The bride is hoisted onto the roof of the American bunker that once guarded the beautiful, green green Hai Van Pass between Hoi An and Hue. For me this symbolises the new Vietnam; superimposing on the horrors of the past, the creation of new memories.
You can’t know anything much after 2 weeks in a country but Vietnam was stamped into the psyche of my generation by the “domino theory” war. (How proud I am again that as a young student I marched in opposition to my government’s insane involvement.) Add to that the immigration of so many Vietnamese to my city, then I am off to a flying start.
The photos in this blog, as in my others, are essentially to remind me in years to come of the times I had there and I hope, in passing bring some pleasure to others.
To set the scene:
After nearly a century of French colonialism, the Viet Minh fought the first Indochina War which ended in partition. This saw the beginning of the civil war in 1954, later involving the USA and its allies. After the North’s success, North and South Vietnam were merged to form the Socialist Republic of Vietnam on 2 July 1976. The war left Vietnam devastated, with the total death toll variously estimated to be between between 1.3 and 3.1 million.
Growth since has been rapid. In 2014 there were 90.5 million Vietnamese with 24% under 15. The country is tipped by some to be the fastest-growing of the world’s emerging economies by 2025 with a potential growth rate of almost 10% per annum.
Cities of the centre:
Hoi An – city of lanterns – is a World Heritage listed town which retains the charm of the old despite the tourist numbers.
Roller skating through the Da Nang a few times, I saw the new Vietnam, a slick, affluent, neoned modern CBD with the cutting edge architecture of the regional admin. centre and the sports stadia; a city fringed with huge resorts.
A flying visit to Hue was the first sight of the colonial French boulevards and in the architecture of the re-built Imperial city with resonances of Chinese rule. (Vietnam was part of Imperial China for over a millennium, from 111 BC to AD 938).
Lining up for the return trip through the Japanese built tunnel under the Pass are the smartest, newest fleet of transport trucks I have ever seen.
My starting image was the bride at Hai Van pass so it seems right that I should dwell on the many brides I saw being posed for photos of their big days. The arrangement of the shot takes great concentration to the total lack of interest of the passers-by. The ever charming Vietnamese are happy to share their best faces with an enthusiastic tourist.
The women of Vietnam
I was enchanted by the older women; there is an air of strength and endurance, a beauty that comes from having seen and perhaps suffered much. Significantly, the only three businesses we asked about – a food school, a hotel group and a tailor employing 130+ were all owned by women.
And perhaps my most favourite of all:
Hoi An is on the river and it seems that women particularly work the tourist waterways. At night moored barges provide bars and in the day ferries ply to the island loaded with the ever-present motor scooters
While Hoi An is essentially a tourist town now and its primary activities seem to be dressmaking for the tourists and feeding them,on the streets there are still signs of traditional craft being followed.
One can’t go to Vietnam without taking about the food. In Hoi An, Madam Vy seems to have it sewn up with four restaurants and a cooking school (minimum US$25 for a 2 hour course and 3 of these a day plus longer more expensive classes. There was no shortage of takers. A favourite, Mango Mango, boasts a winning chef not just cooks.
I gave into my OCD tenancy photographing these. So many scooter drivers and a few pedestrians wore colourful face coverings. One lass told me it was to keep the sun from the skin. Pollution didn’t seem high but perhaps they were a protection from motor scooter fumes. As a fashion statement a patterned mask was often combined with a floral hoodie and different patterned pants. The sight of a scooter woman in high heels, tight skirt, helmet and mask dotted the traffic
But you can’t talk about the scooters without talking about cyclos. There are 130 in Hoi An and one night we saw up to 3 dozen lined up taking tourists, mostly Chinese or Korean, in a single file experience through the town
Hoi An is a UNESCO world heritage site.The street scape is dominated by the pumpkin coloured, French influenced 19th/20th century buildings. A few old traditional wooden houses remain while Chinese architecture is represented in a small number of Chinese Community Centres.
When you travel, it is common to glimpse a passing scene, a life, an oddity or an amusement that fits nowhere neatly. Here are a few from Hoi An :