Images of Viet Nam

‘The long arm of Long Biên’

A colossal iron structure but sophisticated in here appearance majestically bridges the Sông Hông better known as the Red River streaming through Hanoi.
A railway bridge from 1903 build by the French company Daydé & Pillé measuring 2500 meter. Heavily bombed during the Viet Nam war by the Americans and afterwards repaired. Today it looks like a patchwork of different styles but still supports the train. On both sides of the track pedestrians can cross the river as well. On both ends of the bridge there’s a small station. The one on the east side named Gia Lam has some meter gauge tracks equipped with a third rail in order to give access to Chinese trains. However, during my last visit in 2003 it looked rusty and never been used.
An architectural scale model of a new to build main station in the hall of the old one on the west side promised a big change. I am wondering if eight years later something became reality, because Viet Nam’s main line to Ho Chi Minh City, the former Saigon, literally runs along people’s front door, a hazardous matter if you just want to go out for shopping and could be trapped by a train.

Back to bridge, a stronghold with a taste of Paris, the pilgrimage for any hardened Francophile and enjoying the sphere of yesteryear, a swan-song near the waterside. An accordion plays melancholy on a now deserted boulevard of certain promises. At a distinguished establishment one sits under the shed with a splendid view over the river and drinks café au lait or something more strongly. Two ladies handsome dressed are waiting at the tram stop talking about the weather and the latest gossip, what really matters goes beyond their interest.
Not much later a tramcar squeaking disappeared around the corner. Under the bridge a clochard settles his living, if you exported your culture, do it right, while above him a train with a lot of noise slowly finds his way.
The elapsing times and absolutely undisturbed by a certain ‘couleur locale’ and nothing in common with any colonial feeling at all. Only a few remaining French inspired designed things let the clock run backwards. If you’re open your eyes Southeast-Asia is there with all here scent and sensibilities, a complete chaos without any structure on the first sight.
Down the bridge it’s the bus stop, brand name: ‘Ikarus’, worn-out cars from a Czechian factory. By the time the Eastern bloc still was a solid one and the comrades with the same believe shared their trade. Icarus the myth and wings made of wax became melted as the idea assumed large proportions.
The communistic area, in the West always synonym for grayness and uniformity, now belongs to a collection of curiosities. The range of ideas about equality long before the Berlin wall tumbled down already lost their appetite. The hammer and sickle fierce streaming in a red flag, a once flourishing symbol for the last survivors of an unrealistic dream. Defeating the juggernaut of this size is another task than simply beaten the French and then let be silence about the Americans, a fresh wound needs time to heel. One day it will be all converged like the colonial style buildings for the common people are simply Vietnamese. A picture froze in time and reverie for every writer with unmistakable not having the same roots.

The Hang Dao street in 1926, notice the tram track

The way kids used the tram


About Robert von Hirschhorn

Author / Performer or in Dutch: schrijver / dichter
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