18 August 2005

Enhanced Photos and Cheap Books

I need to get a “health check”, which in other countries means an HIV/AIDS test, but possibly here it is more. I went to the clinic, but didn’t have the requisite 2 photos and passport. I also needed 2 photos for the Ministry of Education, so on the way home dropped by the photo shop. Great; in my casual clothes, drenched in sweat, make-up worn off. Just how I wanted to be immortalized in the public record.

I figured it would be like in the States – walk in, sit down, snap, you’re done. Entering the small shop, my colleague explained the need for pics, and we were directed to the back. We passed through an even smaller room where 3 people worked at computers. I thought maybe it was also an internet café. Then on through another door to the picture taking room.

The photographer indicated the hot seat, and I sat down and fidgeted while he arranged his camera. Then I gave him my best smile. He stopped focusing, came out from behind the camera, adjusted my head up and left, then played with my hair a bit before returning to the job at hand. I grinned, he clicked. He looked down at his camera and shook his head. My colleague went over to look at the picture and a rapid conversation ensued. We needed to take another shot. Again, the photographer tilted my head just so, brushed some loose hair behind my ear, and click. This time all seemed in order. I went to peer at the shot.

Can I see the first, I asked, what was wrong with it?
“You smiled too much”. Huh? “It doesn’t look good if you smile too much”. From the way they were talking I got the impression that a total, police-blotter mug-shot would have been preferable.
“And don’t worry; we can do something about your clothes”. Huh?
“They will put you in a professional-looking blouse and fix anything on your face.”

As we walked back to the front, I again looked at the ‘internet-café”, and realized they were actually digitizing wedding photos and the like. In the front, I was shown examples of 10 different style tops I could “wear” and in at least 20 different patterns and colors. This was going to be fun. I choose 2 different ao dai, (ow yai), the traditional Vietnamese woman’s tunic; close fitted bodice with mandarin collar. The pics would be ready in 24 hours.

Next on the list was the bookstore for notebooks and to check out what English teaching materials they had. I couldn’t believe what was available – some of my favorite books that I could never afford, and they were dirt cheap. But they looked odd. The size was much smaller than what I had remembered. Maybe the export market to Vietnam was different. I picked up a copy – it was the same book, same cover, high quality paper, but uh oh, it was a copy! Now, I have been in enough countries where, if you want a copy of a costly book, you just stroll on down to the corner copy place and get it down. But I have never been in a country where high quality copies are actually sold in a bookstore! Needless to say, I would never purchase such copies that were in such blatant violation of copyright laws, no matter how cheap they were, or how much I wanted them.

But back to my mug-shots which I picked up today. They turned out way cool. Small as they are, you can still see that I know have perfect skin and look quite the international woman in my ow dai. Guess it is back to the hospital for that medical check, sometime tomorrow. Can’t wait…..