The signs of a rapidly modernizing society are all around here in Hoi An.
Motorbikes are the main modern convenience you find everywhere in Vietnam, and Hoi An is no exception.
However, the things which you may know from movies about Vietnam:
- Conical straw rice hats
- Women carrying baskets of fruit or buckets of soup balanced by a bar across their shoulders
- Large and small (but very distinctive) fishing boats
- Dirt floor homes
- People harvesting rice paddies
Are all still very much here.
The gap between those who have and those who don’t doesn’t seem as pronounced, but maybe that’s my limited experience here so far.
Or perhaps it’s because everyone seems to be busy working at something, and so the separation between rich and poor is harder to see.
No one has time to be begging. They all seem to be busy working at something.
Even the guy who is blind and has one leg wanders around the old town on a crutch selling post cards.
Even some of the women who nod off while selling tailored suits and tailored clothing here in Hoi An are busy waiting for the next customer to walk in the door. We’ve learned that many of them work 7 days per week, some from 9 AM to 8 PM, every day.
“When do you take a vacation?”
Something to consider is that because of cultural traditions, many of the women working in the tailor shops also live with their mothers-in-law. Some have told us that this makes work a desirable place to be away from home. Some of them don’t mind 7 days per week of work for this reason.
To be sure, this is an interesting and different way of living.
Overall, we are very impressed with Vietnam, and in particular we are enjoying Hoi An quite a bit.
It actually gets quiet at night in Hoi An (a bit of an anomaly when compared with many places we’ve been), and we don’t have any roosters nearby our hotel although the person next door to the hotel has a yippy dog, and another neighbor has a mockingbird.
The mockingbird impersonates a car alarm.
But thankfully, neither the dog nor the mockingbird start up until about 8:30 AM.
I don’t know what all the political or social issues might be in Vietnam (or in Hoi An specifically), but from what I can tell, the majority of people feel that they can make a decent living doing what they’re doing now, but maybe aren’t making enough to really get ahead.
That seems to be the general sense for people all over the world.
It also seems here that many people are involved in the same trade that their family has been involved in for generations, but that as time and tourism bring more and more people to Hoi An, those backgrounds get more and more blended with tourism.
A few people have told us that if the tourism suddenly dried up in Hoi An, they don’t know what they would do to earn a living.
Apparently it wasn’t that way just 5 years ago
In the case of Vietnam (and in particular Hoi An) the majority of work being done seems to be within a couple of industries more than others – food and clothing.
The sheer amount of clothing shops and the inexpensive nature of having things tailor-made quickly here in Hoi An makes this a place worth visiting.
The friendly nature of the locals, the ability to communicate with people in English, and the quiet small-town feel of Hoi An make this place somewhere we definitely could stay longer term.
We’re here in low tourist season, so perhaps that’s part of the charm here. I can imagine that this place could be swamped with people during the high tourist season.
And even as I’m writing this, I’m listening to thumping bass music on the street somewhere, from my fully modern hotel room, in a hotel that is new in the last 5 years. The hotel comes complete with the best bathroom I’ve ever been in, in any hotel anywhere.
I’m grateful for the conveniences, and at the same time wonder what it means for this place longer term.
Staying here, and seeing the contrast between what I have in the room, and the homes just around the corner with dirt yards (and some with dirt floors), I wonder if the authenticity still within Hoi An will remain here as Hoi An grows into the future.
One of the clothing sales people here told us that 5 years ago, there were just a couple of shops and a couple of restaurants here.
Today every house in the old city (pretty much without exception) is either a clothing shop, a restaurant, a convenience store, or a woodworking storefront.
Will Hoi An retain the authentic feel it has today when subjected to the massive influx of tourists who will pounce into this town on a daily basis (once the giant resorts open in 2012 in Danang, just 1 hour away from here)?
It will be interesting to return here.
Though I’m not sure if it will, I hope Hoi An will find a way to keep its identity and authenticity.