Vietnam: Threading in Hoi An

On the way back to our hotel in Hoi An one afternoon, a young woman offered to pop my zit. The whole thing started with a long white string she held to my face as I tried to squeeze through a throng of sweaty shoppers at the outdoor market.

img_2603“You want to try?” she asked. I looked at the petite woman-child with perfectly arched eyebrows and hot pink lip gloss and shook my head on instinct. Whatever she was offering, I didn’t want it.

As scooters honked and nosed their way through the crowd, the traveling beautician shadowed me with her tail of floss. “Your eyebrows too thick. Let me help.” She came at my eye with the string, but I blocked her advance with my forearm.

At my hair salon in downtown Chicago, I’d noticed threading listed on the menu of spa options, but I’d never seen it performed. Nor had I considered embarking upon a procedure that to my mind could provide only questionable results.

“No, thank you,” I said and trot-walked to my husband, now a small dot in the distance. I thought I’d ditched her, but like an unsinkable Cheerio, she popped up from behind, this time on my right side.

fish“Oh, pimple!” she said. “Right here!” She pointed to the bottom of her right jaw and then at mine. “Let me get that for you. Free! Free!”

Was this woman really offering to somehow remove my heat/air-pollution/travel-induced pimple with her thread? Or was she just going to pop it with her bare hands, right here amongst the festering fish heads and used bicycle parts?

Maybe blemishes don’t evoke the same kind of humiliation in Vietnam that they did when I was growing up in Texas. When I got my first whitehead, a painful swelling that over a matter of days had grown into what I called an undergrounder, my friend’s perfectly put together mother asked me what had happened to my face.

img_2599“Did someone hurt you?” she asked.

I remember touching my cheek, which was hot and angry not only from my meddling the night before but also from shame. The pimple was evidence of what I knew to be true: I had done something wrong.

Maybe I’d eaten too much chocolate, not washed my face well enough or with the right product, or worn too much foundation and face powder in the Texas heat.

I felt ugly, dirty, and embarrassed. Nothing like the models in Seventeen or TigerBeat. So when my older brother–no doubt gleeful to take advantage of my ignorance about all things pubescent–advised me to get rid of it with a pair of tweezers, I did.

fullsizerender-7The result was predictable: I looked like I’d been punched in the face by someone wearing a rock of a solitaire. What was my brother thinking? What was I thinking? Our reasoning no longer flickers, not even dimly, in our middle-aged minds.

But I do know that that day in the market, thirty years later, my inner schoolgirl wanted to believe the Thread Fairy could bestow me with flawless skin and neatly arched eyebrows like hers. Not to mention the whole ancient epilation ritual would have made for an interesting tale.

But the older me, the one who now understands how pointless it is to hunt down someone else’s ideal of feminine beauty with strings, tweezers, lancets, or any other barbaric tool, looked Thread Fairy in the eye and said, “I’m good.”



Categories: VietnamTags: , , ,


  1. Omg I laughed out loud the whole way through this threading fairy story!!!

    I’m resting my old lady legs Monica.. even though I was taking daily morning walks with the dogs before this European trip, the pounding of pavement and bricks is taking a horrible toll on my feet and ankles!… My god! Capillaries are busting right and left! (And there’s no way I’m wearing my hiking boots in Vienna or Amsterdam so only my vain self to blame)

    Sent from my iPhone


    Liked by 1 person

  2. I hear ya, Susan. My dogs bark in every language! Glad I could give you a laugh while you gave your “pups” a much-deserved rest. 🙂


  3. “I’m good” – true that.

    Nice pics, BTW.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I wonder how they were going to pop your pimple- I feel like it’d definitely make it worse

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I was thinking all the way through this, “Don’t do it, don’t do it!!!” I could just see things going way worse. I’m sure most cultures know how vain American women can be… and perhaps she tailed you so intently because it has worked for her in the past. Great post… I love the candid way you cover all aspects of world travel!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s true, Lori. We American women can be a very vain breed. But so far, I’ve seen women in every country who could give us a run for the money. I’ve never really thought about it, but you make an interesting point. I think I’ll start paying closer attention to female vanity when we’re in different countries. Could be an essay! 🙂


  6. Isn’t it odd how easily we believe there is something wrong with us just because we don’t meet whatever the current version of the ideal woman is? Especially when we are young. I remember being mortified by my first real zit! But even then, I wouldn’t have allowed a stranger on the street to pop it. Good decision!!!


  7. I think you should have done it. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  8. By the way, that last photo is amazing.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Glad You ‘Resisted’ that dubious ‘Temptation,’ my Dear Monica! You are ‘Good’ indeed, in every way! Regards. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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