Taking the opportunity to get in touch with his inner ‘bloke’, Brett Davis visits the big boys’ playground that is Dan Sinh Market.

Dan Sinh Market Taking the opportunity to get in touch with his inner 'bloke', Brett Davis visits the big boys' playground that is Dan Sinh Market.I do like the odd home improvement project. I’ve always considered myself fairly handy, able to fix things around the house or knock up a set of shelves. I even made a sweet coffee table once.

My old man was chiefly responsible for this modest ability. He showed me from a young age how to hold a drill and use a power saw and the importance of having the necessary kit around the house to do the job.

Unfortunately, I have not done much of the home handyman thing in recent years. I think for many expats it’s often easier and cheaper to hire someone in to do the job, and the idea of buying a lot of gear during what for many will be a temporary stay is not all that appealing.

After four years in Vietnam though, I started to feel like I was neglecting my man-of-the-house duties. So, I started to gather together a small collection of tools that come in handy around the house: some screwdrivers, pliers and wrenches. And they do because, well, things fall apart and it’s not always easy to get the landlord around to fix them up.

Recently, when my wife asked me (for a month or six) to hang some pictures, and then a colleague (who may or may not have been the publisher of this magazine) said I could borrow a power drill but never remembered to bring it in to the office, it seemed like a good opportunity to invest in a more serious piece of kit (and probably save my marriage).

Now I’m not much for shopping generally, but I could spend hours wandering around the mega-hardware stores in Australia. But without these cathedrals of gear and gadgets in Saigon, I headed for the local equivalent: Dan Sinh Market.

It’s my favourite market in town, and it’s definitely a good thing I don’t go often as I don’t think my income could cover all the things I’d like. The market fronts onto Yersin Street in District 1. The surrounding streets, up to Calmette, are all teeming with shops selling everything from paint to pipes, tools and electrical gear, making it a kind of hardware neighbourhood.

But it’s the bowels of Dan Sinh, with its hundreds of small shops and dimly-lit, narrow aisles, that are most interesting. Want an industrial air compressor? Got it. Fancy a chain saw? No problem. Need three screws? Choose from among 10,000. It’s that sort of place. When
AsiaLIFE‘s photo editor wanted old electronics like transistor radios and voltameters and flexible metal tubing to build robots for a photo project, where did he go? You guessed it.

I don’t want to be guilty of perpetuating gender stereotypes about how only guys are into tools, building stuff and that sort of thing. Although clearly that’s what I’ve been doing throughout the last 400 words or so. Of course there are women out there who love nothing better than getting their hands on a wood plane and getting into some serious timber shaping action. It’s just that generally these things split largely on gender lines, and as a bloke there is something that always feels kind of essentially ‘blokey’ when you’re doing a bit of tool work. Read that last sentence however you like.

The other great appeal of Dan Sinh Market is in the non-hardware items. It is a treasure trove of old junk and military artifacts. Which, understandably enough, is why it is sometimes referred to as the ‘old military market’, with its battered helmets, GI-issue torches, old ammunition boxes and much more.

Then there’s the just plain old stuff: coins, lamps, radios, cameras, watches and old photographs (dating from the ‘40s or ‘50s judging by the clothes and hair styles). And old typewriters — Christ, I love old typewriters. They don’t even have to work, I just like the way they look sitting on a shelf.

Useless stuff, for the most part, but I always want it nonetheless. Here is a test to determine if something at Dan Sinh falls into the ‘useless bloke stuff’ category. Go there with your wife or significant other and point to such an item and say you want to buy it. If the response is “What do you want that for?” then you know you are in the dropzone.

On this recent mission I was on my own, but managed to tear myself away from the tempting matter on display at these stalls and keep focused on the task at hand. I got my 13-volt Bosch GSB Professional power drill (thought you guys would want to know) and the other bits and pieces necessary to hang the requested pictures.

Now, just have to get around to doing it. But in the meantime, it feels really good to own a drill again.