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Dragon Bridge

News from Vietnam's Radical Lockdown


They kept us locked up for so long the first typhoon of the season rolled in from the East Sea. Tugboats pulled homes upriver from fishing villages. Long white boats used in better times for nightly Han River cruises could be seen sailing alongside them to the inlet where one branch of the Han narrows until it disappears.

The day before the storm I made a break to an ATM outside a hospital. My ward volunteer sent me a map of a route with no checkpoints. Off I went into the rain. I returned wet but 5,000,000 Dong heavier and with the sense of security only money can bring. The storm turned out to be a lot of rain but only a little wind, not enough to cause much damage. The 600 checkpoints that had come down in anticipation of a deluge went back up before the city had dried out. I couldn’t help noticing that the police working the checkpoints didn’t seem to have quite the same enthusiasm for the job.

My cash turned out to be more than enough for next few days. But we worried that we’d be stuck in our homes for even longer, so the need to stock up felt urgent. I applied for a travel pass to drive to the largest pharmacy in town, a one-stop shop that supplies hospitals and individuals and would have everything I might need. I wanted to access my bank’s ATM, the only one I would be able to withdraw enough money for the coming month.

The travel permit took 24 hours to process and would allow me two-and-a-half hours to take care of business. It also required the signature of my ward boss, the man through whom all requests for anything in my small part of the city had to go. Not an easy man to track down even under the best of circumstances, and the task was even harder at a time when nearly every household needed something urgently, things like diapers, sanitary napkins, drinking water, rice, things like protein, things far more important than a foreigner’s blood pressure meds and money.

But I was positive that I couldn't work my way out of Khue My Ward—the neighborhood where I live—without it. The city center was seven kilometers away and the barricades on the side streets and alleys had been fortified in such a way that made them impossible to drive around. I’d seen a newspaper article that featured the chief of police bragging about the ability of the street cameras to catch anyone doing anything. Every square meter of the city could be viewed by police, he’d claimed. I believed him.

I drove my motorbike slowly up the nearly empty pavement of Bui Ta Han, the main north-south artery near my house, the end of which had been turned into a security outpost checking all traffic coming or going from the ward. The road was empty except for a few ward volunteers. I did my best to avoid eye contact.

When I pulled into the shade cast by the tarp of the makeshift shelter and stepped off my Honda, a cop in starched olive clothing and an official hat stiffer than his pants looked at me suspiciously. But when I said, “ngay hom qua,” meaning “yesterday” in Vietnamese to indicate I’d been there the day before to fill out an application, he relaxed, reached into a cardboard box, pulled out a folded slip of paper with a QR code, my name, the date, and a few other details, awkwardly recited my middle name, and waived me through. No documents needed.

It’s one of those things that can make you laugh during a lockdown, even if it signaled an inherent human disorder that could be fatal under the circumstances. Try unsuccessfully for days to drive across town to access something important. When you finally succeed, the word “yesterday” is enough to get you there.

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Most Americans don’t realize that Vietnam has successfully fought off invaders for centuries: first the Chinese, then the French, and then, of course, my father’s generation. In the late summer of 2021, a different kind of invader came to Da Nang. They came not from a foreign land, for these were members of Vietnam’s land speculator class coming to take advantage of local business owners in the midst of the worst financial conditions of the century. And this time the invaders will win.

I'd seen history turn in Da Nang before. When I moved here in the summer of 2017, the city was booming. Before the pandemic, Da Nang was considered by many to be Vietnam’s most livable city. Buffered to the south and east by hundreds of miles of pristine beaches, to the north and west by tropical mountain ranges, Da Nang is nearly equidistant from Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi, the only two cities surpassing its significance to the country.

Thriving because of its proximity to the Han River, Da Nang is within one hundred kilometers of three UNESCO World Heritage Sites that span the country’s recorded history: Hue, the formal imperial capital of Vietnam, is a city built on and around a castle; not far away is My Son, a looming relic of the Cham civilization descended from Polynesian migrants who arrived from Borneo two millennia ago which is that culture’s only significant structure in Vietnam to survive the bombardment of the American War. (Think a smaller version of Angkor Wat.) Not long after my arrival, I found my way to these and to the city of Hoi An, until the mid-nineteenth century the busiest port in the region, now a bustling tourist town of 100,000, 20 minutes by motorbike or car to the south of Da Nang.

