Dear Hoi An,

I just want to have a leisurely walk around your Old Town on this, my day off. I don’t want a postcard. I’m OK without any bananas or pineapples or mangoes or whatever that is you’re frantically pointing to in your basket by the market. My name isn’t “Hey You” or “Hey Man”. I’ve already had lunch; it’s 3pm. I won’t be taking a tour today. And no, I’m not interested in a cyclo ride. Or a motorbike ride. Or a tailored suit. Or shoes. Or bracelets. I don’t want anything with flashing lights. I don’t need an umbrella or a toy that flies into the air when you pull its string.

I’d like to have a nice dinner overlooking the river at Mango Rooms, but I’m afraid to sit outside. You’ll attack me. You’ll assume I want peanuts, or candied ginger, or dried fruit. Maybe all of the above. I don’t. I want to eat in peace and enjoy the view. I’ve come to accept that this isn’t going to happen, so I’m eating inside in the corner facing a wall. I see the walk back to my hotel as a sort of gauntlet or obstacle course more than anything else.

I don’t think you care where I’m from. I don’t think you really want to know my name. It’s just the beginning of your pitch. Your shop looks nice but I’m not interested; there’s no need to follow me down the street. You’ve made me bitter and I don’t like that. Even when I purchase something–like when I bought batteries the other day–it isn’t enough for you. You want to add on a digital camera or a guided tour or a bus ride or a small child. I think you’d sell me your left foot if I inquired over the price. (Not interested.)

I used to say “no thank you” and smile, but now I just stare at the ground and hope you’ll let me pass. I don’t think I’m the only one. Lots of people will come to your defense, and you won’t listen to me anyway. You’ve always been a bit stubborn. But you know, I think we should see less of each other. It’s not you. It’s me. Or well actually I think it is you. I’ll send you a postcard if someone will let me buy it on my own terms.

One thought on “Dear Hoi An,

  1. Dear Aaron,

    Here’s another view on your jaded view of the beautiful town of Hoi An.

    Granted, there are touts here, yes there are more everyday. Um, er, this is the same anywhere in SE Asia, India, indeed in any place where there are many industrious ordinary working people just beginning to discover or re-discover wealth. But alas, Hoi An IS a standout. Why? Because this town has been a major trading port for close to 2000 years. The Chams were trading from here from about 400AD. Locals have been trying it out on outsiders for hundreds and hundreds of years before you came along. It doesn’t matter if the outsider is Japanese, Chinese, Dutch, Siamese, Portugeuse, MARCO POLO, or whatever. Have a think about that.

    Indeed you seem so very upset that people are trying to sell you things here, invite you into their store etc. MY GOD, A LADY TRIED TO SELL ME FRUIT AT THE MARKET, YE GADS! Have you spent ANY time outside of the tourist/expat strip? If so you would notice that Vietnamese people everywhere treat other Vietnamese exactly the same way. Yes, they ARE an industrious bunch, and very straight-forward. But rarely do I find Vietnamese shopkeepers as rude as a shop assistant at Myer, Grace Bros or whatever department store you care to mention. Maybe you should experiment with some real encounters with Vietnamese people and try to at least acknowledge the culture you have CHOSEN to live in. But hey, you probably only care for stuff like dollar beers and cheap rent hey?

    I just hope that the ‘Dear John style’ ending of your ‘letter’ truly indicates that it really IS all over for the relationship between you and Hoi An.

    Nobody made you bitter but yourself mate, maybe it’s time to just pack up and go home.

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