My time in Hoi An flew by faster than I realised, but it was very fulfilling. A smaller city, where rural living is desired, yet reliance on tourism suggests otherwise. Somehow both aspects mesh together. Cows walk along the road, near the river bed, while tourists cycle past in search of the old city. Riding down Cua Dai street, to get to the hustle and bustle of the old city is an adventure in itself, as one attempts to navigate the traffic. Cars, motorbikes, and cyclists negotiate giving way. I have observed however, that cyclists are more inclined to let speedier transport have priority – however this may be a premature observation, as I am generalising myself – a tourist – to all cyclists.
What stands out in the old city, are the lanterns – perhaps Hoi An’s biggest selling point – hanging from shops, and across rope, throughout the city. At night it is a sea of lights. Another famous attribute includes the tailoring services. Every time you walk by a shop, a person will call out, “You come and see”. If you so much as hesitate, this will trigger excitement, and they will be more motivated to get out of their chair and chase you down, “You come and see, many dresses for you.” All owners welcoming, and perhaps a little desperate. Concern with one’s business is a common theme. Our homestay remarked, that due to the increase in home stays, business for them over the last two years had gone down. It would not surprise me if the smaller tailoring shops on the way to the old city struggled with business as well. One of the people I spoke with – Dai, a restaurant owner – said, “Before people did business to earn enough for their family…now everyone thinks of money, our relationships have become more competitive”.
Something that used to attract people to Hoi An, were the beaches. However due to lack of care from resorts, the beaches have shrunk dramatically over the space of ten years, and are now almost non existent. We stopped to talk to a lady on the beach selling knick knacks and she said that many people used to come to this beach, but now it was almost gone, and now she makes little profit. The government will not let her sell her things anywhere else. Life for her, did not seem easy.
From my time in Hoi An, I learned that people are proud of their traditions, and want to carry them into the future. Yet there is a sense of uncertainty – a sense of losing one’s identity – in the swarm of tourists Hoi An attracts. The challenge will be stepping into the modern future, while maintaining what one values. The question remains however, are values shifting? Is economic gain outweighing a community focus? Is the collective turning into the individualistic? I can’t help but wonder all these things, after visiting such a colourful city, filled with diverse perspectives.