When I thought about a life in Vietnam, the country that my father, like so many other young American men, shipped off to during the war, Da Nang was the only place I considered. When I moved here, the economy was booming yet the city offered a life apart from the country's endemic traffic congestion, a rare combination anywhere. Da Nang had begun to appear on many travel magazines’ best of lists for Southeast Asia. Best beaches. Best golf courses. Best cities for families. It was safe, clean, and there were enough expat families living in Da Nang for my son to have access to international schools.

I wonder now if it was it history that drew me. Mine or perhaps my father’s. My country’s. Theirs. Like the children of so many other veterans—American and Vietnamese—I’d felt the effects of my father’s exposure to chemical warfare waged by the American and South Vietnamese military. So much of my own story is tied up with Vietnam.

If history was my objective, fixing the series of events that led me to this place, that was a fantasy destined to be thwarted. My Da Nang would erase history. But at the beginning the city felt like the best of both worlds.

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In mid-September, following more than 60 days of the strictest lockdown in the world including a month of what authorities in Da Nang called “radical social-distancing measures,” the city began settling into what is being called the new normal, two words heard round the world in the ongoing global Covid-19 pandemic.

For those unaware of exactly what was meant by the term “radical social-distancing measures,” it constituted a lockdown on top of another lockdown called Directive 16, which was also a lockdown on top of another lockdown known as Directive 15.

For the residents of Da Nang, it was hell. Worse than the fact that the damage it has done to the de facto capital of Central Vietnam will surely be felt for decades, it was a hell that nobody outside of Da Nang realized existed. And now that we are seemingly on the other side of that tangle of words and numbers, the story of the Vietnamese Covid response, still ongoing, is being written and revised. The story of Da Nang, where the lockdown changed everything, has been left off those pages.

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For much of the first year of the global Covid-19 pandemic, Vietnam was held up as an example of what to do right. We had very low case numbers and few deaths compared to other countries. The country’s fight against the Covid-19 virus provided a lens to the world through which the benefits of an ideology that values individual sacrifice for the greater good shone brilliantly.

After an initial six-week lockdown with only shops selling essential goods allowed to operate, the country was Covid-free with the exception of a few quarantine zones—mostly military barracks and luxury hotels—holding passengers of inbound flights for mandatory 21-day entry quarantines. Two negative tests and you were free to go about your business.

There were a few spikes in case numbers resulting in subsequent lockdowns—the second one originating in Da Nang—but by and large, unless you were dependent on the hospitality sector, life went on, even if it was mostly online. Restaurants, coffee shops, and bars were not allowed to seat customers, but they were free to serve diners via delivery and takeout. Grab, the largest ride-sharing and food delivery app in Vietnam, was booming. All we were missing were the tourists.

By the end of May 2021, fourteen months after the pandemic had been identified, there were good reasons to believe that Da Nang would soon be completely open and the rest of the country would not be far behind. Hotel workers and tour guides and laid-off baristas radiated optimism. Schools had been teaching students in person since the middle of January.

On July 10th, Da Nang’s beaches, important drivers of the local economic engine, the reason many expats and Vietnamese from the two big cities relocated, designated by the Vietnamese government as national treasures never to fall in private hands, miles and miles of uninterrupted stretches of sand and surf that had graced covers of the world’s most glamorous travel guides, reopened. People were giddy.

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By late summer of 2021, after the initial success story, despite public support and national celebrities making viral YouTube videos about using hygiene to protect yourselves and your loved ones, schoolchildren posting millions of imitation videos, citizens and expats and seemingly everyone in the country cheering each other on—“We can do it! Yes, we can!”— after the glowing articles in the international press about the almost magical powers of the contact tracing program, the hundreds of days without a single Covid-related death in the country, evidence of overconfidence began to mount.

Especially troubling was the lack of evidence of a large-scale vaccination program. It was starting to seem as if leaders might actually believe they had the ability to wipe this virus out for good. As in zero cases going forward. No vaccine needed.

