“If You Haven’t Been to Bến Thành Market, You Haven’t Been to Vietnam”
In the mid-1990s, city planners considered proposals for an international trade center to be constructed on the site of Bến Thành market. These plans were suspended in the wake of the 1997 Asian financial crisis. By 2012, traders seemed more prosperous and secure in their middle-class status. Discussions of redevelopment continued, but they now praised the feminine allure of Bến Thành sellers who charmed tourists and generated enviable profits. These characterizations rested on essentialism about Vietnamese femininity, but instead of tradition, they highlighted a sophisticated, sexualized, and youthful Vietnamese femininity demanded by the spectacular political economy of appearances of the 2010s. It was also an economically foreboding femininity, for these new market women tended to be salaried clerks employed by men capitalizing on a highly speculative real estate market that threatened to price the more “traditional” female traders out of the chợ that had long seemed their natural home.
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