Traveling in Asia comes with benefits for a tall white girl. Being 5’10’, I can see over everybody. Getting lost in a crowd is not a concern for me. When I was looking for Michael in a sea of shoppers, packed like sardines at Ben Thanh Market in Ho Chi Minh City, and spotted him on the other side of the marketplace, I pulled my Moses maneuver and gently parted the chest-high Vietnamese heads with my hands as I squeezed through to him.
This benefit also works in reverse. I am the White Girl Beacon. You want attention? Nudge me to the front of the group/line/curb/restaurant and I’ll draw it for you. In Ho Chi Minh City, Michael and I met up with friends to sightsee. Out of the four of us, I was the only Caucasian and so served my duty as the White Girl Beacon. We had gone on a dinner cruise and were waiting to be picked up by a representative of the tour company where we had booked our day-long sightseeing excursion. The very detailed instructions given to us on how to connect with the rep after the cruise were “Wait here. He come here.” As the White Girl Beacon, I was chastised for sitting in the shadows of the general waiting area because, since the driver did not know our names and we had no contact information, my friend was certain the way he would find us would be to look out for the tall white girl. And indeed, as I was paraded into the streetlight and around the waiting area, the rep spotted me.
We learned quickly that the White Girl Beacon can be a hindrance. If you want to negotiate for a lower price at the market, hide your White Girl Beacon. Even better, leave her at home. She’ll not only halt all haggling but you’ll be brazenly ripped off. My friend was perusing one of the clothing stalls at Saigon Square Market and started to negotiate with the shopkeeper on the price of a top. The negotiations started from a quote of 250,000 Vietnamese dong (roughly $12) but as soon as I joined the party, the quote miraculously increased to 260,000. The lesson learned here is not to have your White Girl Beacon bobbing in the background during price negotiations.
The White Girl Beacon dilemma makes the shopping experience quite miserable for myself since I stand no chance of successfully negotiating anything. But I have a hidden weapon: Asian Boyfriend. When I saw a pretty necklace and had zero luck trying to negotiate the price down from 350,000 dong to anything lower than that, I sicked Michael on the shopkeeper. I drew Michael to the side and described the necklace I wanted, then had him negotiate with the shopkeeper while I watched from behind the corner of the next stall. Michael returned with necklace in hand, for which he paid 250,000 dong. Hidden weapon deployed successfully. And because I am not above smugness, I waltzed past the shopkeeper who would not negotiate with me holding Michael’s hand. As I saw understanding dawn on her face, I wiggled my eyebrows and nodded my head when our eyes met. From then on, when I would see something I liked, I would sign to Michael to bargain down the price while I hid in the shadows, watching the transaction like Gollum watching over his Precious.
Shopping was easier at market stalls that had fixed prices. I found a wonderful pair of harem pants and then proceeded to purchase them in every print available in my size. One can’t have too many harem pants.
At least I know that if I lived here, I would have no issue with clothing the lower half of my body. The same can’t be said for my feet. I If I lived in Vietnam, or any Asian country, I’d be cobbling my own shoes. The biggest size sold is a 40 which should convert to a 9.5 in U.S. sizing. Confoundingly, what a size 40 actually ends up being is a size 8. So Big Foot Adamchik would be bereft. When I asked a shopkeeper if she had a size 10 sandal, the verbatim response was “Gah! No. Yo feets too big.”