The Tailor of Saigon

The Tailor of Saigon
A New Post From Mark Eden

This young Vietnamese man is a tailor at Ba Chiu Market in Saigon’s District 6. All day, every day he works away at his ancient Singer machine stitching trousers and shirts for his neighbours and attending to repairs of old garments brought to him by those who simply cannot afford new clothing.

Ba Chiu Market is not on the tourist trail, and the locals here are surprised and curious to see a white face. The tailor looks up from his work as I pass for the first time his small tent stall, raises an eyebrow in surprise, then smiles broadly, genuinely. I give him a self conscious nod as I pass. He goes back to his stitching.

After a time wandering aimlessly through the narrow market alleys, I end up quite accidently back outside the tailor’s shop. I’m so focused on photographing other stall holders and the goings on of the market that I don’t even notice that I’ve been along here before. But the tailor notices me. He’s stopped work completely now and when I eventually look up and see him, he beckons me over and offers me one of the fried rice crisps he’s been snacking on. I take one gratefully and, not knowing a single word of Vietnamese, make the appropriate mmm noises and gestures to indicate a tasty treat. All I have to give him in return is a few pieces of fruit I’d bought earlier in the food section of the market. Knowing that he likely eats this stuff every day, I hand over some rambutan and sour star apples which he accepts graciously and puts away for later.

We spend a time trying to communicate through the ancient system of hand signals and body language and I manage to convey that I have come from Australia, at which point his eyes light up and he starts making the internationally recognised gesture for Australia: a kangaroo hop. His friend, who has been watching our little slapstick comedy show the whole time with an ever widening grin, finally can no longer contain himself and bursts out laughing. A loud, honking laugh that stops the tailor mid hop and he sits down again a little self consciously.

We continue on and he tells me his name: Còng (which I later find out means skilful or industrious), he also says he has two little children and has been working at the market since he was 16.

Finally, I sense it is time to move on and thank him for his time with another nod, which he returns in kind. On my way down the narrow alleyway heading out of the market I glance back and see him again bent over his machine in concentration.



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