Where The Magic Happens (#WTMH) is a series of lifestyle articles about cities and places around the global that imbue a sense of magic and mystic, seen through the eyes of ACU|BIEN people: staff contributor, readers, associates and specially invited guests. As personal life journeys, they give voice to how ACU|BIENers see the world in which they life, travel and work, tracing their footsteps, hops, skips and jumps, and building a travelograph of the Caribbean peoples’ on-going voyages around the world.
It took this Vietnam moment, this place where the magic happened, to deepen my gratitude and comprehend the price paid for what is of true value, the cost of values
History, Heritage Diverge in Caribbean Endearment
Meandering through metrical cavalcade of traffic along Tran Hung Dao Street, Hội An, the retreating mopeds and bicycles mark the distance from the city’s melee to the openness of countryside that leads to the ancient temples of Mỹ Sơn, UNESCO World Heritage Site. These magnificent ruins of over 70 Hindu temples, built during the Cham Empire between c400AD and c1400AD, were left forgotten to be reclaimed by the jungle until being rediscovered in 1898 by a Frenchman named Mr Paris.
This dynamic landscape in Quảng Nam province is separated by some 10,500 flight miles (16,900 km) from the Southern Caribbean, and while both regions share a tropical, hot-wet climate, heritage and history seemingly diverge. Yet, like so many cities in South East Asia, the terrain evokes a texture and quality of a Caribbean endearment – not a replica, more a vista and an essence of familiarity – beautifully uniformed school children neatly going to and fro; makeshift houses and homesteads along dusty roads, against a backdrop of lush, green vegetation; galvanized roofs and yard structures; flower and fauna that mark property boundaries, punctuated by gates that keep no one out; abundance of exotic fruits of guavas, figs, pawpaw, melons, mangoes and the like; and every now and then, looming ardently in a residential neighbourhood is an elaborate, beautifully manicured home – an overt exhibition of the well-to-do, the nouveau riche, a conspicuous display of wealth, juxtaposed and dwarfing aged chattel dwellings.
Learning Moment, Moral Excursion
Enchantingly, Vietnam conjured a learning moment, fashioning its magic that happened an emotional, moral excursion – a dilemma of sorts. A fascination for marketplaces lured me into Central Market and I emerge with mixed emotion: happy-pensive-grinning-thoughtful, after an encounter that was a cross between the friendliest pat down, highly engaging sales-frisk and a delightful, physical hustle. Full credit to traders, ladies mainly, for their expert saleswomanship. You are engaged, seduced, then flash-mobbed in the most polite and friendly manner, and tempted by an assortment of cheap consumables, many the parody of luxury – and nothing is every too much trouble.
Escaping lightly with a single purchase, I was gleefully ecstatic that the tailored, made-to-measure suit was of the precise colour, fabric, style and design I desired, but was hesitant of what may be its quality. I was contented and anxious to return the following day to collect my light-weight, dark blue sheen, two-buttoned, Italian cut with a crimson lining – adapted from a style in a Next catalogue, at least 8 seasons ago. I reasoned that whatever the quality, US$80 (GB£50, VNd1,600,000) would be no major financial loss were I to be dissatisfied with my slim-fitting, hand-tailored suit that was certain to pep my London-bounce in Mayfair’s social circles.
Moral Dilemma: To Buy? or Not to Buy?
Yet, there was a moral conundrum tearing at my heart and reasoning. To buy or not to buy? You see, in baying for my attention I promised “Lilly” at TRÂM, Stall No.9 that on my return the following day I may consider a purchase. “Give us a picture of what you want and we will have it delivered to your hotel tomorrow morning,” Lilly offered. Here in resides my dilemma? ‘Does one knowingly purchase a handmade shoe, bag or quality leather item that is a replica, a fake, a rip-off of high-end luxury design for a fraction of the price, made specifically for, and personalised by you, fully aware that it is a copy of a Louis Vuitton, Mulberry, Gucci, Launer, Tusting, Bottega Veneta, or Delvaux?’