In this atmosphere, it is not entirely surprising, nor, considering how successful sealing borders, testing, tracking and tracing had been before the Delta variant of the virus appeared, was it entirely irrational that until the beginning of September 2021, the official Vietnamese policy, though never broadcast as loudly as the YouTube songs, was total eradication of Covid-19 from the motherland.

For Da Nang, the question was, at what cost? How much was willing to be sacrificed to exterminate the enemy? People were running out of food and potable water, the basic things needed to survive. Da Nang was at its darkest, in a stay-at-home lockdown for nearly a week, leaving many of us without access to money, food, or medicine. The week would become ten days. The ten days would become twenty.

Simply to pass something like hair clippers or bread to a neighbor, we tiptoed around the narrow spaces between homes in the dark, doing our best to avoid the cameras on the street. I was lucky. I’d become close with one of my neighbors over the past year, and he knew how to cook. Very well. And he was one of the smart folks who had stocked two freezers full of food before the lockdown. Even though it was technically a crime, he would send me a text message most nights around 6 o’clock.

“Thanh’s on his way. Can you give him back the containers?” His 10-year-old son would scamper down the sidewalk under cover of trees and hedgerows and wait for me at my gate with a container of curry and a baguette or fried rice and French fries. He’d pass them to me and I’d pass the empties to him, and he’d scamper back home.

I knew things were becoming desperate when even Thien began to run out of things. First it was ketchup. Then potatoes. Before the 7 day/24 hour curfew had started, people had been given a short reprieve. Stock up for seven days. These were the orders from the Da Nang peoples’ committee essentially a city council. Seven Days.

On the fifth day, we were told to hang on for three more. As this point, as you might imagine, scarcity became a problem. Price gouging by the few authorized to sell food through official channels set in. You may have been able to order a box of meat and veggies last week through your ward volunteers. It would take three or four days to get to your house. It might have cost you 30 dollars. Several days later, were you able to even locate one, that same package might cost twice that. And it might take twice the time to arrive.

My girlfriend, like many others, began looking for ways of acquiring black-market chicken from the neighboring province. The supply chain was completely broken. At felt as though we were living in a Petri dish, albeit one without a stream of nutrients to keep the organism alive. Or even worse, like we were being punished, taught a lesson, brought to heel. Banks were all closed. ATMs were out of cash. The roads were blocked by police. And we could not leave our homes even if there would have been services. There was nothing anyone on the outside could do about getting us direct aid. The city was sealed from the outside world.

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As I mentioned, Da Nang had been a happy city, and much of its verve and bonhomie was because of one man. 


Not so long ago, Da Nang had a progressive and very popular chairman of its peoples’ committee—the equivalent of a mayor. In a single-party communist state such as Vietnam, for a politician to attain this status is highly unusual. But Nguyen Ba Thanh, a native son of the city who served as the central city's top official from 2003 to early 2013, broke the mold in many ways.

A man whose physical build and blunt style inspired comparisons to Tony Soprano, Nguyen spoke out against corruption and pledged to prosecute public servants who were on the take.  During his tenure, Da Nang was transformed. Even the normally ultra-conservative national press praised Da Nang, and Nguyen in particular for the city’s undeniable prosperity. From the June 3, 2012 edition of the Vietnamnet Bridge, a state-supported media outlet: 

The city’s success is so great, that the central government sometimes considered Da Nang’s breaking-the-rule moves as experimental steps for the country. The city’s success is closely attached to the talent and determination of its officials, including Party Secretary cum Chairman of the People’s Council Nguyen Ba Thanh.

During the Nguyen years, laws were put in place to keep overly aggressive street vendors from hounding people while they ate at outdoor cafes. Locals joked that the city was the only place in Vietnam without any graffiti. He instituted a generous social welfare program.

Perhaps his most ambitious proposal came in 2008, when he spearheaded a proposal that would allow constituents to directly elect candidates for city leadership positions to represent their interests, including the peoples’ committee and its chairman, giving, again, in the words of Vietnamnet Bridge, citizens “the right to directly choose the city’s top official through an open election.” The proposal was rejected on legal grounds in 2008, and when it was brought again to the national leadership in 2012, it was ruled unconstitutional.

