Men's Wearhouse Redux
Trip Start Oct 23, 2006
93Trip End May 08, 2007
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Hoi An is a small city. It isn't shown on most maps. The central market and downtown areas are just a few blocks. And within that miniscule space are over 200 custom tailor shops. Just walk in, choose your material, point out a style in the current issue of GQ, and 24 hours later you have clothes custom tailored to your body for insanely little money
I'd heard of Hoi An before embarking on this jaunt through Asia. I'd toyed with the idea of having a suit made. By the time the bus dropped me off here, I craved fresh clothes. Based on the advice of other travellers, a couple guide books, and overall appearances, I decided to have my tailoring done at a shop called Yaly.
My first job (at the age of 15) was as a sales associate at The Men's Wearhouse. They trained me well, and that training has stuck. Walking into Yaly, I already had an idea of what I wanted. My salesperson/tailor was a spunky girl named Jane. She and I hit it off immediately, laughing and joking about some of the hideous materials (and some of the hideous things other customers were making with those materials). I ordered a 3-piece suit and a shirt. All made from scratch to fit me perfectly.
I came back the next day for the first fitting. I needed some minor alterations. The shoulders of the jacket had to be let out a bit, and I decided I wanted a button closure for the pants instead of that slidey metal thing. (That's its technical name, trust me). They had those changes made within a few hours and then I was all set. So easy. But I wasn't travelling alone. Andreanne was having several things made: a suit, 4 shirts, custom silk shoes, etc. And Jon decided, after seeing the ease with which my fitting process went, to get 3 suits and 4 shirts
One day, in between fittings, we stopped into a silk shop that gives tours. We saw the baby silk worms being fed; the adult worms starting their cocoons, and the cocoons being spun into silk thread. They dunk the cocoons into heated water in a pot at one end of an elaborate contraption. At the device's other end is a crank. A girl began turning the crank and the cocoons wiggled as their fibers were drawn up through a pulley system and collected on a spool as thread. That's about as clearly as I can describe the process. The fact is, I saw it with my own eyes and still don't know what happened. It would have made more sense if the workers there had said, "Magic. We make silk with magic. The cocoons have a wiggle spell cast on them and abra cadabra: silk". Everything in Hoi An seemed magical.
But one day it occurred to me (and of course it should have been obvious from minute one) that Hoi An isn't magic. The suits aren't instantly made by Fairies (or Ferries) overnight. They're crafted through intensive, backbreaking sweatshop-like labor
Well not entirely. There's a little guilt involved, but I do love my suit. On our last night in Hoi An, Andreanne, Jon, and I dressed up in some of our new acquisitions and hit the town. We headed for a new restaurant, loving the feel of soft wool and cotton. We'd grown tired of the high-tech polyester we wear day-in and day-out. We spotted a pair of travellers on the road still in travel clothes.
"Look at them. Now they're Travellers".
"Ah, for once we don't look like travellers".
"No, but they've got the look down".
"Actually, they look like Marc and Julie".
And it was Marc and Julie. We hadn't planned on seeing them until Christmas in Mui Ne, but there they were on a random backalley in Hoi An. The five of us, in our disparate levels of dress, went out to dinner and then to a bar that had free pool. A wonderful time, despite the high prices for drinks.
That night had one more incident worth mentioning
I strode for the door of the bar with my jacket slung over my shoulder, when a burly Belgian man grabbed me and yanked me over to the bar. He turned me to face his drinking companion who stank of gin. The Belgian exhibited me proudly and cried, "Look! It's Borat!"
Yes, Borat. From Kazikstan. From the recent movie bearing his name. The character played my Sacha Baron Cohen other than Ali G. Borat. What made it really sting was that he was right. Every single day I look more and more like Borat, and the suit only amplifies the resemblance. I'll be shipping the suit home soon, and hopefull my hair will grow fast enough to make my likeness to Borat very temporary.