Semester at Sea Fall 2006 Voyagebanner


Ben Trahn Market, Ho Chi Minh City

By Wren Chan

           The setting was Ben Trahn Market on the first day of getting out of port at around 2:00 pm.  Vietnam was still novel and dangerous to all of us naïve travelers especially me since this was the second developing country that I’ve set foot on aside from the short bout in Ensenada, Mexico.  Ben Trahn Market is a major market in District 1 of Ho Chi Minh City and the group that I was in was a Semester at Sea FDP.  The close-up shot that I took was that of vendors in one of the many “alleys” that crisscrossed the main “avenues” of Ben Trahn Market who forcefully grabbed the two Caucasians that was walking along with me to show their wares and left me relatively unscathed.  In this shot aside from the central characters, the two vendors and the two Caucasians; in the immediate vicinity, there are fabrics packed to every inch in their little shops and the signs far above the reach of the vendors and gathering dust.  It seems that the signs are more or less disregarded because the numbering system of the shops is incoherent.  The vendors are actively trying to get the Caucasians to see their wares with whatever English they can muster, much of the words are “Please”, “Cheap” and “Good Quality”.  Perhaps in their mind the Caucasians had suspicions that the wares are mimic goods and in the worst possible situation fake goods.  The Caucasians tried desperately to explain that they are just looking around.  Resigning to the language barriers, they learned their lesson, avoided eye contact and brushed past the vendors.  This very movement galvanized the vendors further down the “alley” to start their assault but the Caucasians unmoved continued on as I followed behind virtually unbothered by the vendors because I blended in to the native population though I was noticeably a lot lighter than the native population.

           Upon zooming out of the close-up shot to the level of encompassing the block in which the market is located in, there are perhaps tens of similar cases of vendors trying to get foreigners to buy their wares occurring throughout the market.  The main “avenues” had more people, mostly Vietnamese while the “alleys” were crawling with tourists and foreigners.  The back of the market seems to be devoted to food with either dry food products or open-air restaurants (mini-restaurants in retrospect since restaurant to Americans evoke a bigger area than what these mini-restaurants catered to) where Vietnamese mainly gathered in the market.  Outside of the street block on which the market was located there were other shops that were significantly larger than the shops in the market.

           My focus was on the shops rather than what the Vietnamese thus unfortunately I have no idea what they were doing in the market.  This particular dilemma evoked a possible answer from Elizabeth F. Vann’s “The Limits of Authenticity in Vietnamese Consumer Markets” which indicated that perhaps like the tourists in the market the Vietnamese were looking for mimic goods for a different reason.  Rather than obtaining mimic goods just because it is cheap for tourists, the Vietnamese may be obtaining the mimic goods because they were the only luxuries open to their purchasing power.  Similar products were grouped together in the same general area and all of the vendors claimed that their goods were authentic from another country such as England or Ireland.

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