a thousand-year-old pagoda, complete with 9 foot dragon fountain, and Asian tourists clicking away. Almost next door was the famous Japanese covered bridge. I hadn’t realized before that the Japanese, Chinese and Hindu Cham peoples had all made their home in Hoi An over the centuries. The covered bridge was guarded at one end by stone (or possibly marble) lions and the other by similar dogs. A small shrine half way across beckoned us in the smell of incense. The river was slowly rising to meet the bridge…

Our guide took us for coffee before saying goodbye. He was worried about his wife, because Hue was flooding, and he wanted to take the bus home. We asked him what time the bus left. 12 o’clock, he said. It was twenty to.

Before he caught the bus, Nyan insisted on walking us back to the tailor shop. By the time we got there, it was noon, and I was worrying about him missing the bus.

“No problem,” he said, “it will wait.”

We forced him to leave us, eventually, and Jay and I headed upstairs for our fitting. This was a mistake. The trousers I’d ordered fitted so perfectly that I actually looked pretty good. “You take extra pair?” asked my ever helpful sales girl.

“No time, I said, we’re leaving tomorrow morning.

“No problem,” she said, “they’ll be ready by five.”

“In the morning?”

She  seemed to be wondering whether I was a bit slow on the uptake. “No, tonight. And we deliver to your hotel.”

I pondered this, but decided against another pair. I wandered over to the CS, who was trying on his new trousers. They looked great, but CS was scowling.

“They don’t have cuffs,” he said, mournfully. I had an idea. “Why don’t you order another pair, with cuffs, maybe in a different color? I think they can deliver them by tonight.”CS perked up.

What color?” he asked. We settled on a grey/greenish color and I went back to my salesgirl. “I’ll take the other pair of trousers,” I said.

“And a skirt?” She asked.

I nodded. Damn the expense.

It came to $325.

The Mane Chance

And it kept on raining as we drove to Hoi An. Our tour company had suggested we fly there, but I’d heard that the views along the three hour drive were stunning, so we kept our guide and driver, and set off. We were enjoying splashing through the mildly flooded roads, trying not to drown the poor intrepid souls on mopeds and bikes. Soon however, we began to see small landslides of the brilliant red earth that is characteristic of this part of Vietnam. Then we came across a truck that had just failed to slide off the road down a steep ravine, but whose cargo had not been so lucky.
“So, said the guide, “I think we take the tunnel through the mountain, instead of the pass.” Since it was still pouring, we agreed, eventually arriving at Danang – until now just a name from the war called the American War here. Along China Beach, the new Hyatt Danang was opening that very day. Behind high fences that kept the beach out of our site, a Korean construction firm had temporarily suspended work due to the weather. “It will be a hotel and golf course,” said Nyan. Jay perked up at that. He perked down at the next remark.
“They have moved all the bodies,” said the guide, with a fair amount of savoir faire, I thought.
“The what?” said Jay.
“This was a cemetery,” said Nyan, cheerfully, “and the government paid the people to move their ancestors’ bones somewhere else, so the Koreans could build a golf course. We call it the ghost course,” he said, showing off his excellent grasp of the nuances of English.
Seeing Jay’s crestfallen expression, Nyan suggested we stop at a marble factory. I was imagining somewhere where they made the little glass marbles the kids love to play with. It turned out to be an enormous warehouse with Brobdinagian Buddha’s, gigantic modern sculptures and vast menageries of marble animals. I had been contemplating purchasing a modest Buddha to take home, with the thought that it might help me meditate. The first one I saw came up to my shoulder and I felt as though it might try to terrify me into meditating, so I wandered inside to look for something smaller.
I had lost sight of the Chief Shopper for a while, when he suddenly reappeared and, grabbing me by the elbow, said “It’s time we were leaving, darling.” I was astounded. We’d only been there for what seemed like an hour and a half, and I’d decided the nice Buddha’s were too expensive or too heavy. But I was delighted that Jay was showing signs of being sensible. Honestly, I’d thought he might try to buy a couple of Chinese style dogs for the mantelpiece, or some oversize splashing fish for the garden (to compensate for his lack of fishing success). And here we were, leaving.
“Sir, sir, I give for you $2,700 dollar,” piped up a delicate voice from behind my husband. He grinned and winked at me. Turning , he countered with $1,500.
“What are you haggling over?” I hissed at him.
The sales girl was moaning quietly, as Jay led me outside to the marble bestiary lined up in neat rows, interspersed with the occasional woodland nymph, or (remarkably similar) Virgin Mary.
“What do you think of these?” He pointed. Words failed me, as they so often do around Jay. He was pointing at two large lions of threatening aspect.
“Oh, I don’t think we want those,” I said at last.
“Very good, darling,” said Jay. The he continued, in a voice designed for the shop assistant to hear, “My wife doesn’t want these, so I’m afraid…”
“I give for you $2,300 dollar,” said the assistant, doing some rapid calculations on the back of a sales brochure.
“Sorry, no,” said Jay
By this time I was seriously worried. I knew Jay when he got into haggling mode. This was not going to be pretty.
“We don’t have anywhere to put them,” I said, but I was talking to myself.
“How ‘bout Vietnamese lucky number $2000.” She was practically in tears.
“$1800,” countered Jay. The shop assistant scribbled madly.
“Okay.” Her lower lip was trembling. “ $1800.”
“Done,” said Jay. “Shipping included, and a Buddha for my wife.”
I knew there was no point in remonstrating. The shop assistant was smiling as she walked Jay over to a marble table and chairs to sign the paperwork.
I went off to find a small Buddha. I found one, with a nice face and a slightly pained expression, lying down and taking a break. A reclining Buddha. I felt an immediate sympathy with him. Probably his wife had just bought two stone lions.

