5 minute read It was mid-December, and I needed money to buy Christmas presents. I was seventeen, and had found a Saturday job at Russell & Bromley, the most exclusive shoe shop in the London suburb where we lived. In … Continue reading
You remember the lions, right? Those gigantic marble thingy’s that protect our house in New Hampshire from harm? And who am I to argue with that? After all, nothing dreadful has happened there since we got them.
Except. My ever-shopping spouse bought another house, the way you do. This one’s in Phoenix, and he’d seen it a few times because one of our friends (and his business colleague) lives there. You got chocolates for Christmas (or Hanukkah, or whatever.) I got a house in Phoenix. A house I’d never seen.
Now don’t get me wrong. I am not one to look a gift house in the mouth. How could I, from 2,670 miles away? (I looked it up.) But last week seemed like a good time to go and check the new Palazzo Wilson out, so we did. A mere 12 hours, door to door, and we were there. It is a lovely house, I cannot deny it. Three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a fireplace, and views of the Phoenix Mountains – even the chance to climb them if you must – they’re at the end of the road.
But there was something missing. Furniture. So we spent last weekend we trolling up and down the boulevards of Phoenix stopping at every designer furniture consignment store in town. And there are many of them. We did get some furniture, and arranged for it to be delivered. And then Jay saw them. The final things we needed to make sure our Chi was OK.
Two stone lions.
I let him buy them. I knew it was hopeless to protest. And they were a kind of nice green-ish colour which I thought I could live with. We managed to drag them back to the house with us, and here’s a picture of them at our front door.
Oh, you can’t see them? Hang on a second…
I feel safer already…
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.
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.