Did you know that Vietnam produces very high quality silk? I didn't. Growing up, I had thought of Vietnam as an abjectly poor country ravaged by war. Their reality was far removed from mine and when we met Vietnamese people abroad, they were generally somewhat marginalized - refugees trying to make good in life.
In short, not impressed.
My jaw dropped right down to the floor on my first day in Hanoi. Take a walk in the tourist traps of Singapore and you will find loads of cheap plastic trinkets that are mere excuses for gifts and souvenirs. Else, you're looking at branded shops where a handbag costs as much as some people make in 10 years. Take a walk along Hang Gai Street in Hanoi and you will be floored by the quality of merchandise at very reasonable prices. To be sure, the cost of living is low in Vietnam and this explains the affordability of many items... but it doesn't explain the plethora of quality locally produced products from silk dresses to silk embroidery to carved jadeite to oil paintings.
A calendar (in French) of buffalo horn and rosewood.
A set of poker cards in buffalo horn and rosewood.
This is clearly a highly evolved culture laid waste by 2 unjust wars that spanned 30 years. I begin to think that the Vietnamese spirit a redoubtable one... and the Vietnamese soul a beautiful one. Petunia takes pride in NOT being a shopper. Things I like and find beautiful are generally too expensive for my penny pinching ways. So I admire and walk on. Things that I don't mind paying for, are generally not worth paying for anyway, so I smile politely and walk on. This time, in Vietnam, Petunia outdid herself shopping whilst dragging her dropped jaw along the streets of Hanoi.
Highly skilled embroidery artisans
This too is a piece of silk embroidery. I was stunned by the sunlight shining through the trees. How does one make embroidery that looks so life like? I swear you can almost walk into that forest hanging on the wall because the piece is humongous. About 12 feet in height and 6 feet in breadth. It really felt that I could walk in and lie on that carpet of embroidered silk flowers.
The haul of Vietnamese silk dresses that fit my expanded waistline. Oh why didn't I buy more?!