Let me make my position clear. In all my doggone shopping years I have never knowingly purchased fake goods – it’s just not my style. I understand the critical importance of intellectual property (IP) and I am hard line about protecting the investment value of my clients: artists, designers, artisans and companies who are ever nervous to safeguard their products, services and value proposition. I comprehend fully the vulnerability of small, ambitious, emerging Start-ups and SMEs who spend hours on hours, and sleepless nights developing a thing of beauty, a labour of love with limited and/or borrowed resources.
Pho Noodles and Triple Postman’s Lock
Probing the dilemma, some truths hit home and triggered internal alarms. The young, savvy sales lady is niece of the stallholder. ‘This tiny stall may be supporting an extended household and a supper of ‘Pho noodles and chai’ depended on the wit, skill and charm of Lilly and kin. To make the leather bag I had in mind, she implored, meant needing some money in advance to purchase the raw materials from another supplier – high quality leather, suede lining, triple Postman’s lock, and belted strap detailing. I tallied the impact and value in producing my faux LV, Mulberry or whatever luxury item I fancied that day, at a price haggled down to US$100 (GB£62, VNd2,100,000). My bag had to be engineered, components assembled, machinist paid, and be ready overnight for 10.00am delivery direct to my hotel. It was now 3.55pm, and nearing the close of work day, and the setting of the sun.
As I stood sheltering the short tropical downpour, I envisioned Selfridges, Oxford Street, London where I would part with my hard-earned cash to acquire a ‘Mulberry’s innovative Ted across–body bag, practical and contemporary; crafted from natural leather, and is a carryall that transforms from briefcase to messenger to backpack.’ £895 at a snip – a contribution to a more deserving value chain of a luxury brand, its shareholders, venture capitalist or investors?
Money For Bata Shoes
And like so many times in my life, the face of late grandmother appeared in my minds-eye through the fading light and easing cloudburst. I saw her materialize around the corner of Paul’s Avenue, wooden tray resting on the towel headrest, one hand on hip, knees ‘still bothering her’. With elbows addressing the weathered, chipped bannisters of the wooden lattice veranda, us kids could often tell by Mommy’s gait, the emptiness of her tray and the heaviness in her ragged face, whether the days takings from sugar cakes, popcorn, parched groundnuts, fudge, sweets, mints, toffees and tambourine balls, sold from her pitch outside Mr Webb’s Mauby shop on Back Street, Kingstown was a good one. The day’s sales meant there may be a ‘lickle sumtin’ to pay down on the grocery bill she trus’ from Ms Edna shop and money for Bata school shoes, since my brother had long kicked-out the other one already.’
Laughter and Loving, Respect and Fear
It took this Vietnam moment, this place where the magic happened, for me to deepen my gratitude and comprehend the price paid for what is of true value, the cost of my values – countless days and nights of tears and pain from arthritis in knees and legs; continuous service to kids and extended families from meager takings; a door always open to strangers; days and nights of endless laughter and loving; respect and fear; learning please and thank-you; and the best cups of Milo (or Ovaltine) in town. We were never hungry, naked or really in need. Mommy’s efforts – like that of so many moms, pops, grannies and grandpas, aunts and uncles, many who no longer pass this way – as itinerant traders and hawkers on corners and market stalls, give power to people like me, like us to choose to buy or not to buy!
Thank You _______, For Power To Change Lives
As the nose of the Vietnam Airlines flight tipped in descent into the warmth of Hong Kong by night and I readied myself to step into the bright lights of that compact, magical metropolis, I glanced at the floor and staring back, lovingly, was my 2 million dollar baby (well…VNd 2,100,000). I was chuffed with my acquisition, wealthier for the experience, and my soul freer, assured that the few dollars with which I had parted meant a whole lot more to the small ‘village’ that came together in less than 12 hours to deliver this creation. Thank you Mommy! Thank you Vietnam for The Life Lesson and the kindly reminder of the efforts of those whose sacrifices empower our freedom to make choices, without any regard for those whose lives we have the power to change.
TO WHOM DO YOU OWE GRATITUDE TODAY?
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