Shopping with Uncle Ho (and why I’ll never own an ao dai)

10 Dec

Reproduction propaganda posters bought on Dhong Khoi road

Mister Noodle and I both like shopping and faced with a new urban place to explore we both tend to hit the shops. Saigon was no exception so, eschewing all the other information you can find in much better written blogs and guidebooks, here is a quick rundown of where we went and what we bought…ardent consumerists that we are.

What we got

Like a bad parent I am going to talk about my favourite first – Mr Pham-Van-Tu. This beautiful, handmade bear was discovered in Nagu, a little shop tucked away in the arcade of the Hotel Continental. He is made of silver and ivory striped silk, has fully functioning joints and was throwing himself at customers for a mere 20USD.

A very cultured bear indeed

He seems to be quite at home in Singapore and has even been catching up on the works of the Hotel Continental’s other famous resident, Graham Greene. Mr Pham’s name derives from a little side character in The Quiet American who ‘never…dressed carelessly, [or] said the wrong word.’ Just the sort of name for such a well turned out, respectable little bear.

 No introduction required for our next purchase (or prizes for guessing who chose it)…  

Our very own Uncle Ho courtesy of Saigon Kitsch

I have to say that up against the striped splendour of my bear, Uncle Ho is looking a little lacklustre. However, I have been informed that a style makeover is in the offing with Mister Noodle planning some prop art decoupage. I’ll keep you posted on how that goes! Along with Dogma, Saigon Kitsch is part of a funky two storey shophouse located on Nguyen Van Thu. Both levels are filled with quirky gifts, posters and clothing that have more than a hint of 1960s Vietnam about them.

Zen Monkey, Tara & Kys Gallery

Saigon is also a good bet for interesting art work – the authenticity and originality of some of it has to be taken with more than a little pinch of salt but I figure that if you like it, those sorts of things really don’t matter. Vietnam has very strict laws governing the export of antiques from the country so the chances are that if propaganda posters are your thing, you’ll be bringing back repro ones anyway. As well as the posters above, we also brought back a couple of prints from Tara & Kys Gallery situated at 101 Dong Khoi Street. The shop is worth a visit for its architecture alone. Going up the wooden staircase to the first floor showroom you have a real sense of what the shophouses would have once been like. If houses could speak, I am sure that this one would have more than a few stories to tell.     

What we would have liked to have got were dong, time and a western woman’s proportions no object…

1. Mai Lam military jacket. Mister Noodle would have plumped for one of the beautifully embroidered military jackets at Mai Lam’s at the Hotel Continental. Frustratingly I couldn’t get hold of an image to put on the blog but believe me they are exquisite, which probably explains the 1,200USD price tag. Mai Lam’s is also an interesting place to go just for a bit of window shopping – the garments are draped and hung across old-school wooden furniture and set against a very evocative backdrop of chandeliers and scooters.

2. A bit of bespoke. Saigon is famed for its tailors who can run up a suit in less than 24 hours. We didn’t get our act together this time to put their sewing skills to the test but it’s definitely on our list for our next visit. Since getting back to Singapore I have been given a good tip for a tailors near to the Sheraton Hotel so we’ll make sure we get suited and booted when we are next in town.

3. Oh dear, ao dai. Finally, the ao dai…

I fear that the closest I will ever get to owning an ao dai, the traditional Vietnamese dress, is the one depicted in the print we bought, above. There are many, many elegant women sporting gorgeous silk ao dai in Saigon and I know that I would do nothing for the outfit’s image were I to don one. My Suffolk-girl proportions are just not designed for the slim fitting dress/trouser combination and will have to be consigned, forever, to the list of items I would love to wear but just don’t suit me. Depressingly, with age, this list seems to be increasing and currently includes: converse trainers, cropped trousers, boyfriend fit jeans, hats of any description, and red dresses*.

With the exception of the absent ao dai, we gave Saigon a pretty good run for its money, and have some souvenirs I know we will treasure…along with at least one I hope won’t ever see the light of day outside this apartment. Eager to dispense with the dong at the airport, Mister Noodle purchased a replica Vietnamese army hat. Does it suit him and will he ever use it? Let’s just say it probably belongs on the same list as my ao dai.

*That last one has been off the list ever since the age of seven when my mum told me I looked like a skinned rabbit in a Tammy Girl dress. In hindsight, considering the weird, clingy mohair material, I guess see she was probably right.

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3 Responses to “Shopping with Uncle Ho (and why I’ll never own an ao dai)”

  1. notabilia December 10, 2010 at 12:55 pm #

    Ah, the ao dai. I want one, too, and am afraid it won’t work on me either. I could see myself wearing one to an Indian wedding, though.

  2. Clare Tewalt December 10, 2010 at 2:32 pm #

    I love the ao dai print! Thanks for the fun stories, very informative and witty! I enjoy reading your blog!

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  1. Shopping with Uncle Ho (and why I'll never own an ao dai … | Vietnam Cares - December 21, 2010

    […] original post here: Shopping with Uncle Ho (and why I'll never own an ao dai … Tags: closest, gorgeous-silk, print, saigon, the-closest, the-one, the-print, the-traditional, […]

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