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WHERE THE MAGIC HAPPENS [#WTMH]

ACU BIEN TRAVELS: - Hoi An city, Vietnam - Part I

Gus Franklyn-Bute Editor-in-Chief

Updated August 2018, HOI AN CITY – Vietnam’s story is one of a practical, resourceful people with a tragic, devastating history of war and obliteration, who against all odds strive to make the smallest of anything, into the most of everything.

Hoi An city: rhythmic, pulsing heartbeats of “erratic” social harmony

I am captivated. My arms are gently folded and I am leaning against the aged, stone façade at the entrance of Hoi An Historic Hotel. An unhurried sunset is approaching and the late afternoon light is reluctant to give way to nightfall. The ambience is bewitching and I am powerless to resist the magnetic dalliance of the growing autocade on Tran Hung Dao Street.

Hoi An (會安) translates as “peaceful meeting place” and the ancient city is at ease with itself. At the sunrise-sunset bookends of each day traffic converge to create a well-ordered chaos as commuters on cycles, motorbikes and in cars and buses assemble in an effortless ebb and flow, rise and fall to perform a vu phien (Vietnamese fan dance) in rhythmic, pulsing heartbeats of an “erratic” social harmony.

The daily spectacle in Hoi An is a curious  Cirque de Soleil and one cannot help but applaud tourists on hired bikes braving the bedlam as they nervously blend, hem and haw, in to the daily Vietnamese pageant. To the safety conscious traveller this Hoi An experience is a vacation of Running the Bulls (Feast of San Fermín; Encierro) at Pamplona in northern Spain instead of the ease of a Barcelona city-break. Somehow, it all works. Traffic moves steadily, pausing momentarily at the command of lights – red, amber, green.  Rush hour in Hoi An is a spectacle far more exhilarating than the daily frustrations of rush hour commuter madness of New York, London or Port-of-Spain, Trinidad. 

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Hoi An city: beauty, utility and high value

The beauty of this living, breathing historic city – an UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1999 – is more profound than simple traffic gazing.  The daily caravans twisting along Hoi An’s major roads are as good a place as any to observe and admire the culture, character and splendour of the communities in the Quảng Nam province along Vietnam’s South Central Coast. Vietnam’s jewels are its 54 distinct ethnic identities officially recognised by the government of Vietnam. The communities of Hoi An and Quảng Nam are an ingenious people with a wherewithal, curiosity and affability towards each other and visitors – characteristics that are fragrant of the Caribbean people and region.

The  resourcefulness of Vietnamese people is both evident and essential for survival. A moped or bicycle is more than a mode of transport for travelling from A-to-B. Indeed, its utility is arguably of greater value to the average Vietnamese than the family car of most North American and European households. The mom carrying five children on moped may be an amusing photo opportunity for visitors, but she will never have access to financing option to purchase a shiny black Range Rover to make those yummy mummy school runs.

Standing at ease observing the remnants of the day, a crescendo of blaring horns and voices punctuate the green-hot, December dusk. I truly began to understand that the protagonists, these players in this curtain-raiser are living a remarkable Vietnamese story – one of a practical, resourceful people, with a tragic and devastating history of war and obliteration, who against all odds strive to make the smallest of anything, into the most everything. Most mopeds are carrying two, three, or several passengers in closeness and comfort. From the curb I see families, friends, colleagues and neighbours glide by happily on two wheels, faces garlanded in contentment and exchanging conversations – a far cry from the motoring lifestyle in any European, North American or Caribbean city.

Hoi An city: road hogs

Once my mind to travelled beyond notions of safety (no one seems to travel at unsafe speeds and most wear protective headgear) I saw real order and rules in what to the observor may appear to be utter chaos. One cannot help but smile and marvel at the sights and sounds, shaking ones head in utter amusement. Babies are wedged snugly between driver and pillion. Older children are perched on sedan-like chairs (miniature high chairs) affixed to the space between the driver’s legs and front shaft of scooters. Tables, cabinets, animals, household items of all shapes and sizes are expertly balanced and is commonplace consignment. The 6-feet gas canister and enormous wire rack stacked with tourist souvenirs made one chuckle the most. Cirque de Soleil, indeed. Hoi An city and Vietnam surely is Where The Magic Happens #WTMH.

Gus Franklyn-Bute lives in London and travels extensively Read about his moral dilemma and a lesson in gratitude in Part II of his travels to Hoi  An city, Vietnam.

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4 August, 2018

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