Nguyen failed to make national reforms, but his influence on Da Nang remains visible to anyone spending time in the city. The construction of bridges crossing the Han River was Nguyen’s apotheosis. At 1850 meters, the Thuan Phuoc Bridge is the longest suspension bridge in the country. The Han River Bridge is the only swinging bridge in Vietnam. The Tran Thi Ly Bridge, the tallest of the lot, is built to look like a sail.

The Dragon Bridge is the most spectacular, a golden body that rises and falls from a sharp tail on the north side to a mouth that billowed fire and smoke for crowds of onlookers one night of every week during better times. There is the Nguyen Van Thoai Bridge, actually built by the Americans during the war and refurbished as a pedestrian walkway that has come to be known as “the lover’s bridge,” for the college students who bring dates to the bridge on the weekend to enjoy a free view of the Da Nang skyline and the rest of the bridges, each lit up with its own unique undulating pattern of color. These are monuments to the vision of Nguyen Ba Thanh. And in 2021, you will not find many in Da Nang who don’t remember him fondly.

This is not to say he was perfect. His decision to relocate nearly one-third of the city's inhabitants for urban improvement was opposed by many and still resented by some. Others saw his decision to fly to the U.S. to receive cancer treatment just before his death as a betrayal. If Vietnamese doctors were good enough for them, why were they unqualified to treat the dreamer from Da Nang? And from where did the money for his treatment come?

After his final term as chairman, he was appointed to a cabinet-level position created to fight corruption, where, after leveling charges of improper behavior at a political rival, Nguyen and others were accused of financial improprieties linked to the financing of the Han River Bridge. High-ranking officials went to prison. Not Nguyen Ba Thanh, but some close to him.

Despite his critics, in the end, as news of his deteriorating condition spread through the city, hundreds of people, even some of those whose own land had been reclaimed for one or another of his ambitious projects, packed his front lawn in a vigil, weeping publicly—not a common occurrence in Vietnam—over the former chairman’s impending death.

The official party line has always been that Nguyen died after an unsuccessful attempt at cancer treatment in the U.S. But the number of independent Vietnamese websites argued that he had been poisoned by Polonium-210 or a similar compound and died from acute radiation syndrome—essentially assassinated—was so large the Vietnamese government felt compelled to issue a statement denouncing the rumors as nothing more than baseless conspiracy theories.

From inside the country, it is impossible to connect to any URL related to the rumor, so it’s impossible to research. Still, if you happen to be sitting at some coffee shop in the city and strike up a conversation with a local and are able to get the person to let down their guard, when you ask about the death of Nguyen Ba Thanh, chances are he or she will look both ways before handing you a crooked smile and looking at the ground.

Whatever the truth may be, conspiracy or cancer, since his death, the chairmen selected to lead the peoples’ committee of Da Nang have been far less flamboyant and certainly less dedicated to reform.

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Nguyen Ba Thanh, the "King of Da Nang."

In better times, there was always a flurry of activity in the neighborhood surrounding Nui Thanh and Hoang Dieu Streets south of Nguyen Van Linh. It is a uniquely Vietnamese collection of open-air barber shops, air-conditioned hair salons, newspaper stands, and coffee shops where elegant old men smoke gracefully and nurse cups of coffee and glasses of traditional tea for hours, taking occasional breaks to answer smart phones given to them by grandchildren. Street vendors push colorful carts of toys or lounge on motorbikes in the shade next to pallets of whatever fruits happen to be in season with the price per kilo scribbled in marker on whatever loose cardboard happened to be nearby when they found a spot to park. Neighbors chat at the counters of the same small pharmacies they’ve used for decades, pharmacies that almost always close for at least two hours at lunchtime so the owner can take a proper nap. Old women wearing conical hats ride by on old bicycles filled with fruit or flowers or bags of waste on its way to be recycled or reused.

There was a motorbike mechanic on every block, usually highly skilled, the blacker his hands the better. Locksmiths and milk tea stands and banh mi sellers fill the sidewalks in front of small home repair outlets, secondhand fan dealers, noodle shops run by ancient couples and computer repair stores run by upstart university students. The place is alive with energy. Pretty women in tight-fitting skirts, handsome men in tight-fitting business suits, old ladies with smiles so consistently wide as to leave permanent, ear-to-ear-creases on their faces pop in and out of banks. Even the alleys are alive with nail salons, ban xeo restaurants, and tap hoas—uniquely Vietnamese convenience stores run from living rooms where beer and baby formula can always be purchased by the can, and where the freezer in the corner may or may not be filled with ice cream bars.

