March 17, 2018

The Russian dolls in Vietnam

Walking in old Hanoi, I was surprised to find a shop selling Russian stuff. They had Matryoshka dolls (also called Russian stacked dolls). Open the doll, you will find smaller and smaller dolls inside. There was a Putin themed Matryoshka doll too.

Russian shop in Hanoi

Russian shop in Hanoi

I remembered Saigon of the 1970s. In the downtown, where currently the Sheraton and the Sony store is, there used to be a large store called Saigon Departo.

Saigon Departo

They used to sell the Matryoshka dolls. These dolls were favourite of teenage girls. After school, the girls will go window shopping. Once they spotted a doll that they liked, they would skip desserts or even lunch to save money. They would come back and buy the doll when they had enough money. They used to exchange the inner dolls with each other. Interestingly, many kids thought that the doll was from Japan.

Russian dolls

Recently I read a memoir by a woman who grew up during up that time. She used to have a Matryoshka doll as a kid. In the 1980s, once she graduated, she worked as a scientist for a collective farm. While visiting a farmer’s house, the author saw the kids play with a makeshift doll that they had hacked out of straw. On her next visit back home to Saigon, the author located her Matryoshka doll. She cleaned it up and took it back to the farm for the kids. The kids had never seen a doll so pretty, they were happy.

On a subsequent visit to the house, the author found the inner dolls missing. She was upset. The farmer explained the kids gave the two inner dolls to two other kids who lived on the either side of their house. The author’s anger turned to delight. The doll that she had saved up to buy as a kid was now bringing joy to so many families.


Vietnam Russia Hanoi Saigon


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