Thursday, 18 December 2008

the rain it raineth every day

The last evening in Hoi An I pay a farewell visit to the small square dominated by a large bust on a podium. Karl Marx's younger brother I thought when first I saw it, with its bushy stone beard but more contemporary hairdo. Turns out to be Kazimierz Kwiatkowski 1944-97. A Polish ethnographer from Warsaw who helped Hoi An to be listed as a World Cultural Heritage site, and revived its dwindling fortunes. Now it thrives as once it did in mediaeval times as trading post and fishery. But for how long? How many trinket shops and tailors can it sustain?

We taxi far to the nearest station in a neighbouring town, down broad dual carriageways in the middle of wildernesses, slowly being parcelled up into building sites for more hotels and tourist facilities. I tremble not for Raffles and Novotel, and all the other fat-jowled hotelier clans, but for the local economy. Tourism is already badly hit by recession.

It begins to rain and we board our train for the 8 hour journey South. The landscape dissolves into greys and greens, and the horizon disappears. We pass ghastly malarial pools; buildings stained in mildew and damp, and lichens of every hue; tidemarks like Abstract Expressionist paintings. Outside and in, its dank, saturated, drear. We cross tumescent streams and engorged rivers. We pass doughty folk in pac-a -macks, plain and polka-dotted, in plastics of all colours, cycling, scootering, splashing in paddy fields.
Perhaps the bananas rejoice, the white ibis stalk more sprightly, and the water-buffalo plash with a gayer tread.

We drip in the carriage, diverted for a while from the sodden spectacle outside, by a Tarzan movie. Not the flabby Weissmuller of yore, with drooping loincloth - what a disappointment he was - but a wasp-waisted, simian-featured, Hollywood Adonis with pert bum, perfect pecs and priceless dentition. Eye candy.

We pass snowy landscapes where the earth has been bombed with phosphates, and then a slight clearing of the cloud layer reveals a congealed sunset in aubergines and mauves.

For a more literary description of what happens, externally and psychologically, when it rains for years on end read 'A Hundred years of Solitude' by Marquez.

We are in Na Trang about to head up into the Central Highlands by bus.