You buy something

“You buy something?!..”, is it a question, a demand, or a desperate plea? The Vietnamese street sellers have managed to combine all three at once into this unique catch call.
The thing that intrigued me on my first day was why they all had exactly the same display and variety of goods and always dressed so that one was indistinguishable from the other, the almost exact opposite of a Western rationale for sales. My suggestions that one of them should dress up as a pink rabbit for the day to attract attention and increase sales was met with looks of utter dismay. I’ve started paying attention to the similarities and differences ever since.
“Buy some book!” The booksellers of HCMC all walk, carry high stacks of books and are mainly women who have a liking for the colourful Vietnamese pyjamas. In Nha Trang however, they always have their books in a box, are on a motorbike or pushbike and are equally young guys or girls.
“Pineapple..HAP-PY hour!!” , anyone who has spent a day or two on the beach at Nha Trang would be familiar with the jovial fruit lady, here’s one seller who seems to have cornered the market as I have seen very little competition on the mobile fruit front in Nha Trang. When I questioned her as to when happy hour actually is, she laughed and replied “anytime you want darling”. One Pineapple thanks!
The beach snack experience is actually very different between Nha Trang , where the snack sellers are almost exclusively young women, and Hoi An, where the youngest seller on the beach is close to 90 years old with a smile that suggests that dental care has obviously been low on her list of priorities over the years.
Although many sellers are similar there are some radical, non-conformists out there who have decided to go their own way so special mention must go to: the girl in District 1 HCMC who has decided that Tiger Balm and a selection of bracelets are a winning combination, and my personal favourite, a gentleman who appears every few weeks near DeTham St. who manically strides up to you shouts “$5” and thrusts a random pair of sunglasses in your face (always carrying only one pair, often women’s) before striding off without waiting for an answer.
The more you watch the more questions arise and when you realise that each is an individual usually with an interesting story to tell, the annoyance factor drops dramatically. So if you’re in HCMC and are approached by a seller, maybe sit down and buy them a coffee, it may lead to one of the more interesting conversations you will have. When you find out that the bookseller is married to the young guy selling lighters, whose cousin sells cigarettes with a Cyclo driver for a father and a bar girl for an aunt, the complex and connected nature of Vietnamese society as a whole becomes clearer.


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