If there’s one saying which sums up South East Asia it has to be “same same but different,” particularly when it comes to shopping.
The first time it really hit me was when our bus stopped on a stretch of road in the middle of nowhere in Laos to buy tangerines (note to self: don’t call them mandarins, taken as badly as when Inuits found out New Zealanders’ eat lollies called Eskimos).
Again I digress.
When we get off the bus all I can see is tangerines.
They’re all the same, they’re all the same price, and clearly, they’re all from the same place. It’s here I have an epiphany. What if you gave one of the vendors a juicer? Then he could sell tangerine juice, thus having a point of difference amid all the same same. But then I realise they’d all get a blender and they’d all sell tangerine juice. It’s a bitter cycle.
Later down the road we find same same with fish.
But perhaps the most extreme example of same same is Hoi An in Vietnam. I don’t know quite when it started but someone set up a tailors. Tourists lapped it up. As a result there’s now more than 400 tailors in this tiny town. I went here with the aim of getting a few things made but I ended up getting so overwhelmed, particularly after a lady grabbed me and literally dragged me into her shop, that I just found a Vietnamese coffee shop to hide in. Yes I know I’m supposed to be dairy-free, but seriously, whoever thought of serving what New Zealanders’ would call a short black with condensed milk was a genius.