Wednesday, 18 January 2012

You can't always get what you want

Hanoi is currently in the grips of a pre-Tet consumer frenzy. You’d think that since there’s no Christmas-like gift-giving at Tet there wouldn’t be so much stuff to buy, but actually there’s even more.

Not only do you need to buy special Tet decorations and special Tet food, you need to buy new things like clothes, homewares and appliances to ring in the new year, because nothing says auspiciousness like newness. And you need to buy some gifts too, mostly in the form of potted plants, fruit and hampers.

Because every nook, cranny and underpass of the city is already being used to its maximum capacity for selling stuff, all this extra stuff that needs to be sold is just absorbed into the pre-existing spaces.

This is our local coffee shop, which is inexplicably called Jackson, and inexplicably features a toucan mascot:
 
While usually only selling coffee (or should I say "coffe"), it has temporarily diversified and is now offering pot plants:
Funnily enough, that “Happy New Year” sign is up all year round. This just happens to be the one of time of year when it actually comes good. Happy New Year to you too, Jackson!

This is the printing shop where we got the invitations and decorations for our Australian wedding made:
For the rest of the year it’s just a sewer, but for now it’s a sewer with flowers growing in it. I asked Nathan if he wanted me to buy him a plant grown in his own poo, but he declined.

You’ll be pleased to know Trúc Bạch is getting into the Tet spirit in other ways:
That’s some altar offerings and a dead rat. Happy New Year to you too, little bloated chuột!

At any time of year, buying things in Hanoi can be a challenge. Every single thing that exists in the world exists in Hanoi – somewhere. In fact, they’re probably made here. 

The challenge is in knowing where to find what you’re looking for. This is complicated by the travelling vendors, who might be tauntingly moving your sought-after item around town, always just out of your reach, as you’re hunting around looking for it.

And an infuriating thing happens often with supply and demand here, where as soon as you want something, it will completely disappear, even if it was previously ubiquitous.

For example, once we were cooking canh chua for dinner and needed pineapple. Now, anyone who’s been to Hanoi would know that Hanoi is usually awash with pineapple. In fact, “Hà Nội” in Vietnamese actually means “City of Plentiful Pineapple” (not really). But as soon as we actually needed the damn fruit, it was as if the street vendors had all been called out of town on a pineapple-selling convention.
Where's this guy when you need him, eh?

After giving up myself, I made Nathan cycle aimlessly around the city looking for the spiky suckers. It took him over an hour and he practically had to cross into China to find one. But find one he did, because he knows if he’d come back empty-handed, I would have beat him.

Now I know to aim low, and try not to yearn for anything too specific. I head out looking for “fruit” and if I come back with morning glory and some fried peanuts, I chalk it up as a success. Because it’s at least “food”.

So when Nathan dreamed up a Halloween costume that looked like this:
And which relied upon - entirely - for its execution not just two motorbike ponchos (which, incidentally, usually only appear for sale when it rains), and not just two two-headed motorbike ponchos, but two two-headed, green motorbike ponchos, I told him he was dreaming. “DO YOU NOT REMEMBER THE PINEAPPLE?” I said, calmly and reasonably.

But one thing I do love about Nathan is that he dares to dream. So I said I would try. But that I would spend no more than one day looking for the ingredients for his vision and if they didn’t turn up – which they inevitably wouldn’t – he would have to design a new costume. Preferably one featuring morning glory and fried peanuts.

I randomly chose a shop to begin my search the next day. The conversation there went like this:

Me: Motorbike raincoat?
Store lady: Yes.
Me: Two heads?
Store lady: Yes.
Me: Green?
Store lady: Yes.
Me: Two of them?
Store lady: Yes.
Me: Holy Mother of God. WHAT. JUST. HAPPENED.

And with that, she reached under the counter and produced them, as if she’d been expecting me.

“Well, Hanoi” I said. “You win again.”

And so Nathan’s vision became reality:
And I became sweaty and delirious from the combination of glue gun and plastic, but still none-the-wiser on how this place works. Which is just the way I like it.

Happy Year of the Dragon! Now go out and buy some stuff.

22 comments:

  1. Whilst on the internet you can always get what you want, today it just so happened that I wanted to see Tabitha and Nathan inside an awesome ponchosaurus, and that is what I got.

