Things I brought home: Two dresses

Words by Maggie McDade

Published on March 20, 2013

On Nguyen Duy Hieu, the road that runs right up the middle of Hoi An, there’s a tailor shop called Sun. From the outside, you’ll see it has a double entrance, with a red sign and a headless mannequin wearing a silk midriff top. Every morning at eight before Sun opens for the day, Aunt sets out a small piece of fruit on the shrine near the cash register. Or a can of Coca Cola, some sweet biscuits, a flower.

The shop is a large room at the front of a family home; if you walk towards the back you’ll get to their kitchen. Inside, four young women in jeans measure up westerners for business shirts and fitted pants. Aunt paces around behind them, listening in to their recommendations, and leaning over to tug at a hem or adjust an armband. The girls chat between themselves in Vietnamese, pausing to laugh and write fitting notes in small notebooks. One of the girls pats a man she is measuring on his stomach, ‘You’re big, like Fred Flintstone!’ she says, and everyone in the shop laughs.

Once in the morning, at lunch, and in the afternoon, Aunt’s brother drives up to the door on his scooter to drop off a load of clothes. He sews all day and all night, stopping for a sleep when he gets the chance on a mat in the humid room. He can make a suit in less than a day — have it back in the store for a fitting and a few small adjustments for you to hop on the train to head north at three o’clock.

In the back of the shop is Aunt’s husband, pressing suits and answering email orders. Just over his left shoulder is a birdcage with a canary in it. It chirps throughout the day, and when it gets dark Aunt puts a
towel over his cage.  Above the bird cage on the wall are some English phrases, ‘Hello, how are you?’ ‘Where are you from?’ ‘Please review us on Trip Advisor.’

Sitting at the entrance to the kitchen is an old man, barefoot with a loose-buttoned shirt, watching the fabrics pulled from the shelves and the people laugh and smooth their sides in satisfaction as they pull on their new pants. He walks to the front of the shop every now and then, and stands on the footpath to watch the motorbikes. But most of the time he is at the back with his cigarettes and pot of green tea, quiet.

If you spend enough time in their shop being fitted and chatting to the family, at Sun they will sit you down and bring you a bowl of Cao Lau. Fat hand rolled noodles, croutons, crispy pork skin, betel leaf, and some shreds of lettuce.

And when you have your clothes, and they have all been packed up in coloured plastic bags, like they only have in Vietnam, you can stand at the door and each of the young girls will give you a hug and a wide smile. You can stand on the street, watching out for scooters, and wave goodbye.