Refusing Lucky Candles in Hoi An, Vietnam

 

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After our dinner at Good Morning Vietnam, we walked around the heritage town in Hoi An. Cutely lit up with lanterns, tourists swarmed the streets, gathering below the lights with selfie sticks. The town had been nearly empty when we explored it in the crippling hot afternoon. But that hadn’t been the greatest idea. We about melted into a puddle then. Drawn by the cheerful lanterns, the smarter people had come out when the breeze almost felt cool and the ragged old buildings mellowed in the gentler light.

 

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At the river, some tourists were taking rides on boats and, at the water’s edge, a dozen or so Vietnamese women were selling candles on paper floaters. One woman brought her candles right to my face saying, “Candle? Lucky! Make wish.” It wouldn’t be too lucky if my hair caught on fire, I thought. I smiled and gave her a sweet ‘no thank you,’ hoping she’d move the hot candles away.

 

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We crossed the bridge over the little river and joined another throng of tourists on the other side. Women were selling their candles on this side too. The Vietnamese sellers weaved through the crowd, sternly suggesting for everyone to “Make wish. It’s lucky.” One woman put the candles so close to my mom’s face that she felt the heat on her cheeks. A second lady decided she’d sell her candles to us no matter what.

 

The second lady repeated her sales mantra to us, as they all did. But she didn’t stop after our polite no thank yous. She followed behind us, ignoring the other tourists around her. “Buy candle,” she’d say. It was her command, not request. She grew quite peeved that we weren’t acquiescing to her intimidating sales tactic. But stalking us a little longer would probably do the trick, right? Her stubborn presence began making us feel uncomfortable.

 

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Then the Spirit moved and gave me an idea that made me smile. “Candle on river is lucky,” she quoted again. I turned around to face her and replied in a new way: “That’s okay. We don’t believe in luck. We are Christians.”

 

Shock. Horror. Repulsion.

 

The woman immediately stopped and took a step back with a slightly contorted face, a face of disbelief and disgust.

 

I’m not even kidding, or exaggerating. I was completely surprised at the level of response.

 

That simple sentence turned us from potential buyers to the worst kind of people: people who didn’t believe in luck, the very kind of people who would undermine her business if there were more of them.

 

Dear oh dear. What a shock we were. Now both my mom and I were smiling as we walked away, with no one trailing behind us.

 

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Comments

  • Andi on

    Hoi An is such an enchanting city and your photos really show the charm! I remember being there in May and melting in the sweltering heat. Night time is the best, when the temperature drops but it also brings out those insistent Sales Women. Glad you founda way to handle them!

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  • Elise Cohen Ho on

    My good friend wants us to go visit Vietnam for a truly authentic experience. His son is actually a tour guide there.

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  • Ilana on

    What an interesting travel experience! Definitely off the beaten path! PS One of my favorite Vietnamese restaurants in Berlin is called ‘Good Morning Vietnam! 🙂

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  • nancy melvin on

    Your stories are so interesting; the pictures fantastic (the making of a book?). Your new niece looks so sleepy; did you see her picture? Keeping you all in my prayersl. Love to all.

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