A Guide to Buying Couture Clothing in Hoi An, Vietnam

Hoi An, Vietnam

A street in Hoi An, Vietnam.

The skillful tailors of Hoi An are well-known throughout the world. Many of them can trace the trade through several generations of their family, and it’s not only women who are pulling a needle and thread. With deft fingers and a keen eye, they’re known by many as master craftsmen, able to copy any design they see. If you show them a picture of a coat, suit or dress, you can expect a nearly exact replica to be produced within 24-48 hours. The best tailor shops in Hoi An are well-known, and they are the reason that Vietnamese from all parts of the country will encourage you to visit this central city.

Unfortunately, not every business operates honestly. The city has seen an increased number of tailor shops over the years because of those eager to capitalize on the influx of tourists looking for custom-made clothing. A larger variety of shops isn’t a bad thing, but the fallout of this explosion is that many of these tailors produce shoddy work. The supply has yet to exceed the demand and, as a result, some of these shops have less-qualified employees using lower-quality materials. Worse, the demand for quickly assembled clothes has led to the creation of overworked sweatshops. If you aren’t interested in giving your money to a questionable operation, read on for our tips on finding a great Hoi An tailor and how to handle the process of buying custom-made clothes. Continue reading

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Friday Chewable: The Diminishing Returns of Postcards

Welcome to our all-new series called Friday Chewable: Food for Thought. Once per month we will post a new topic to open your mind, challenge your ideas or just give you something to think about over the weekend.

This third installment of Food for Thought, written by Mike, deals with postcards and the value we attach to them.

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Postcards from around the world

Postcards from around the world

There is something about the tactile nature of postcards that keeps me from giving up on them completely. Perhaps it is their nostalgia? Fond memories of my years in Prague a decade ago, a cloudy haze of absinthe and pilsner-fueled days and nights. The obscene amount of postcards I would scrawl on and send off, like messages in bottles, hopeful they would find their recipient. Yet, for all my love for this correspondence, this medium as the message, they seem to be fading in the consciousness of the world. Continue reading

RTW Recovery: Navigating America’s Food Scene

Welcome to our new series, called RTW Recovery Wednesday, in which we tackle topics that have made our transition back to the USA easy or difficult. Posts will offer a candid breakdown of what it’s like to return to what we used to call “home” after living in our own bubble as we traveled around the world for 14 months. Read our first recovery post about reexperiencing “American attitude.”

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KFC in Iceland

KFC in Iceland near Keflavík Airport.

We have experienced many culture shocks since returning but none as great as food. To understand why and how food is a culture shock, you only have to think of the constant interaction you have with it. Three times a day, you eat (this doesn’t even include snacks along the way). Often, the phrase “comfort food” refers to a type of food that brings you back to your childhood or just makes you feel good when you eat it. When you travel internationally for 14 months, your access to comfort food shrinks, and you adapt. What perhaps was easy to get ahold of in the United States is impossible to find on the road. Soon, our feelings toward food began to change—through our palate, our portions, and our loss of desire for Western dishes.

This shift began the second we stepped onto a plane bound for Iceland, our first destination. No matter where we went around the world, there were McDonald’s (except Iceland), Starbucks and Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurants. We traveled the world and could not escape American fast food. The same portion, the same flavor. Everything was being churned out with the expectation that if you walked into a McDonald’s in Singapore and ordered a Big Mac, it would taste the same as if you ordered it in New York. This meant access to our American comfort food almost any time we wanted it. There was just one small problem: Years ago, we stopped eating meat and poultry, and all but cut out fast food. So while there was constant access to food from home, fast food restaurants were foreign lands to us.

Continue reading

Friday Chewable: Experiencing Genuine Kindness

Welcome to our all-new series called Friday Chewable: Food for Thought. Once per month we will post a new topic to open your mind, challenge your ideas or just give you something to think about over the weekend.

This second installment of Food for Thought, written by Mike, deals with kindness and humanity.

