Hoi An, Vietnam

The Vietnamese Port That Got to See Ships

blessed rest
Two villagers rest in the shadow of the gaudy facade of a Hoi An temple.
A fluvial bustle
Boatmen, vendors and porters work on vessels much smaller than those the Thu Bon River once admitted to.
Guaranteed shadow
City dweller shelters from the tropical sun under a Vietnamese hat not there.
A Vietcong Heritage
An obvious Soviet-inspired street banner promotes the virtues of Communism.
tropical margin
Palm trees, coconut trees and boats with Vietnamese flags add color to one of the banks of the Thu Bon River.
The Japanese Bridge
Residents prepare to enter the dark of Hoi An's only covered bridge, the old Japanese bridge.
Aroma & Spirituality
Incense purifies one of the various Buddhist temples in Hoi An where, in addition to the Vietnamese, there are still Chinese communities and Japanese descendants.
The possible liming
Small boats and low drafts circulate in the flow near the silted mouth of the Thu Bon River.
Banana Holder
Seller tries to group bread bananas in order to facilitate their transport.
sincere marketing
One of the city's many tailors appeals to visitors, in writing, to stop looking in his shop window and buy.
Full Load
Boat loaded with bicycles and other goods travels along the Thu Bon River, just in front of Hoi An.
Vietnamese style
Residents pass in front of a gaudy Buddhist temple in Hoi An, dressed in unmistakable Vietnamese fashion.
China Sea fish
Fishmongers and buyers discuss prices for freshly caught fish.
Weight and counterweight
A woman balances a load on one shoulder just as the Vietnamese have done for centuries.
Fresh fish
Fishmongers chat at a fish market by the Thu Bon River.
Hoi An was one of the most important trading posts in Asia. Political changes and the siltation of the Thu Bon River dictated its decline and preserved it as the most picturesque city in Vietnam.

The China Sea continued to make us its own.

As we traveled, little by little, the 150 km from Hué to the south, we passed through peculiar roadside plots. We could have enjoyed them better, but a thick fog creeping over the coast from the east enveloped them most of the morning.

Once we arrived in Hoi An, the weather changed. The fog dissipated under the power of the tropical sun and gave blazes of soft light that increased in intensity and duration until they annihilated the mist and left the city uncovered, with the torrid heat much more usual from those places to wash away the old facades colonial.

Hoi An's historic core lay a few scattered miles north of the river's estuary. Aware of the easy navigability of the village, we rented two patisseries just like those used by the residents.

These soon took refuge en masse under their hats not the. It's been a long time since we've seen those yellowish and graceful cones in such great concentration, nor a Vietnam so pleasing to the eye and, at the same time, genuine and hyperactive, we dare to conclude that with a busy pace similar to that which seduced by those sides the Portuguese navigator, adventurer, merchant and privateer, António de Faria.

At a certain point in his life, Faria admitted Fernão Mendes Pinto to his service. Both had a strong connection to Montemor-o-Velho and the former led the new subject in various adventures and misadventures, robberies and massacres that Mendes Pinto narrated in “Peregrinação”. Faria has, by the way, a preponderant role in the epic.

He was the first European to visit and establish regular contact with these Asian coordinates.

After disembarking in Danang (a little further north), he came across the commercial influence of that area and sought to establish an entrepot in Faifo – as Hoi An was known among European merchants – in the center of an area to which the Portuguese they soon nicknamed Cauchichina, Cauchi probably adjusted to Giao Chi, its original name. Thereafter, the West used the Cochinchina adaptation.

As for the outpost, it would only be founded at the turn of the XNUMXth century, almost fifty years after Faria's death, by a native sovereign of the Nguyen dynasty. Faifo was the first place in Vietnam exposed to Christianity. It became such an influential city that the Portuguese Jesuits installed one of their two Asian residences there.

With the superior purpose of evangelizing, Gaspar d'Amaral and Duarte da Costa carried out an immense work of transcription of religious writings encoded in a Latinization of the Vietnamese language.

