Embracing Traditional Dress
I cannot believe how much I want to talk about and how quickly time is going by, so my blog posts are a little behind, but I’ll do my best to catch up!
Peter, Rui and I are working with a local University on a blended learning strategy. It is engaging work and we are really enjoying getting to know the University staff and students. It is such a welcoming environment to walk on campus, we are given coffee every afternoon, we usually have fruit and some amazing candied ginger and our client is one of the most engaged clients I’ve ever worked with. They want to start moving, and fast and are soaking up everything they can from us. Overall, Peter describes the University as his “Happy place” in Binh Duong and I agree!
Sort of unrelated to our core project, TDMU asked us to put on a talk show with the students where we would talk about keys to a successful career, which quickly broaded to “Keys to a Successful Life.” (I’ll blog about the talk show later). Peter and I love being on stage so quickly agreed and began plotting what we would say. There was an important question as well, as what we would wear. I’ve been wanting an Ao Dai since I saw some of the women wearing it our first days. I think they are beautiful garments that accentuate everything that they should. So I suggested to Nhung, our translator that I would like to get one made. As soon as Peter found out there was a male version, he was in. Papa Rui was more tentative and wanted to see how ours turned out before he committed.
And so began a cultural, translational journey towards getting a custom made garment.
We asked for these garments on Friday when our show was Tuesday, so time was not on our side. However, once our client found out, they were so excited to help us that nothing could stand in our way. After a lot of talk in Vietnamese that I did not understand, it was decided that after our Friday meetings, Ms. Anh would take Peter and I to the tailor and fabric store to be measured and pick our patterns.
The fabric store was gorgeous. There were so many beautiful patterns it was hard to choose. The lady who owns the business was very helpful in letting me know which of the large selection of fabrics I could choose from given my height. Anything that had been pre-cut was completely off limits due to my sheer size. Peter had a similar slimming down of fabric options as there are women fabrics and men fabrics, but we found some great options. Behind the scenes, Ms Anh was negotiating a better price for us and making sure we were not taken advantage of. Nhung was helping with fashion advice.
From there, we had to find a new tailor who could make two Ao Dai in time for Tuesday, the one Ms. Anh had previously arranged only made Ao Dai Nu (the female version) and could not make the Ao Dai Nam (male version). More discussions in Vietnamese and an exchange of an address, and we were off. Of course, we had trouble finding the address and got to enjoy reversing into on-coming motorbike traffic as Nhung ran up and down the street trying to find the place.
We got there and the tailor was extremely excited to be making these for us. She said that tourists come in all the time, but that she doesn’t speak English so she cannot help them. There was an extensive measuring process of my body (probably 20 measurements were taken), and then a much shorter measuring for Peter. I then got a lecture on the fact that for the Ao Dai to be at its most beautiful I need a push up bra and heels, neither of which I have in the country. Poor Nhung had to translate all of this to me, in front of Peter who was just laughing and enjoying the fact he was so much easier. I was taken to the back room and shown the type of push up and given an address and price I should pay to go and get my own…
Then we were dismissed and told that we could pick up our Ao Dai on Monday at lunch. We excitedly went and told the team of our journey and they decided they all may want one too. We couldn’t wait!
Come Monday, we go to the tailor and the results were better than we could have expected. For ~$33 dollars, I now have a tailor-made silk garment that looks and feels amazing. This time it was Mr. Anh who took us to the tailor. The Woman was so excited to see us and there were countless photos taken of us in our garments. The Tailor lectured me again about my bra selection and lack of heels, but otherwise commented that it was perfect and that I looked gorgeous. She said it was the first time she had made something for a curvy tall person.
I got to go through the fun experience of being re-measured for a camera so that people could have one made for their wives (who would have to measure themselves at home). The tailor also promised to take us to the fabric store if we came back so that she could get us an even better deal on the silk.
I am just completely amazed at what I ended up with and how much people helped Peter and I to embrace the traditional garb. We absolutely could not have gotten these made without our trusty translators and the support of our client. I also would have been more hesitant that people would have doubted my authenticity in wearing it if it had not been so embraced by those around us. Peter and I are planning to wear them at least two more times in country and hope to put them to good use at home, and they helped us be celebrities at the Talk Show. I cannot even imagine how many selfies I was a part of…