HOI AN, VIETNAM
Billy and Akaisha
"Boat tour?" Hanging out on a
bridge over the Thu Bon River at the edge of Hoi An’s morning market, she
approached us. "Have boat, want to go?" In a 10 foot rowboat, up
and down the river, for 30,000 Dong an hour, she wanted to guide us.
Seeing this strikingly expressive and noisy town from the peaceful river was
most appealing. In bargaining with her for a two hour boat ride, she showed
an integrity and a naiveté missing in other vendors in this city. She
couldn’t understand why we didn’t believe her that $2 USD an hour was the
cost, or that anyone else would be charging either less or more. This was
the price, and it was fair.
NARROW ALLEYWAY TO BOAT
Following her down a small alleyway to her rowboat, we gingerly boarded.
Em was her name, and she spoke English very well. Soon, pieces of her life
gently spilled from her as she told us of her children, and of her husband
who fishes day and night to support them. She lives on one of the islands in
the center of the river and is up at 4:30 each morning
to see her family off to school or to the open sea. Her hands are leathered
from the sun, and her smile is warm. Although she learned English in school,
she perfected it while giving tours such as this one, and speaking with
foreigners. Even now, there was an eagerness to learn new words.
THE LOVELY AND GENTLE EM
The silence of the river and the rhythmic
rowing was seductive. It was soothing to be distanced from the hustle,
bustle, clamor and noise of Hoi An.
Em explained how every year during the
heavy September and October rains, the river floods. People are forced to
leave their homes and live on their boats. Whole families board these small
vessels and cook, eat and sleep for months, until the river water returns to
reasonable levels. All the houses along the river, the ones on the islands
in the center of the river, and even the market alongside get flooded,
regularly, at this same time of the season.
When the waters subside, it’s time to go
in, scrape out the mud and start over, living on land once again. Even the
riverside hotels must do the same thing, she said. What a daunting task!
Our two hours sped by
enveloped in this peacefulness, and we just had to have more. Plans were
made to meet her the following morning at 5:30 a.m., for an early view of
Before sunrise we were
ready to go. On our way to the bridge to meet Em, adults were lined up in
school yards doing exercises and stretching to music, using bamboo sticks
for balance. Children, too, were in groups in front of other buildings doing
routines for school or sport.
The market was bustling
as we neared the bridge. Fishermen and women with their fresh catch from the
river and the sea were lined up and fish were brought in to the stalls.
Women with their fruits and vegetables displayed on their mats were already
in rows. There was the distinct impression that we were “late”!
UNLOADING THEIR CATCH IS AN EARLY MORNING RITUAL
We again met with our riverboat friend,
and softly cruised up the river towards the sea. Viewing the night’s
fishermen and women coming to market from the vantage point of being on the
river was a revelation. Perpendicular to the market, boats were docked side
by side, with the earliest arrivals being the closest. Everyone with catch
to sell had to walk over the previously docked boat, with their baskets
filled to the brim.
Em knew many of the vendors and
fishermen, and spoke to all to find out how the evening went. One woman, who
looked especially fatigued, was explaining that she had been up all night,
and had only a little catch to show for it. Weatherworn, with bloodshot
eyes, she was holding the crab between the boat plank and her pedicured foot
as she was tying up the claws using banana leaf as string.
Silently, with only the
lapping of water and the distant muffle of human chatter, our small craft
continued on in the morning light. We came alongside a 75 year old toothless
woman who had hope for today’s gifts from the sea. She spoke of her seven
children, how her husband had died before her, and of the war. Rail thin,
and having endured Life’s beatings, she works every day to support herself,
so that she can eat. Her human beauty is blazing, obvious. She is a
More of the town is
awaking now, and there are ferries going from one side to the other filled
with school children in their au dais with their motorbikes or bicycles behind them.
GOING HOME WITH A FRIEND
Another young fisherwoman has her boat docked in the middle of
the river. She asks Em for a lift to the market with her sea goods so that she
can get there quickly. She deftly hauls her battered and taped styrofoam box
onto our small boat and climbs in. We rock and dip with the weight. Em apologizes for any inconvenience, but she cannot just leave a friend who
is in need, has asked for a favor and must support her family. The
fisherwoman barely looks at us. Arriving at the market dock, she leaps up,
barefoot, onto the concrete landing and hands her package over to a man who
jumps into a vehicle. The seafood is going to market forty minutes away in
Danang. She almost missed him.
It’s been another two hours that have sped by, filled with images of
daily Vietnamese river life. We have had the perfect guide. The respite from
the dissonance in town has been appreciated, and we hate to see it end.
If you visit Hoi An, and want to enjoy views of this town from a
different angle, seek out Em. She’s on the bridge every day, and the river
life she knows is peaceful, quiet and rewarding.
AND TRAVEL INFORMATION
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