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Souvenir Sellers around Ben Thanh Market


by Tatsuru Kimura

Mekong Delta

Ho Chi Minh City was the first place where many SAS students, including me, encountered aggressive sales.  One cannot avoid such aggressive sales if he or she goes to the Ben Thanh market, one of most active markets in Ho Chi Minh City. 

            At Ben Thanh market, they sell various goods and services both for tourists and local people including T-shirts, food, and manicure service for locals.  They also sell brand goods but most of them are knockoffs.  In The limits of AuthenticityVietnamese Consumer Markets, Elizabeth F. Vann explains that Vietnamese do not appreciate the authenticity of merchandise: they would just as soon buy “mimic goods” that imitate the original but at a cheaper price.  As she mentions, they sell such things openly, and display them in front of stores.  They sell mimic bags, sunglasses, sandals and so on.   It is difficult to tell the difference of quality between some of these mimic and authentic goods.

            Around the market, many street vendors walk around to sell souvenirs to tourists.  They hang a big shallow-bottomed box from their neck and show their goods including such mimics and knockoffs in the box.  They are persistent enough to follow a particular tourist for twenty minutes.  Some kids works as street vendors.  In fluent English, a girl who looks like she is about in the sixth grade said that if I didn't buy something from her, she could not eat a supper.  It was more like begging rather than selling.

            In Ho Chi Minh City, I heard people utter a lot of Japanese words.  In Ben Thanh market, they shouted at me with the Japanese word “Yasui”, which means “cheap”.  If I told them I would not buy, they criticized me with Japanese slang, “Nandeyanen”, which means “Why not?”  I am so interested in the distribution of the word “Nandeyanen”.  This word is only used in or around Ben Thanh market.  I never heard the word in other parts of Ho Chi Minh City, although I heard other Japanese words.  Since people in a particular limited area know the same Japanese phrase, I guess that there is a strong tie of community among merchants around Ben Thanh market.  The street vendors walking around Ben Thanh market never said “Nandeyanen”.  Based on this observation, I guessed that the division of communities depends on not only geographical area but also whether they are shop clerks or street vendors.

It seems that the tie of community in Ben Thanh market makes the market a safer place.   Clerks of stores in the market can even sleep while they are tending their store because they tend each other’s store while their neighbor is sleeping. I could see so many sleeping women in day time and observe so many ways to sleep there.  Some lie on the floor, some lean against the wall or goods.  I guess that they can sleep well even in front of strangers because they assume that they are safe.  I did not see such many sleeping people in other countries.

            Ho Chi Minh City is an active and noisy city and souvenir sellers are so aggressive, but I felt somewhat slow and peaceful atmosphere.  This is partly because I saw so many sleeping people in busy markets.  Anyway, this atmosphere is original to this country and I could not feel that feeling in other countries.  

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