Traffic fumes and horns couldn’t be blocked out, even by the surly guard at The Resort Hotel. They drifted over him laughing, “You can’t catch me!”
I skirted the hotel restaurant, pristine chairs in place, table runners immaculate. Napkins rolled and caged in bamboo irons, aching to be set free and fluttered into laps. Their life cycle was to be gobbed on, washed and re-caged.
Black capped waiters in branded aprons rushed in flurries, throwing smiles at me as I passed. Safety, formality, consumerism, blended with the beauty of the river meandering past. Tiny tug boats put-putted by, carrying a precious cargo of tourists inside. It didn’t feel like my Hoi An but I was visiting friends who were on holiday from London.
Skirting the restaurant I arrived at a large manicured garden, where sets of wicker chairs held sedated tourists sipping wine.
I took a chair. I was early and had a rare moment of no kids or work. Colour filled my vision. A red flower in the tree above was glowing so loud it was practically shouting at me;
“Hello there! Look at me, at only me, look how I glow in the sun! There is another flower on this tree but you won’t notice it because that red flower is in the shade. I have taken all the sun, I soak it up and luxuriate in it. I am beautiful and I glow. I stretch up to the sky and the sky smiles only at me because the sky loves me. I am tall and elegant, the other flower is bent and withering on it’s spine. It calls to me,
‘I don’t have any sun, can you spare me some?’
‘No!’ I say, ‘You decided to grow over there, I’m pretty sure you had some light earlier and now it’s my time to shine and I will not share with you.’
‘But if you share your light now I will share my light with you when it comes to me and you are in the shade.’
‘I don’t need your light. I will keep the sun here with me for the rest of time.’
‘But it doesn’t work like that. You cannot keep the sun with you. However much you want to. The sun will pass over you and you will be in the shade again.’
‘Then how can you share your light with me when it comes? No, this is your time in the shade and you must learn to love it, just as much as I am now enjoying the light.’
You know I’m right don’t you?!” said the flower to me.
The flower was right. We can’t hold on to the sun, in the same way we can’t hold on to the shade. As with all things this too shall pass.
As I sit with the memory of The Resort Hotel in the Summer before Covid, it’s hard to imagine that Hoi An will ever be graced by tourists again. And Hoi An needs tourists like the flowers need the sun. Local people are having it hard right now. While myself and other Ex-pats guiltily enjoy a return to empty streets, we have never been so aware of how much the local people depend on tourism.
Us Ex-pats are blessed to live this life among our Vietnamese friends and for sure we bring benefits with us. But it’s tourism that is the true backbone of Hoi An and without the tourists hundreds of businesses have failed already.
Today as I look out over the ocean from my writing desk in rainy season, I can’t see where the grey of the ocean ends and the grey of the sky begins. It reminds me of being nineteen, and in the throws of depression.
Back then my Father’s garden was covered in a thin layer of icy snow and as I starred out at it I thought, there are seeds under there. Under the snow and under the ground. There are seeds and in the Spring the snow will disappear and green shoots will come through the earth. It seemed impossible, but I could imagine it and my experience of winter told me it must be so.
So as Covid rages across the globe, I hope for a vaccine. I imagine the scientists working their day and night shifts. The meetings of the corporations, even the companies who make the syringes. All the seeds growing roots underneath this Covid infested planet.
We wait for the roots to grow, the shoots to pierce, the rain to cease, the tourists to come back and the sun to make us light again.
In the meantime here are the links to two charities that you can donate your money or your time to, to help our Vietnamese friends.
If you are struggling with depression or anxiety please visit the NHS UK
If you are based in the UK and need support from a mental health charity click here