Posts Tagged ‘shopping’

The Santa Fe Indian Market©

Wednesday, April 14th, 2010

Pueblo at Dusk by Dan Namingha, 1987 Courtesy of the National Museum of the American Indian

For the past 88 years, the Santa Fe Indian Market© in New Mexico has been a hotspot for the cultural arts – both traditional and cutting edge. Every August, over 1000 artists arrive in the city to sell their jewelry, pottery, paintings, basketry, and beadwork. Surrounding this annual event held since 1922, are gallery openings, art shows, and opportunities to mingle and network with artists, cultural historians, and connoisseurs of Native arts.

A combined effort between Native artists and museum curators, the gathering was seen as an opportunity to bring two cultures together. Non-Natives would learn about indigenous cultures while appreciating Native arts as valuable high art rather than as trinkets and souvenirs. Francis La Flesche, a well respected ethnologist and Omaha Indian, addressed the need for systematic production, steady markets, and the maintenance of adequate prices for the art movement to continue.

Decades later, the Santa Fe Indian Market© has succeeded in combining respect for beautiful, well-made Native artwork while appreciating the economic benefits to Native communities who participate. The result is a world class market that attracts approximately 80,000 people each year, and a valuable $100 million in tourism revenues to the state.

Plus, the jewelry is simply gorgeous.

Explore the world of Native Arts on our The Santa Fe Indian Market© tour this summer.

What would you buy at the Santa Fe Indian Market©?

Candied Fruit, Prayer Paper, and Ugly Knives – Shopping in Hanoi

Monday, October 12th, 2009

Study Leader Dana Sachs is the author of three books and numerous articles about Vietnam. Having lived in Hanoi, she loves to share her favorite places with our travelers. Click for more on Dana and traveling with her.

The Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum in Hanoi. The garden in front of the Mausoleum features more than 200 different plant species, all native to Vietnam.

The Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum in Hanoi. The garden in front of the Mausoleum features more than 200 different plant species, all native to Vietnam.

I’m not a shopper, but I bring an extra bag with me to Vietnam because there are certain things I can’t do without when I’m back home: candied fruit, prayer paper, and knives. Although Vietnam produces beautiful handicrafts that foreigners love—bamboo serving dishes, hand-painted pottery, lacquer boxes, silk—it’s these inexpensive items manufactured for the Vietnamese themselves that I need most. On my most recent visit with Smithsonian Journeys to Vietnam, we took a walking tour through Hanoi’s Old Quarter.

Because I lived in Hanoi myself, I had my favorite shops I wanted the travelers to visit. I say “shops,” but “stalls” might be a better word for the tiny establishments, usually just a salesperson standing behind a display case, her customers facing her from the sidewalk. On Hang Duong (Sugar Street), we stopped to sample the traditional candied fruit, known as mut, which Vietnamese consume in enormous quantities during winter months surrounding the Lunar New Year, but love all year round. At first, the Americans looked skeptically at the display of dried apricots, persimmons, apples and sliced ginger, all coated in crunchy sugar. I bought a bag of ginger, another of apricots, and a third containing o mai, a sweet-and-sour concoction of shaved ginger and tamarind that you eat in pinches. “Try it,” I urged. This was an open-minded and enthusiastic group of travelers and so, though the candies looked different, everyone wanted to try some. “Sour!” someone said, puckering her lips. Another, who had tried the ginger, said, “Spicy, too. But also sweet.” One of the men pulled out his wallet. He raised his fingers toward the vendor—“three!”—and, without a translator, bought a pile of snacks that, it turned out, he would share with the rest of the group during our next bus ride through the city.

