28.04.2008 - 29.04.2008 30 °C
I’m in Hội An, a town built on trade and left untouched by mutual agreement during the American War. A lot of the buildings, therefore, are 200-year-old trading properties. This is ancient in a country in which few buildings are over 50 years old. It’s a very popular tourist town, and everyone I know who has been there loved it. I didn’t. For about 15 minutes.
One reason is that there is a little less hassle than in Huế. I was only importuned 13 times (I counted) on my way to lunch. And not one of the 13 tried to sell me women. As a man travelling on my own, I had expected to meet lots of pimps and prostitutes. But, pleasant surprise, until I went to Huế I met none. I put this down to avoiding any place that advertises karaoke or massage.
It also helps that there is electricity here.
On 30 April 1975 the armies of the north occupied Saigon, and Vietnam was reunified. Tomorrow, the 33rd anniversary, is Liberation Day, a national holiday. The day after is May Day. So the Vietnamese are on holiday and it will be hard to find a hotel room. For the same reason, there is no point in going to the Cham ruins at My Son. I’ll just hunker down, read and eat enormously.
I can read without worrying about my book stocks because there is a bookshop in Hội An. It is on the island, on the way to the Sleepy Gecko Bar. It is called Randy’s Book Exchange. The owner – you can probably guess his name - is from southern California. I woke him up. Most of his stock is from the USA. It is strong on thrillers and romance. It was impounded by VN customs for six months while, they claimed, they read every book. They refused to release 450 because they were "depraved". They were mainly romance, says Randy. On the books they released, VN customs slapped a duty of ten times what Randy had paid on each book.
The food here has been very good so far, at least as good as Huế, which is itself known for its food as a result of its imperial legacy. A speciality starter is ‘white rose’, pork and shrimp on steamed rice paper. Like dim sum. Many of the delicacies in Huế were variations on the same theme. There is a lot of seafood here, and yesterday I had 700 grammes of fat juicy barbequed clams. On top of fried vegetables, steamed rice and won ton soup it was a bit much but I packed it in.
I wear long-sleeved shirts in the evenings. Not many tourists do, and so many locals assume I work in VN. Last night I was talking to a lady called Ty, after she served me a 4,000-dong glass of cold fresh beer. She recommended that I go to a certain souvenir shop, owned by her family, called something like Souvenir 42. She said not to go to another shop of exactly the same name. There is an arms race of trade names here. As soon as a shop or hotel is successful, others crop up with the same or similar names. Eventually the original may change it name. (In Huế, for example, I ate well at a restaurant called La Carambole. It is in the guide books. Next door was a place called Le Caramel.) In the developed world this would be an infringement of property, for which a remedy would be available. There is no incentive to invest in a trade name if someone else can steal it from you.