At Vietnam’s Old Flames market, curious customers peruse love letters and pick through perfumes, candles and clothes – relics from failed relationships put on sale by forlorn lovers.
Entrepreneurial exes meet once a month, bringing their baggage – emotional and literal – to a converted cottage on a leafy Hanoi street to find a new home for items they can no longer bear to look at.
It’s also a means of moving on.
“[After a breakup] I’m very sad, I can’t drink or eat... but after a while I pick myself up. The past is in the past,” says Phuc Thuy, 29, who was selling clothes, purses and even a tube of toothpaste she acquired during a former romance.
The market has steadily grown since it opened in February, especially among Vietnam’s social-media obsessed youth, unabashed about sharing intimate details of their everyday lives.
“Young people are more open-minded and they want to share deeply and widely to overcome pain, without suffering alone,” says founder Dinh Thang, as a visitor strummed love songs on a guitar nearby.
He started the market after a few bitter breakups left him with unwanted paraphernalia from a now extinguished passion.
He proudly displays love letters, heart-strewn birthday cards and sentimental scrapbooks from his ex as a reminder that such memorabilia need not be painful forever.
He’s also opened the doors to vendors selling new items, and is planning to duplicate the concept in Vietnam’s commercial capital Ho Chi Minh City next year.
For those who haven’t quite reached Thang’s stage of emotional post-breakup enlightenment, he’s set up a message board to pen notes to exes.
“To all my ex-lovers, I’m sorry because I feel like we never really knew each other,” read one remorse-tinged message. Another was more succinct: “I’M FINE!!!”
Thang hopes the market will make the topic of breakups less taboo in Vietnam, a conservative communist nation of 93 million where just a generation ago arranged marriages were more common.
Social attitudes have changed as the country has become increasingly globalised and as its vast young population – more than 50 percent of the country is under age 30 – embrace western dating norms.
That includes Internet dating.
“Many young people meet online, date online and break up online,” says Bui Manh Tien, Youth Programme Officer at United Nations Population Fund in Vietnam.
Today, men and women are waiting longer to get married and divorce rates are also ticking up, according to official figures.
“We don’t want to give up our freedom too early and get tied to family responsibility when we’re young, we want to enjoy life before getting married,” Tien, 25, adds.
For some, the Old Flames market is simply a place to make new connections, romantic or otherwise.
“I came here to meet people and to see the goods, explore why they used to be a very beautiful memory,” says Tieu Khuy, before picking up a used copy of Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice”.