It is no exaggeration to say that I can spend all morning shopping here in Hanoi. Pause a moment while I wait for friends and family to process what I just said. Karen shopping? It will seem unlikely I know but ….

I haven’t yet found a shop that sells everything that I want for a meal so I end up going from shop to shop buying meat here, vegetables there, condiments from a third and bread from – well, the bakery of course! Things aren’t so different here.

Or at least that’s what happened before the fabulous Chi took over the running of our household. Now, at least some of the traipsing around can be alleviated by telling her in advance what I need and waiting for her to arrive for work, happy, smiling and bearing gifts! Well, fruit, veg and/or meat to be accurate but it feels like a gift because the quality and price are far superior to anything that I can manage to buy and I’ve had to make so little effort myself.  When I complimented her yesterday on the quality of the Dragon Fruit she’d bought me she replied, with a totally straight face: “I am a Vietnamese woman. I know how to shop”.  Well quite a few of my friends know how to shop Chi but trust me, they couldn’t buy fruit at the absolute peak of perfection quite like you do!

In the UK I would often trek around one of the big supermarkets, aisle after aisle searching for a product that eluded me only to ask an assistant who pointed to the very shelf where I was standing (who does decide where all those products go by the way?).  Out here my inability to find items is greatly simplified by the clever Vietnamese grouping all their shops by item, especially in the Old Quarter.   Therefore if you need paper you simply go to Paper Street, if you want bamboo furniture head over to Bamboo Corner.  However, even this cunning strategy falls down, from my perspective, when it comes to two particular items:  nappy sacks and tea towels.  I absolutely can’t find them anywhere but I love the idea of Nappy Sack Street so am not going to give up.  Without wishing to further worry my family with talk of all things baby related I was thrilled to find, after only an hour’s searching, Paddling Pool Lane.  The dog (nappy sacks are the perfect receptacle for taking out on dog walks) is in danger of over-heating out here and absolutely refuses to go near water unless it’s a muddy puddle or Westlake where the only steps in and out are about a kilometre from the house and it’s too hot to walk there.  Hence the need for a paddling pool!  Tea towels?  I’ve no doubt I’ll find them when I least expect to and no longer want them.  Until then, I’ll make do with the one that I packed (accidentally I admit!) and await my furniture shipment from the UK.

About Karen Ormiston

After a whirlwind of new experiences, challenges and adventures 2.5 years after moving to Hanoi, Vietnam, we found ourselves footloose and fancy free with relatively few ties to any particular place. Hubby is only semi working and mine is portable so location is not an issue. Our kids have scattered far and wide and parents who are still alive enjoy support when available but not ready for anything intensive. So we are in a strange and unusual place - young, fit and healthy with no strong links to any particular community. The time was right to spend 6 months in Miskin, near Cardiff, exploring my heritage and tracing family before moving to the stunning town of Vejer de la Frontera at the beginning of 2015 to embark on the next stage of life's great adventure.

Posted on 04/27/2012, in Adventure, Life Overseas, Living Abroad, Shopping, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. Sam Ormiston

    Yep, definitely had to pick myself up off the floor…although I’d figured it must be food shopping you meant before I read on, even Vietnam isn’t going to turn you into a WAG 😉

  2. I didn’t know until now that you were writing this lovely blog. That’s my morning gone catching up on your previous posts then … Keep ’em coming.

  3. First of all how amazing that you seem to have a real expat network built for yourself in Hanoi. I read your about me page and it seems like you have your hands full (“job” notwithstanding). Second, being a frequent expat myself (yet sans the support network) I know exactly what it’s like to spend the entire day shopping, not find what you want/need, and at the end of it all just go home and warm up your last cup of noodles (or maybe that’s just me). At any rate I must confess that besides enjoying your blog I do have ulterior motives for contacting you. I need your help – more specifically I need the help of expats around the world and I’m contacting them/you all one at a time.
    Here’s the deal … I’ve traveled around the world and been an expat in various cities (Beijing, Hong Kong, Oaxaca, Quito) and I’ve always missed specific things from home (Tollhouse cookies, Hanes undershirts that actually fit me, Guess jeans, etc). Sure I got a care package now and again but I always felt sheepish asking people to send stuff. This was the genesis of my small community start up Wanderinggenie. We are trying to bring some of the comforts of home to expats abroad. We can’t bring friends, family, or roads without potholes but we can bring creature comforts that make your experience more comfortable.
    If there is something you want (be it hard to find, too expensive where you are, or you’re just tired of substituting) please let us know and we’ll see if we can help. Besides your order we also need your advice insofar as what a contemporary expat needs, wants, and what services we can offer (if it’s something we can’t offer we may be able to refer you to someone who can).
    PLEASE provide us your feedback regarding in what ways we can make your time abroad better by emailing us at or commenting on our blog at
    Thanks for your time, it’s greatly appreciated.



    • Sorry Arthur, I thought I’d responded to this sooner – rude of me yes, but not intentional! What do I miss? Apart from friends and family of course 🙂 Well, McVities Digestive Biscuits, Marmite, Sandwich Spread, nappy sacks, a choice of dog food, decent extendable dog leads. Having said that, I’m managing pretty well without them – necessity being the mother of invention and all that! Will take a look at your blog too. Thanks for connecting 🙂

      • I must thank you for the input. Yes, need is the mother of invention but you may not be in need … at least need to invent. take a look at us and if we can help with those little things we will. all the best Cheers

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