Where is Hoi An’s soul?
15:17 25/01/10

For centuries, residents in Hoi An’s historic alleys knew all about each other; they kept their doors open, stopped by without prior notice and shared everything.

Hoi An’s ancient homes are gradually turning into souvenir shops.
Though the town was a major international commercial port as early as the 16th century, Hoi An did not get crowded or noisy.
Even when foreign trade expanded in the 20th century, the quiet town in central Vietnam’s Quang Nam Province remained just that: a quiet town.
But that all ended in the 1990s when droves of foreign tourists began showing up.
“The soul of the town is changing,” says Dung, who was born and raised in Hoi An.
Though experts began warning against overdevelopment as soon as the town opened to tourism businesses 20 years ago, the town now appears overdeveloped.

The Hoi An Vestige Preservation Center says that 264 historic houses in the central Hoi An Town had been rented or sold to make shops
Since becoming a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999, many locals have moved out and new people have moved in to reap the profits.
“It’s not easy to talk with them, let alone enter their houses,” Dung says. “They have turned the houses into shops and don’t want anyone stealing their goods.”
However, old Hoi An residents still enter each other’s homes without knocking.
Such thing as bad PR
In late 2008, National Geographic magazine ranked Hoi An 83rd of its 110 most historic destinations worldwide.
But the magazine said that although the town remained beautiful, it had been turned into a shopping center for tourists, a giant souvenir supermarket in which each house is a booth.
Tourists are now solicited insistently, it added.
The Hoi An Vestige Preservation Center says that 264 historic houses in the central Hoi An Town had been rented or sold to make shops, 181 of which went to people from outside Quang Nam Province.
Only 21 historic homes had been sold or rented by early last year.
Well-known author Nguyen Ngoc wrote that “the selling of these homes poses the biggest threat ever upon Hoi An’s soul.”
Nguyen Chi Trung, director of the perseveration center, says people had always sold wares from their homes, but in the past they had limited commerce to small shops.
But the shophouses have transformed into large stores in which the proprietors no longer live.
Trung says the old lifestyle of the town – its soul – is fading.
Nguyen Su, secretary of the Hoi An town Communist Party unit, says tourists come to Hoi An for peace and traditional values. “They’re not looking for the noise and crowds of Hanoi or HCMC.”
Unfortunately, that’s what they’re getting more and more of.
He says business and commerce are OK in moderation, but laments that “it’s ridiculous” to have let the whole town become a shop.
Saving the soul
Su says the unit has requested that goods be displayed further inward to prevent the town from becoming a free-for-all market.
Hoi An authorities have also planned to buy up some of the old houses for sale while allowing the owners to continue living in their homes as renters.
The aim is for local governments to maintain, restore and preserve the homes, which most locals don’t have the money to do.
The owner of a house for sale on Tran Phu Street says everyone wants to live in their ancestors’ house, but that it’s too complicated and costly to preserve an historic home.
“So we’ll sell to live elsewhere. We regret it, but we have to,” he says. “We just hope the new owner will take good care of the house.”
It’s an unwritten rule that locals and Quang Nam residents get priority when buying homes in Hoi An but there’s just not enough of them willing to buy. Unless the government can afford to buy all the historic homes, these treasured houses will undoubtedly be lost to larger commercial developments.
Reported by Trung Bao
( Source: http://www.thanhniennews.com )