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Vietnam’s Old Flames market sells relics of failed affairs

In this photograph taken on October 29, 2017, a love letter is displayed at a once-a-month ex lover’s market in Hanoi. Shuffling through Vietnam’s “Old Flames” market, curious customers leaf through old books, love notes, candles and clothes — relics from relationships past now on sale by jilted lovers. / AFP PHOTO / HOANG DINH Nam

HANOI — 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.

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“(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,” said Phuc Thuy, 29, who was selling clothes, purses and even a tube of toothpaste she acquired during a former romance.

Steady growth

The market has steadily grown since it opened in February, especially among Vietnam’s youth obsessed with social media and 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,” founder Dinh Thang said as a visitor strummed love songs on a guitar nearby.

Thang 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.

Expansion plan

Thang, who has also opened the doors to vendors selling new items, is planning to duplicate the concept next year in Vietnam’s commercial capital, Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon).

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For those who haven’t quite reached Thang’s stage of emotional postbreakup 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 message 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 arranged marriages were more common just a generation ago.

Social attitudes have changed as the country has become increasingly globalized and as its vast young population—more than 50 percent of the country is under age 30—embrace western dating norms.

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