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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Southern Gate, Imperial City, Hue

Southern Gate, Hue Citadel, Vietnam

Hue, today a small city in central Vietnam, served as the capital of the Nguyen dynasty from 1802 until the end of WWII in 1945 when the last emperor, Bao Dai, abdicated and the communist Viet Minh led by Ho Chi Minh established a government in Hanoi. As you may recall, Ho and the communists had some trouble making independence a reality. It was not until 30 years later that the North Vietnamese had managed to toss out the French and the Americans, defeat their rivals in the south of Vietnam, and establish a unified state. In any case, the Southern Gate (Ngọ Môn) pictured here was the principal ceremonial entrance to the Imperial Enclosure of the old Imperial City. Although restoration work is ongoing, the grounds and buildings inside are for the most part rather rundown, ironically giving the entire place a quietly muted grandeur. I was reminded of my first visit to the Temple of Heaven in Beijing in 1987, before all of the buildings had been restored and brightly painted, making the place look more like a movie set than the location used by Chinese emperors for imperial ceremonies. The Southern Gate has already been restored and its look and feel suggest that the Vietnamese may (thankfully) be a bit less “enthusiastic” than the Chinese in their approach to restoration.

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