In a country like Vietnam where relatively little English is spoken, it can be tricky to find vinyl, especially when you don’t know the language and you don’t know anyone there who’s got the inside scoop. Of course if you expect to have any success you’ve got to at least learn the phrase for “Do you know where I can find some old vinyl records?”. I’d gone to Thailand armed with this phrase, printed out in lovely Thai script, and it eventually led to a bonanza.
But I was far too lazy in my preparations for Vietnam to bother with such translations and research. I thought it would be just as easy to carry a record around with me, so that whenever I saw a hip old man walking down the street I could show it to him and say “where?” “buy?” “shop?”
I decided to bring Willie Nelson & Julio Iglesias along, partly because I didn’t care if the record got damaged, and partly because there was something comical and absurd about carrying this particular record all over Vietnam.
And admittedly, I relished people's bemused expressions as they held the 45 close to their face, examining it carefully with a furrowed brow, struggling to pronounce “to all da geels i love beefore”.
The method seemed to work well, at least at first, as most people appeared to have a very good idea where to buy these "big CD's".
I was led all over the place, from vague areas circled on a map, to addresses scribbled on the back of a business card from a lime soda stand; from shops that sold vinyl from everywhere in the world EXCEPT Vietnam, to the seedy alleys of far off districts in search of a particular man and his private collection.
There was a HiFi shop in Hanoi where a man had 4 Vietnamese records, locked beneath a glass case, that he was kind enough to take out and let me cradle for a good while. But he refused to sell them for any price. “Very hard to find in this country...” he said. Apparently those who still had them cherished them way too much to sell.
The mission got more complicated when, about a week into the trip, Julio & Willie broke into two pieces. Presumably the same night I fell off the motorcycle taxi (never drink 4-Loko in Vietnam).
I assumed people would still understand me if I showed them two halves of a record. But when I was led repeatedly to hardware stores and given super glue I realized things had reached a whole new level of absurdity. The idea that a foreign tourist would be wandering the streets of Saigon with a broken Julio Iglesias record, pleading desperately for someone to help fix it is beyond comprehension. And yet there I was.
But there was one lead yet to pursue: a certain Mr. Hung in Saigon. After an entire morning zipping across six districts on scooter taxis following bogus leads, I went to a home in Quadrant 10 to look for Mr. Hung.
I was told he had lots of vinyl records from his personal collection that he was willing to sell. I waited eagerly for 10 minutes while the lady of the house finished her nap.
She led me back to Mr. Hung's room, where I waited another agonizing 20 minutes while he finished his nap.
My patience finally paid off, as he did indeed have lots of records. Lots and LOTS of records. Hundreds upon hundreds of Vietnamese records that he would happily sell to me! That is, if he hadn't just sold them to a British guy a couple weeks ago.
Well, almost. Luckily there were a few stragglers left in Mr. Hung’s collection, including a few records the English bloke rejected simply because they didn’t have sleeves (picky bastard!). Some of them are a bit worn, but that doesn't bother me one bit. At first I was disappointed to leave Vietnam with only a tiny stack of scratchy records, but as I've gotten to know these lovely gems I feel quite lucky to have found any at all. Perhaps they are easy to find on ebay, I have no idea, and I really don't care. Enjoy.