Reinstating the social distancing policy for the second time, life in Hoi An seemed to be abnormally quiet as no shops are open and no footsteps are to be heard on the streets.
Four days after the reinstatement of social distancing rules, I joined Nguyen Thi Van, the owner of Giua Dong coffee shop, in a leisurely walk along the ancient streets. Although no inspection checkpoints were installed in the streets like during the first social distancing period, all citizens in Hoi An know that COVID-19 is no joke, and that it could worsen if they lack vigilance or suffer from overconfidence in disease prevention.
During our excursion, we remembered towalk at a distance from one another to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Both of us missed the Hoi An streets. Normally we don’t, but the social distancing period made us feel quite nostalgic about the old way of life.
But we’re not the only ones who miss the ancient streets in Hoi An. I am living in a village in the outskirt of Hoi An’s centre. The village faces a small river and a rice filled field to its side. The population includes foreign visitors, retired people, and those who used to reside in the downtown.
During the first days of social distancing, I didn’t dare to go anywhere due to fear of COVID-19. Anytime someone in the village went to the city centre, he was asked by the villagers the same question each time: “Are the streets crowded today?”. The answer was always the same: “No… Very quiet.” Both questioner and answerer then indulged in a short pause, they all hope this tough period will soon pass.
Michael Ryan, a Scottish man who has lived in the village for several years, used to dispense some greetings on his morning walk; but yesterday, he changed his greetings to a question on whether any restaurant is still serving customers during social distancing.
When he heard that several restaurants were now open for take away, he headed to the city centre and came home with a hot pizza. He invited me to enjoy it with him.
Some other villagers still go to the main streets to bring food for their relatives who are living there or to buy food for the family. Several restaurants in the downtown area are open for takeaway. This is a helpful avenue for both buyers and sellers.
I recounted the first time Hoi An had to practice social distancing, I walked along the bank of the Thu Bon river. It was a pure and quiet night in Hoi An that I hadn’t experienced before. I felt like I was living in a strange city without crowded visitors and small boats carrying passengers on the water as usual.
Hoi An became quiet and calm again on these days. One could even hear the sound of a falling leaf on the street. Is Hoi An missing its tourists or are tourists missing the ancient city? Both sound fair. It looks as if Hoi An and its tourists are undergoing an unexpected separation period. However, absence makes the heart grow fonder. In the near future when social distancing is lifted, the tourists will surely return to Hoi An, which is always willing to welcome them with all the love in its heart.
I’m here, in Hoi An, and am writing to all those missing the ancient city.