The Happy Buddha gets wet

They never mentioned the rain. That’s to say, I’m sure someone said the monsoon season would be over by now. But…

We arrived in Hanoi on Friday and transferred to a flight to Hue, about halfway down the coast of Vietnam, where we were met by Nyan, our very fluent guide. It wasn’t raining yet, but as soon as we reached our (very nice) hotel, it started. We could see the swimming pool from our fabulous room, but there was no way of getting to it without getting drenched, and, illogically, that didn’t seem like a great idea.

Within minutes of checking in, Jay had, of course, covered all the surfaces with his stuff, leaving me with my usual bedside table. Only problem was that the bedside table was a small triangular one, with a large bedside lamp on it. That left room for my cell phone. Still, I did not repine since we had fun things to look forward to.

Our guide picked us up for a cyclo ride later in the day. The cyclo is a kind of reverse tricycle, with the pedaling person on the back and the passenger in the front. It reminded me forcibly of being wheeled along in a push-chair as a child. As we started out, the rain had cleared for a bit, but, sure enough, as soon as we were about half a mile down the street, the heavens opened again.  My nanny (sorry, driver) stopped the cyclo to pull the cover over me, leaving a letterbox-shaped opening for me to look out of.  In a way, this was just as well, since the number of cyclists and moped riders that cut across in front of us was impressive, not to say terrifying.

On the bright side, so to speak, the two-wheeled travelers were certainly bright. They all wore plastic ponchos, in a rainbow of colors: orange, fuschia, lime, blueberry, yellow and sky blue. Then there were the polka dotted ones and the checked ones that looked like flying tablecloths. It was relatively rare to see a single rider – most bikes and motor scooters carried two people, with the pillion passengers sometimes riding side-saddle, their stiletto heels demurely tucked to the side. The passengers would try and cover themselves with the same poncho as the driver, which meant they had no way of seeing the road – and maybe that was just as well. The cargo carried by bikes was untrammeled by common sense – baskets full of rather grubby white ducks, vegetables, huge flower arrangements, even a mattress, were attached to bikes and hauled around in the rain.

Happy even when wet

It poured while we visited the remains of the Citadel, a 16th century stronghold bombed almost to the ground during the war. It rained when we visited the 15th century pagoda, where the monks, dressed in saffron and red, were chanting near a huge statue of the happy Buddha – a nickname our guide soon attached, for reasons still not quite clear to me, to Jay. The temple was built of teak and open, as almost all buildings seemed to be, on one side. The altar inside was flanked by two enormous blue and white vases, the height of a man, easily.

It continued to bucket down as six large bowls of snails were carried by the monks down to the river as offerings to the Buddha. I think I may safely say that I’ve never seen as many snails (like English cockles) in one place at one time. I suspect the snails were happier in the rain than the monks

It rained when we took our boat ride on the Perfume River on a dragon boat – one with large painted dragons on the prow. The owners lived on the boat, though they must have slept in the area where they had kindly placed three plastic chairs for us to sit on, since there wasn’t anywhere else. Free enterprise thrives in Hue, and it wasn’t long before the wife produced a pair of silk Chinese style pajamas for me to look at. I shook my head and pointed at the shopper in the family. We came away with five pairs, one for each of our daughters/daughters in law. And a small wooden model of some Vietnamese fishermen…

And it kept on raining.