A few features ago I wrote about the Chinese province Yunnan and also that there’s more to tell but the pictures needed are not here where I live now. However, the end, or better spoken the beginning of the French enterprise building railways in China was Haiphong in Viet Nam. By the time I visited it, a dreamy place on the coast with a lot of deteriorated French architectural buildings and a railway station still shining in full armour. I wrote a few stories about it but in the Dutch language, for the sake of this site a caption in English.
I came to have a look at the station, the sensation of arrival on a strange platform and the building’s foreground with an unmistakable Mediterranean atmosphere, something like Nice or as the English pronunciation wanted: nice!
The quest for lost times but the lonely traveller is not left alone and being persuade by touts gaining for trade. After a lot of refusals in the end every body has gone and the place again what it is; breathing his own air, a relict from the past, an almost pristine remembrance kept that way in lack of care but certainly not out of a historical awareness, people have other problems than showing interest for colonial inheritance.
The things reflect a hint of yesteryear and it feels if a battalion soldiers soon will marching over the cobble stones on the sound of the ‘Marseillaise’ and long live the Motherland. On the other hand it also could be a lamentation about the past when king poverty still ruled from his throne and every white man was beleaguered by the no haves in order to get some small change. Alms for a poor but not seen as a victim of their ruling.
This must have been the attitude of many colonials or nothing given at all and look down upon. A lot of crippled, pitifully and other ones in need no longer considered while too much of them being around. Some of it is still there, little boys but also middle-aged women with their deep dark red smiles after a long time of betel nut consumption, shameless begging by worrisome rubbing there bellies to convince the other; I am hungry. It’s a bit clownish; famine is not there, maybe hunger in mind for the rest do they look well fed.
The temptation of money, skinny or really in need not always it matches. On first sight one can not see if it is a play only, theatre, and on it self an art when a deprived can earn bread and butter this way. However, some theatre goes beyond the things of reality. A toddler with a begging device in front of him fiercely showed lying stretched on the pavement of a path and sleeps or pretending being away from this cruel world. He could have been dead something even here got the attention. It remains a question compensated by a few, someone touched and hardly knows how to look and free of debt continues his or here way. Strange enough nobody else moves, carefully one walks around this child like it be leprous. If this is the picture of a developing society the borderline already is there. The new self-assured middle class almost out of pithiness versus a part doomed to live of the bits and pieces hardly be missed in the game of dissipating.
It’s all about trade, cranes, the harbour and a railway line, a train crawling along the buildings with a new load while the sailors waiting to embrace the sea again enjoying themselves ashore. However, the pleasures of live are not openly there, where is the question for him not familiar with the place.
Beyond the station yard the train to the harbour passes a very busy intersection almost diagonal. The weathered bamboo level crossing barriers are too short to cover the whole square besides they look unmovable. Gate-keepers will do the job, a pure female matter this time, women but by all means man alike and courageous in their task. The dwindled splendour of countries with a communist regime and labour proportional divided among the sexes. The less fashionable and greyness of an oversized uniform diminished every mutual difference. A bit harsh, the weaker sex sweeping streets or manlike behind the counter doing what had to be done, that’s all. Real pleasure it never showed.
Viet Nam today; waiting in their comfort and anticipating a train, they still do know how to handle. Beside the rail a row of cooking pans on a charcoal burner, a broth in the make, giving a vague scent by fits and starts. Meat from the other side, the butchery literally on the kerb of the road. It doesn’t look hygienic at all, maybe a perfect moment to become a vegetarian.
Not before the railway workers managed to give a train a free ride, slowly it passes the place and after the last goods there’s a huge acceleration of other cars but above all motorcycles in a certain less healthy air of pollution. A splendid flash of the earlier encountering in Hanoi with second hand busses from Paris and typically open balcony at the rear now closed, I am wondering if they still running? How lovely it would be standing there and make a show of it hair blowing in the wind: “Bonjour Hanoi, ça va?” Good morning Viet Nam, how are you?