Clothes Shopping in SE Asia

Qualified Entry: Non-Fiction Category

By: A. Y.

… When you are at least One Head Taller and Five Sizes Bigger than Everyone Else

I suppose I can chalk this up as just one more “cultural experience.”

I’m backpacking Asia in early 2002 and it is clearly time to buy some new clothing to replace my tattered threads.  Ideally something a little bit fancier than my dwindling stock of now-greyish t-shirts.

Tired of haggling at the tourist markets here in Ho Chi Minh, I decide instead to go clothes shopping at the “CO.OP Market” department store in District 1.  Upon entering the store, my knees are immediately surrounded by a sea of black-haired, impossibly thin, midget Vietnamese women.  Average height: 4’9″.  Weight: probably just shy of 80 lbs.

This is not abnormal here in Asia.

I, on the other hand, weigh in at a healthy 5’10”, 135 lbs. – okaaay, maybe closer to 140 lbs. – pretty standard for a Western woman, maybe even just a bit on the thin side.  But in Asia, those dimensions put me in roughly the same category as Godzilla.

So I head over to the clothing racks, knowing not to even dream of trying on anything smaller than an “L”.  I should point out here that my American size 7 normally equates to, say, an “M” at your neighborhood Wal-mart.  Not so in Asia.  In fact, the clothes they export to the U.S. have to be sized for the U.S. – in other words, “Big American Size.”

“This XXL for parachute?” I imagine one Vietnamese factory worker asking another, pointing to a t-shirt going down the assembly line.  “No, for pot belly,” the friend replies.

With this in mind, I self-consciously pick out nine blouses to try on, all either “L” or “XL”.  I head over to the dressing rooms, hoping for the best.

I try on the first blouse.

Actually, “try to try on” is a more accurate account because, even unbuttoned, I can’t get it over my head.  This is a bad sign.

Blouse Number Two does go over my head, but my hands – no joke – do not fit out the ends of the sleeves.  Not looking good.

My self-esteem in the proverbial gutter, I proceed to abandon the rest of the “L” blouses and reach for the “XLs”.

Blouse Number Seven goes on, is buttoned…and then I try to bring my elbows together.  I hear a thread snap.  Bad idea.

Blouse Number Eight is sleeveless, so I think I may be in the clear.  It goes on, I button it up…and my bosom protests the cruel and unusual punishment inflicted upon it by immediately bulging an escape underneath my armpits.

I pin all my hopes and aspirations on Blouse Number Nine.  I put it on…button it up with only minimal pulling at the shoulders and something less than a full-fledged protest from my breasts…”Ladies and gentlemen, we have a winner!”

To be honest, it is still a bit on the small side, but by this time the experience has gone well beyond merely shopping for clothes.  It has become something bigger, something immeasurably more noble – it is now “[Wo]man vs. Nature.”

I have now fought and won my own small “Vietnamese War.”  Not without injury, mind you (my bosom can attest to that), but I have Fought the Good Fight and emerged triumphant.

With tears of pride and relief, I make my way to the cashier.


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