Coffee in the Shade, Hoi An Old Town

This photo was taken towards the end of July. For several weeks prior to this, Vietnam had experienced few new cases of covid-19, and none were community transmissions. The government had eased domestic travel restrictions, and Vietnamese travelers were returning to visit tourist centers like Hoi An. The people in the photo are from all over Vietnam. Not a mask in sight. The feeling, generally unspoken but real, was that Vietnam had dodged the covid-19 bullet and we could relax.

Within ten days of this photo being taken, covid-19 cases had spiked in Da Nang 20 km away, and all of the new infections were community transmissions. Authorities locked down Da Nang and sealed off the city, closing the airport and setting up police check points to restrict road access. Hoi An followed suit, locking down about a day after Da Nang had. By the time the lock down began, all of the tourists in Hoi An were gone – if I am not mistaken, the government organized road transport and extra flights to get people home as quickly as possible. Virtually everything closed in Hoi An and the streets were empty. People, yours truly included, were nervous. The virus was spreading by community transmissions and the epicenter of the spike was in nearby Da Nang.

Resolute action on the part of public health authorities combined with a local population cooperating with government efforts to contain the spread of the virus allowed Vietnam to get the late July spike in new cases under control by the end of August. But not before several hundred people became infected and more than 30 died. The lock down in Hoi An, which saw less and less “locked” as the end of August approached, ended formally a few days before the end of the month, and Da Nang re-opened several days later.

The rush to open up for tourism has not occurred this time as it did in the spring and summer of this year. Restaurants, shops and other businesses are open, people are out and about, but if the tourists have begun returning to Hoi An, I have not noticed. People are certainly relieved to resume life more or less as normal, but a wariness remains, a feeling that we still might not be done with this.

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Guangzhao Assembly Hall, Hoi An

In the past, this hall and several other assembly halls served as meeting places for Chinese traders and other Chinese living in Hoi An. Completed in 1885, the Guangzhao Assembly Hall was built well after Hoi An had passed its heyday as a major trading center along the Vietnamese coast. While some of the assembly halls served Chinese from particular parts of China, this hall was open to all members of the Chinese community in Hoi An.

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Japanese Bridge, Hoi An Old Town

The Japanese Bridge is probably the best known and definitely the most popular attraction in the Hoi An Old Town. When times are normal and the Old Town is crowded with tourists, the bridge is packed with people from morning well into the evening. Of course, these are not normal times. At 6:30 am on a recent Tuesday morning, there was not a soul in the frame when I took this shot. Though a couple of morning joggers passed through the bridge as I approached with my camera.

If one searches the Japanese Bridge in English, several travel sites provide colorful information about the site, with each site offering brief and rather different tales of the bridge’s origin and history.

I eventually found a Vietnamese language entry on the Vietnamese version of Wikipedia and made my way slowly – very slowly and with the help of Google Translate – through what it had to say. I arbitrarily decided this page written by a Vietnamese was more likely to be accurate than the fairy tales being fed to English speaking tourists. In any case, the bridge was built in the 17th century by Japanese traders. At the time, Hoi An was an important trading port on the coastal routes connecting China and Japan with SE Asia and India and the Arab Middle East beyond. The city housed resident communities of foreign merchants from several locales. One website speculates that Japanese built the bridge to facilitate contact with the Chinese merchant community on the other side of the waterway.

The bridge has been renovated or restored several times during its more than 300 year history. The Vietnamese information says that many of the original Japanese style features and decorations on the bridge have been replaced with Vietnamese and Chinese motifs.

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