I spent most of yesterday at Cua Dai beach – reading, dozing, fending off vendors.
The vendors have a captive audience at the beach, so they’re a little more aggressive there than elsewhere in Hoi An. And Hoi An vendors in general are a little more aggressive than those found in the cities of Vietnam. Hoi An is a poor town, and the people here are more dependent on tourists for their income here than elsewhere.
At the beach, they sell everything you’d imagine, including fresh pineapple and dragonfruit, foot massages, bracelets and bangles, small snacks and toys. The youngest ones are cheeky and make fun of your efforts to shoo them away. They do this lightheartedly though, and everybody gets a good laugh. The middle-aged ones are more serious and tell you that business is so bad today. They mention their aching backs, poor living conditions, children they need to provide for.
But it’s the really old women who break your heart.
Leathery-skinned and toothless, they look at you with the saddest eyes you’ve ever seen. There is a puppy dog quality in this that they’ve perfected for sure, but just as certain is the fact that these women have endured generations of hardship, war and tragedy. Hoi An is not far from the DMZ, which was the most heavily-bombed part of the country during the American War, and my hotel is just a taxi ride away from the site of the Mai Lai massacre – the most infamously heinous war crime perpetrated by the United States since Wounded Knee.
Unfortunately though, the old women all seem to be selling the things I want least – cigarettes and soccerballs for example.
There’s a row of restaurants along the beach that vie for your business when you arrive, so you choose a restaurant in order to choose your spot on the beach. Unless your arrival coincides with a meal, you just start with a drink.
But the proprietors of the restaurants are amazingly alert when it comes to your appetite. As soon as I bought a small bag of peanuts from one of the beach vendors, the woman from my chosen restaurant appeared with a menu before I could even open it.
For lunch I ordered grilled fish with steamed rice.