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I like to think I’m a nice person. I try to be friendly and understanding, even during trying times. Over the course of our 14 months traveling, I realized there is a vast ocean of difference between being nice and the genuine kindness that we experienced from others.

Early in our trip we were fortunate enough to Couchsurf with an awesome couple, Clelia and Ruslan, at their home in Trieste, Italy. We stayed with them for two nights, and over the course of many conversations, we tried to reconcile how most Americans’ attitude of friendliness is based on a superficial model. Continue reading

Loss of the Familiar, Part III: Loss of Perspective

As the frontiers in which tourists can venture expand, and the opportunities to see a country before it has been inundated with other foreigners become fewer, a new breed of traveler has formed. These tourists are hip travelers or tripsters as I like to call them; hikers who “accidentally” wander into a forbidden zone, swimmers who pop up on an unmapped beach—there is a deep desire to be the first one to see that sunrise from an angle, a view, a perspective that no one else has before.

No Entry SignIt is no longer acceptable to snap the same image as everyone else—there is an incredible desire to separate yourself from the crowd, no matter the cost. There were the Russian tourists who climbed to the top of the Great Pyramids in Egypt. In Siem Reap, Cambodia, we witnessed a group of French tourists ignoring local officials while they scaled an ancient temple so that they could film themselves. The cost is sometimes easily apparent, though. Just this year, a tourist broke the finger off a 600-year-old statue at a museum in Florence, Italy, while trying to get a picture with it.

I, too, have felt this pressure along our RTW journey. Continue reading

RTW Recovery: Dealing With Reverse Culture Shock

Welcome Back Gifts

Two things we could not have been happier to return home to. Thanks, Lisa and Rick!

Welcome to our new series, called RTW Recovery Wednesday, in which we tackle topics that have made our transition back to the USA easy or difficult. Posts will offer a candid breakdown of what it’s like to return to what we used to call “home” after living in our own bubble as we traveled around the world for 14 months.

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Leading up to our return to the USA after 14 months of RTW travel, everyone had something to say about reverse culture shock. Mostly that it was inevitable. Everything they said scared us more than the thought of jumping off a cliff again. Time out, time out! Didn’t we grow up in America? Don’t we already know that a $1 soup in Thailand costs $7 in NYC? We didn’t lose our memory, we just disappeared for more than a year.

Common sense told me that reverse culture shock should not be as, well, shocking as culture shock. I know what Western prices are, I know what the food is like and I know there is a diverse group of people here. But just because I remembered those things did not mean I was prepared to ease back into the American way. Like culture shock, you have to experience reverse culture shock for yourself to understand what it means to you specifically. Continue reading

What I Learned About Southeast Asia

Dressed for the weather in Hoi An, Vietnam

How can this person even see?!

More than a year ago when I was packing for our trip, I decided to bring shorts and tank tops to wear in Southeast Asia. The region is known for its heat and humidity, so those outfits seemed like the obvious choice. But before we left, I was admittedly pretty ignorant to the habits of other cultures.

In America, we dress for the weather. If it is hot outside, you wear as little clothes as possible. If it’s cold, you bundle up. But I’ve come to learn that the East and West are very different when it comes to attire. When you get out of the bigger cities, such as Bangkok, you’ll notice that locals aren’t sporting miniskirts and spaghetti-string tops. Even though Thailand is known for its beaches, many locals do not wear bathing suits or revealing clothes in beach areas. Many dress conservatively no matter how hot it is and even swim fully clothed. This is especially true in Malaysia, where more than half the population is Muslim. Nude and topless sunbathing is completely taboo, though it’s done by some foreigners on the most touristic beaches.

Their conservative clothing choices are a result of their cultural behavior and religious views. But another reason you’ll find Vietnamese women, for example, walking down the street in pants, a jacket, hat, gloves and a facemask is because they adore light-colored skin. They are afraid to have the sun darken their complexion and damage their skin. Aside from protecting themselves from UV rays, they embrace the use of cosmetics that contain whitener. Continue reading