“Buy art!” my colleague implored before we left for Southeast Asia. “It’s the best souvenir you can get.”
Well, Keltie, buy art we did. We didn’t exactly plan on it, but when you’re wandering the Old Quarter of Hanoi, it’s hard not to get sucked in.
It happened one evening as we took a little stroll. It was our third or fourth night in Hanoi and we hadn’t done any shopping. The sky was dark and the air was sticky with humidity, but better to be outdoors in the rush of traffic than back in our hotel room up six flights of stairs.
We passed little old ladies bent over boiling pots of noodles that smelled richly of pork and spices. Young couples zipped past us on their motorbikes, just starting their evenings, fuelled by the ever-so-strong Vietnamese coffee. We’d passed these shops already, seeing paintings piled against one another, the best examples hung on the walls with bright lights for display.
Curiosity got the better of me and we walked into one, a knowing look passing between David and I. Yeah… we were going to spend money. The thing is, we had no idea how much the paintings were priced at. A shy young girl approached us, quietly overjoyed that she had potential customers. As soon as we began asking her about price, shipping and style, she was in her element.
We worked our way through the layers of canvas on the main floor, but nothing was quite right for us. Upstairs, the library of art continued, some of these canvases twice the size of their downstairs neighbours. Then we found it. It might not have appealed to anyone else, but for us, it was perfect. The layers, the texture of the paint and the colours. I adore red, so the leaves of this tree on a wet street called to me.
It all happened pretty quick. As soon as we’d decided to pay the $150 USD for our fairly large painting (I couldn’t bring myself to haggle), it was pulled from the wood frame and delicately rolled with a plastic liner protecting the acrylic paint. Placed in a long plastic tube for shipping, we were good to go. I went to hand over my credit card, when the young girl’s shy nature resumed.
She pulled her hands to her face as though she were praying and asked if I could pay any of the price in Vietnamese Dong. “Even 500,000 Dong?” The equivalent of $30 Canadian. “It’s good luck for my business,” she bowed her head. I pulled what bit of currency I had from my wallet and handed it over to this sweet girl. Together we climbed the stairs again, but this time I noticed the little red shrine sitting quietly in the corner. She placed the cash on the altar, lit a candle and said a quiet prayer to whatever god was listening.
“We bring each other luck,” she smiled. She was right, because two weeks later, against all the odds, our painting showed up ahead of schedule at my parents’ home in Canada.
Have you ever bought a piece of art while traveling? What do you think makes the best souvenir?