Strangely Vietnam (Part 2 of 3): The Accidental Shopper

Written from Brandon’s perspective

***

I had just wrapped up an exquisite tour of Ho Chi Minh’s house and was feeling warm and delicious inside–like the Pilsbury Doughboy on a bright summer day. “Tee-hee.”

My tour guide excused himself to use the restroom and asked me to wait for him, but my veins were ablaze with adrenaline after learning about Uncle Ho’s magnificent koi and love of reading–an affinity we share. I was restless.

For the first time in a long time, I felt truly alive and wanted to experience ever more thrilling adventures in this foreign land. Eat dog meat, drink snake wine, or cross the street and live to tell the tale. The world was my oyster.

A nearby gift shop called out to me as if it was divinely created for my specific shopping pleasures. “Just a quick peek,” I thought and wandered on in. It was like walking into paradise itself. The gift shop appeared serene and peaceful, nothing like the stories of hawkish merchants peddling their trinkets in your face. It was almost too good to be true. And it was.

A beautiful crane figurine caught my eye, but with no visible price tag I picked it up to see if it was hidden underneath. This action must have triggered some sort of silent alarm system within the shop because out of nowhere five Vietnamese girls immediately surrounded me, hollering and screaming. It was like they popped out from under the infamous Viet Cong tunnels.

“Hello mister, can I help you?” said the first. “$35. It’s good price. Best price,” followed another. “For you make special. No problem. Buy now. Ok? You buy.”

I felt dizzied by the overstimulation and hesitated on the crane. At the same time, I was growing worried that I didn’t tell my tour guide where I had gone. We had now been separated for a full 3 minutes and he had no idea where I was. What if he thought I had been abducted, gotten lost, or eloped with a stunningly beautiful woman?

“Just a moment,” I answered to the chorus of merchants as I stepped outside to look for my guide. All but one retreated to their secret tunnel except for one, who followed me out like a hungry panther stalking its prey.

I scanned the area but didn’t see my guide. However, a black hand-carved mask hanging on the door caught my eye. It was of a jolly old man with an absurdly huge forehead and lengthy beard–sort of like an Asian Santa Claus happily suffering from cerebral encephalitis.

“How much?” I asked.

“$25, you buy?”

The price seemed reasonable but I was still feeling nervous at the thought losing my tour guide. We were now approaching 4 whole minutes apart. At 5 minutes of separation people start to forget names, at 8 minutes faces, and at 10 minutes even best friends can become frienemies. I continued to silently scan the area for him, forgetting about the seller.

“Ok $20, you buy?” she continued hoping to get my attention again. But before I had a chance to reply she lowered the price again. “Ok $18, you buy?” she said with a distinctly lower and more direct tone. The price of the mask was dropping faster than the value of U.S. homes.

“Ok you good. Break my arm. $15, you buy?” By now she was glaring and her posture signaled to me that she was done playing games.

Believing the price of the mask had hit rock bottom (and given the historically low interest rates on wooden masks and additional tax credit), I agreed.

By the time it took me to blink twice the seller dropped the price by 40%. “Finally,” I thought, “my very own mask.” Quick, someone poke me. Tee-hee.

And for a limited time only you too can own a piece of the Dream for five easy payments of just $2.99. *Purchase of wooden mask subject to credit approval rating. Buyers with a credit score below 700 may not qualify. Call for details.

Continued in Part 3: The Accidental Taxi Ride

***

Ed. note: Let the record show that our narrator was inclined to be particularly unreliable here and his views do not necessarily represent those of the management. It should also be mentioned that our man Brandon immediately knew the face of the mask to be that of a stock character in the region’s folk theater. He’s known for a bit of debauchery (at least in other related cultures), making him something of a hero to Brandon.

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