The chorus of the Hoi An market choir rises over baskets of herbs and small little pots burning incense in the morning, the cries are raucous and insistent but lacking in urgency; it’s not so much a demand but an introduction. There may be a formidable army before us but there’s breakfast behind, good luck to the defiant ranks trying to resist this charge. Predictably they’re no contest as we carve our way like cavalry through routed infantry. Passing through the threshold the whispers have gotten around, today we’re a no-go zone for the usually feisty ladies on the stalls, today we stroll through the melee with mafia like protection; the Bánh Cuôn Lón madams authority blesses us with untroubled passage.
Typically we mix low brow pornography acting with meal time in an involuntary show of aw’s and ah’s, the Bánh Cuôn Lón madam is not only an effective strong arm around these parts, she knows all the right buttons to press. Sadly this is our last visit to the lady of the house, tomorrow we’re off to Hue, more culinary adventures and the Hai Van Pass. We leave a stack of cash on the counter and she bids us farewell as if we’ll return tomorrow even though she knows we won’t return; she’s a dignified woman and a customer is a customer always.After the breakup we console ourselves with a fortifying tea before it’s off to break more hearts. The next still beating heart to line the road is the shoe guy; it’s time for our final fitting, I still love how decadent that sounds, on this day of heartfelt farewells purchased in hard currency. They’re so much more real than the ones on credit. The tug boats that are Charlie’s broad shoes are finally ready but the first test run will need to wait a few months till we’re home, there’s simply no thought of wearing anything more than is absolutely necessary in this heat. For now it’s rubber thongs padding the hot road towards the tailors and yet another tear-jerk moment just waiting to be turned into a three minute pop song.
It’s first fitting time, we’re led upstairs for our appointment where our coats await on hangers, chalked and drawn like kids craft projects not yet reaching the high fashion heights we’d envisioned. Feeling a little like life drawing models bared in front of the class we’re fussed over, tugged at and prodded to negotiate every ripple, fold and bunch of fabric soon to fit like a new skin. Comically at one point there’s three tailors scratching their chins and tugging at fabric trying to puzzle out how to get a jacket tail to sit over the enormity of Charlie’s ass. My measuring is done at this stage and while Charlie stares inquisitively at the fit of his suit, the tailors stare quizzically at how on earth they’re going to fit this irregular shape; somehow I keep my mirth a secret, just.For the first time we leave today without a heart broken, we’re back in a few hours for hopefully the finished product. Time to break another heart and this one could be the hardest one of all. We’ve had a few different Cao Lau’s so far but our first was the one we remember the most, it’s time to return to the place it all began, where the love affair with Hoi An caught fire. This time we have broader eyes and we take on other dishes, both fishy soups that miraculously make passing up a Cao Lao worthwhile. And so the story repeats, we leave broken hearts behind, this time the broken hearts are ours. We had a nearly junkie narcotic food fix in Ho Chi Minh city that we didn’t think we’d ever be able to grasp again, until we came here. It’s such a sad resignation to accept, the one where something you’ve just experienced might be the best it’s ever going to get. We know that in Vietnam of all places this type of thinking is folly, but oh what we’d give for the ability to take this small room open to the street filled with child sized red plastic chairs with us.
Final fitting time. The nano-physicists have been brought in to scrawl chalkboards full of equations and talk in grand gesticulating language. I can nearly see a young student rushing through the halls of academia with a piece of paper that finally has the magic equation, the one line of numbers that needs ratification from a peer. Spectacled eyes are furrowed under a heavy brow attempting to comprehend the revolutionary thinking: yes, yes! A relieved exhale and a small dignified fist pump, Charlie’s law is now chalked into tailoring history, the bum has been conquered and the jacket will now sit properly. After fussing around and running to the sewing machine while we wait we’re rocking and rolling, the kids craft project gives way to fashion with the physics revelation a thrown in bonus.The farewell is in full swing now, we wander through the streets of Hoi An old town romanticising about this place without all the other tourists, without us. Sometimes, in some places it seems to be the only dignified action: to graciously take ourselves away so that it can be a better place. Hoi An is undoubtedly a tourist trap and so rarely is it the case that it’s beautiful in spite of this. In this most romantic of cities hearts are poured out and broken daily, it’s a place to let the little inner romantic have his way for a time. Tomorrow we’ll leave a trail of broken hearts, some paid for in cash and some in credit but the most important ones weren’t paid for with money at all, just left on a tiny red plastic chair waiting for another bowl of noodles that may never be repeated again.