Time for a bit of Christmas shopping. There are markets scattered here and there around Saigon, but much of the small business occurs at groupings of a few street side shops. Each one offering variations on the same basic theme. A cluster of clothes shops, a sprinkling of footwear places, a grove of fruit stands, a bunch of butchers. Each place is a small little hole-in-the-wall angling for a few extra Dong to help make ends meet.
I have no idea how they make ends meet, but one thing my many travels have taught me is that often the places with the best sense of community are the small, impoverished ones. People share their successes as a community, since next week, next month, next harvest things might take a turn for the worse and they’ll be relying on the kindness of neighbours.
During my rambles I’d stumbled upon this one set of shops that displayed some distinctly Vietnamese goods. I found something for one of my brothers, something he’ll likely never wear. During the haggling process, which I am not good at anymore, I forgot the Vietnamese word for ‘four’ (it is ‘bon‘ – pronounce bawn) and insisted I’d only pay ‘nam‘ (which means ‘five’). I paid an extra 5000 Dong for the small gift, 50 000 Dong, instead of 45 000, but since it was my mistake for not knowing the basics of the language, I didn’t begrudge paying the extra amount.
Next I picked up some rather fun gifts for my nieces and nephew – and I’ll say this to my family, it is WAY easier buying for girls than it is for a little boy who only wants ‘bobo‘s and ‘tackTOR‘s, I would buy him a cart if I could figure out a way to get it back home – which they’ll get eventually. Oops. I don’t really mind them getting gifts late (say mid-January most like) because they’ll be so overwhelmed at Christmas that my oddities will be lost in the mix. Plus it’ll give Mom an excuse to have a family dinner to divvy up the Vietnamese loot.
With purchases in hand, I continued to browse the stalls of this cluster but nothing really catches my eye. Suddenly there is a flurry of activity as the shop owners frantically rip down certain items of clothing and toss them haphazardly back into their bamboo and plastic tarp constructed shops. Being me, I start snapping images of the seemingly random, crazy activity.
It becomes clear soon enough, everything for sale retreats behind an (until then) unnoticed yellow line. Clearly this means something to these people. Sure enough, a few moments later, along the street prowls a pick-up truck with lights on the roof. Turns out the police are doing a sweep of the street, making sure all the shops comply with the ‘Behind the Yellow Line’ bylaw I assume has been levied against these businesses in order to not impede the vision of drivers or block the road.
The police cruiser crawls past, with eight people packed in the vehicle, plus a pick-up bed loaded with bylaw-infracting goods. (Maybe the police too were doing some free Christmas shopping?)
With the coast clear, it’ll only be a matter of minutes before all the items resume their prominent (if illegal) spots swinging above the street.