Between 1624 and 1644, Alexandre de Rhodes, a French missionary, perfected these informal efforts, published the Dictionarium Annamiticum Lusitanum et Latinum  and it generated the lasting quoc ngu conversion that allows us to read, even without realizing it, all the Vietnamese words.

As it is common to still find in Vietnam, as we walk through the streets and alleys we come across banners and banners with Soviet graphics, true propagandist testimonies of the Vietcong triumph. Architecture, on the other hand, has nothing to do with it.

Large sequences of buildings erected at the beginning of the 800th century, or older, remain in the streets. In total, there are more than XNUMX structures with serious historical importance and which, still used, give more life to the city. There are houses and shops, wells, small temples and chapels, pagodas, communal buildings, assemblies and halls of Chinese congregations, tombs and bridges.

We pass two old men resting at the door of one of the temples identified as Chua Ong. If one of them is even sitting, the other remains relaxed, both relaxed in such a way that they seem to be part of the gaudy and mythological painting in the background.

Nearby, we find the Japanese covered bridge, perhaps the most famous monument in Hoi An, which we crossed, in the dark, and in the company of a couple of cyclists and kids in school uniforms.

The first bridge in that place was erected by the Japanese community of Hoi An, in 1593, as a connection to Chinatown on the other side of the narrow river branch. The builders created a solid structure that would resist earthquakes and provided it with a roof to ensure protection from both rain and sun.

Over time, its ornamentation remained relatively faithful to the original Japanese. The name that appears at the door of this temple – Chua Cau – was inscribed to replace the initial of Ponte Japonesa. But “Bridge for Passersby from afar” was not a big hit.

And yet, it is what we are there and what we continue to be.

Even used to the presence of outsiders, the natives look them up and down, intrigued as to whether the female half of the duo is their fellow countrymen.

We don't need to walk far until we hit the main stream of Thu Bon and reach the entrance of another bridge, An Hoi, this discovery. There, the attention of the mob of pedestrians, cyclists, drivers and embarked workers goes to the bottom of the river where a boatwoman was trying to recover any merchandise or possessions dropped by someone who was crossing.

There's nothing we can do to help. We continue to admire the bustle of navigation and loading and unloading over the greenish flow.

Dozens of Vietnamese flags fluttering in the wind from small wooden barges, with their five-pointed yellow star representing the five groups of workers at the base of communism and shrouded in the red of bloodshed and revolutionary struggle.

From the XNUMXth to the XNUMXth century, the flags waved much higher and with greater diversity. During this period, large vessels from Portugal and from many other countries were able to dock right at the entrance to the village and load and unload products.

On their return, Western ships carried silk, paper, tea, ivory, wax, molasses, mother-of-pearl, lacquer, spices, Asian ceramics, sulfur and lead.

Taking into account the change of era, today, you can still buy a little of everything in the city, but we do not miss the huge number of tailors who display their clothes in windows without windows facing the city streets.

And that one of them calls on a handwritten poster in English: “Stop looking. They found the most honest, friendly, selfless and most accurate craftsman in Hoi an.” Hoi An was not always so helpful to outsiders.

Between 1770 and 1780, it was the scene of a fierce rebellion led by two brothers named Tay Son, at the head of thousands of peasants who opposed trade with foreign nations.

The conflict nearly destroyed the city completely, but Faifo was rebuilt and returned to serve as a key port for trade between Asia and the West.

Until, at the end of the XNUMXth century, the Thu Bon river that links Hoi An to the China Sea silted up and became too shallow to accommodate large vessels. Gifted with this setback, northern rival Danang wasted no time in taking his place.

To Hoi An, the French settlers reserved the role of administrative center. Unlike so many other Vietnamese cities, Hoi An was spared the worst destruction of American bombing during the conflict that pitted the communist north against the south, from 1955 to 1975.

As a rule, visitors' gratitude increases as the small town enchants them more.

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