    Simon

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    1. Ponchosaurus! Bwhahahahaha!! Wish I'd thought of that. I was going to mention you in this post, Simon, about the night you went looking for ice. But I didn't want to bring back any traumatic memories for you.

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  2. Hello, sorry for my absence since I know you have noticed. 1) Ha noi means RISING city of plentiful pineapples in Dragon stomach, rough translation. My viet may be getting worse here. 2)Don't mock the pineapple selling convention. It is very well organized, a blast to attend, and much better than the tofu convention (it is a bit bland). and 3) congrats on your great year!! You should have invited me and I could have flown in for 3 days for the wedding. Done it before!

    and that rat is just marinating. Ugh, westerners.

    anyways, I'll try to keep up and hopefully pop by...somehow.

    tony

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    1. We have noticed, Tony. I mean, you don't even update your blog about living in Vietnam now that you don't live in Vietnam. La-zy.

      We were just talking about you the other day, actually. It was about your addiction to nasal spray. You've left a real legacy here.

      And I can't understand what you're saying about the meaning of "Ha Noi". Must be your southern accent.

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  3. I fell off my chair, laughing so hard. That was hilarious. I love your stories (and aside comments) about living in Hanoi.

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    1. Thanks yent! Don't sue me for injuries! :)

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  4. Had a similar experience here a few weeks ago. Got a flat tire on my moto around 9pm. Normally, you can't walk 5 meters without stepping on a man sitting next to a compressed-air pump, ready and willing to fix your tire. Pushed it past multiple people, asking where the nearest flat man was, and even tried a gas station, to no avail. I ended up simply pushing it home and waiting to deal with it the next day.

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    1. Ooh yes, the pump guys! They're a classic case of Hanoi's mysteries of supply and demand. Maybe they're all married to the pineapple sellers.

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  5. If you're ever in need of a lighter but can't seem to locate one, just use the fuse box.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UdoNWhin734&sns=fb

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    1. Wow. On so many levels. And is this video taking place IN FRONT OF A CLASS OF SCHOOL CHILDREN? Educational!

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  6. Who would have thought that dragon would be relevant again. You should bring it back here with your plentiful luggage space and live it up for new years that starts this Monday. Woop.

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    1. I know! I'm glad I didn't waste it on a post about Halloween. And yes, we will definitely bring it back to Sydney. In fact, we'll wear it on the plane. Pretty sure that will get us a free upgrade: "We're getting married AND we're wearing this dragon costume! Come on!!"

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  7. That is the coolest costume ever!!

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    1. Thanks Hien! But it was actually very hot. Very, very hot. That dragon was quite dehydrated and drunk by the end of the night.

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  8. Oh no! WLib and I will have to now find you a new wedding present! Who'd have thought you'd get the same ponchosaurus a week before the big day (take 2)?

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  9. No, no not at all! You can never have too many ponchosauri.

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  10. I really think you should have mentioned before that Nathan is a genius. That costume is truly superb. Also the original name of Hanoi was "Thang Long" which as you know means "dehydrated plastic green dragon".

    Martin

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    1. Well, he's a genius with a big head now! But I must admit that the costume really was awesome. The Vietnamese kids at the Halloween party went absolutely spaccas for it. It was tough being the arse-end of that dragon. A lot of tail yanking going on back there.

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  11. Another wonderful post, and love love love the Ponchosaurus costume! Happy New Year of the Dragon, and have a wonderful Hanoi Tet

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    1. Thanks Suze! Happy new year to you too.

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  12. random comments:

    1. ponchosaurus guy is a genius. Give that man a bia.

    2. I beat my husband too. Particularly when he can't locate blue cheese in Hanoi. Or just when I feel like it.

    3. What was with all the dried fruit for Tet anyway? Like anyone in Hanoi needs digestive assistance.

    4. I like to to think of this as your Dusk Til Dawn post: you started at Tet rats and ended with Halloween dragons. Completely unexpected.

    5. We're moving to Bangkok in a week so I'll be using your blog for my dose of 'nam-ness. Long may it continue to be filled with dead chuột, sewer and poo references, and you guys wearing weird sh#t!

    Chuc mung nam moi!


    :)

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    1. That should be the tagline of this blog: dead chuột, sewer and poo references, and us wearing weird sh#t! Love it. Thanks for your loyal readership and good luck in Bangkok!

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