On Hang Ma (Prayer Paper Street), the shops sell the paper goods that Vietnamese burn as offerings to their ancestors. After death, according to Vietnamese belief, souls enter a new world that, in many ways, parallels our own. If we need to eat, so do they. If we need clothing, so do they. If we need television sets, cars, credit cards, jewelry, and motorbikes, well, so do they. It wouldn’t be practical or economical, though, to burn the real thing, so for centuries craftspeople have developed an industry in these parallel goods, all made of paper. On Prayer Paper Street, then, one can find paper clothing, paper jewelry, watches, credit cards and even TVs. It’s an amazing thing to see, and photogenic, too. When I’m shopping, I drop by Hang Ma Street to purchase sheets of handmade paper, dyed in vivid shades of purple, red, yellow, pink and blue, often stamped in delicate patterns, too. I use it for wrapping paper back home. “Anyone else want some?” I asked. The saleslady was squatting on the sidewalk, rolling up my purchase and securing it with a rubber band. One of the California visitors stepped forward, “I think I could squeeze some of that into my suitcase,” she said. Then she opened the fingers on her hand to convey her purchase to the vendor, saying, “I’ll take ten sheets.”

Off to Dong Xuan Market, the cavernous building that serves as the commercial heart of this most commercial district, with vendors spilling out in all directions, selling everything from live chickens to wholesale rice to alarm clocks, bolts of fabric, children’s shoes. My goal now was to find my favorite knife seller, who sat on the floor of a secondary building, her “hardware goods” spread around her in piles and baskets. I’ve been buying her knives for years. At home, I call them “ugly knives” because they are ugly—with a rectangular blade and a rough wooden handle. The steel doesn’t shine. The wood sometimes splinters. You can’t put them in the dishwasher. They rust (a problem remedied with a swipe of the sponge.) But they are the best knives I’ve ever used. You never have to sharpen them and they cut through a tomato as if it were butter. I have given away so many of these knives over the years that I can no longer fly to Vietnam without taking orders from my friends, particularly the ones who are serious chefs. “I want another knife!” They’ll say, “But this time, bring me two.” Or, “My mother stole mine. Bring me more!” I buy them by the chuc, or parcel of ten. Ten knives cost about two dollars, so it’s not only a valued gift, but an economical one, too.

My favorite part of taking the visitors out shopping is watching their interactions with the Vietnamese. Without a shared language, buyer and seller often begin the transaction nervously. The Americans look uncertain. The Vietnamese (these are not vendors who often deal with tourists) look scared. What amazes both sides is how easily they communicate with one another, holding up fingers, nodding, shaking their heads. The American tourists are, from my experience, enthusiastic and good natured. The Vietnamese, who can drive a hard bargain, are also curious and kind. At the end of the exchange, we begin to walk away, bags in hand, while the Vietnamese count their money. I hear the Americans say, “That was fun,” and I hear the Vietnamese say the same thing: “Vui lam.”

What’s your favorite foreign shopping experience? Share below!

Craving your own personal supply of candied fruit, prayer paper, and ugly knives? Click for our tours to Vietnam.

My Favorite Travel Mementos

Thursday, April 9th, 2009

Amy Kotkin is Director of Smithsonian Journeys, the educational tour program of the Smithsonian Institution. She joined the Smithsonian in 1974 and over the past 35 years has developed a wide range of educational benefits for Smithsonian members nationwide. Click here to read Amy’s bio.

Amy and a small sampling from her textile collection.

Amy and a small sampling from her textile collection.

When I return home from my Around the World tour with Smithsonian members in April, chances are that my suitcase will be stuffed with colorful textiles. It never fails! Wherever I travel, I’m drawn to the artistry of local weavers and needleworkers whose works I’ve found in small shops, museums, on the streets, or even strung on a closeline between village huts. More than once I’ve been grateful that textiles became my particular travel passion! Portable, unbreakable, and usually inexpensive, textiles are pretty easy to bring home…far easier than, say, brass elephants.

So what happens when these fabrics “unite” in my home? Well, many become “working” pillows on the living room sofa and the upstairs bedrooms. But they all carry wonderful memories of previous Smithsonian Journeys, and I am always delighted when friends and family ask about their origins. Take the three in this picture that hang out together in my living room. (more…)