I'd always found the place a photographer's dream. After the lockdown had finally ended, what I saw as I drove down Hoang Dieu toward its intersection with Trung Ngu Vuong left me too depressed to pull out my camera. It was barren. There were very few people outside. Those I saw were pale and destitute. They had those glazed blank looks in their eyes we are used to seeing on televised streams from war zones. As far as I could tell, the only difference between this part of the Hai Chau District and the footage I’d seen of conflicts around the world was the lack of bombed-out buildings. The people looked the same. Filled with despair. And tired. So tired. Too tired to be angry. Too tired to be sad. In the posture of the shirtless old men and the women in faded sundresses poking their heads out of half-open doors and slumped over plastic chairs beside alleys, lived an exhaustion I've never seen in this city. It looked as though they’d crawled out of caves after months underground, and this was not far from reality.

Homes and apartments in the densely populated city center, especially homes in the alleys, don’t receive much sunlight on the brightest of days. Folks who call the nooks and crannies of these middle-class alleyways home—and to be clear, many of these homes there are large and ornate, not in any way those of impoverished people—get their daily dose of Vitamin D from trips to markets or cafés in the morning and walks around the neighborhood in the late afternoon. A 24/7 curfew meant no sunlight for nearly a month. A broken supply chain meant, at the very least, severe food insecurity for nearly a month. The barricades at the end of the alleys meant no way in, no way out, no way around, and certainly no way through for nearly a month. I knew one thing: This lockdown and its experiment with radical social distancing had inflicted untold collateral damage, physical and mental.   

A neighbor confided in me he hadn’t felt that way since he was a child during what he called “the time of rations,” between the end of the war in 1975 and normalization of relations with the U.S. nearly twenty years later. I can only imagine how much worse it was in the heart of the city than for those of us in my neighborhood. For we had the sun. We had plants to water and views, sometimes even walks down sun-drenched streets to makeshift Covid testing sites. They had nothing.

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First they arrived at small shops in the prime real estate around An Thuong, the neighborhood in My An Ward affectionately referred to as “Crackertown,” because of the large number of expats living in the quiet neighborhood near My Khe Beach.

In Da Nang, during the darkest days of the lockdown, having somehow acquired the most precious form of currency in the city—the travel pass—these speculators began showing up at small shops in the prime real estate around An Thuong, the neighborhood in My An Ward affectionately referred to as “Crackertown,” because of the large number of expats living in the quiet neighborhood near My Khe Beach.

Americans know this as China Beach, for which the television series of the 1980s was named. It is the place where Marines first came ashore in 1964 to be met by long-haired, slender Vietnamese women in ao dais, the traditional dresses that to many show just enough but not too much of the natural curves of the women wearing them. Much like other traditional feminine dresses, such as the Indian sari, for critics, the Ao Dai has become a symbol of the post-colonial male gaze, though if you were to ask any Vietnamese woman which of her possessions she prizes most, her ao dai collection would always be high on the list.

In case you’re wondering if this is where you jump off, let me assure you this is not an essay about the enthusiasm of my comrades in the feminist movement. This is about something else. I love America bashing. When it comes to criticizing the homeland, I’m on board. We fuck a lot of shit up. We invade a lot of perfectly good countries. We bomb the hell out of old men and women and children and teachers and people playing chess in coffee shops. We have done and continue to do horrible things. In fact, we do so much of this we often fail to realize is that just as cultures in other countries are perfectly capable of sexualizing their own traditional clothing, leaders of other countries are perfectly capable of fucking their own people without our help.

It is no small irony that vulture capitalism is operating at full speed in one of the few remaining openly communist countries left in the world. These well-dressed investors went door to door, the more desperate-looking the business the better, knocking, inviting themselves in, offering pennies on the dollar for what had been and will likely become again some of the most coveted places to set up shop in the city.

One owner I know had two sets of buyers come by in the span of a few weeks. He is fortunate, for he has a nest egg, enough money stashed away to get through the lockdown, no matter how long it lasted. Others, usually Vietnamese couples who had scrimped and saved and invested every last penny into a bakery or set of apartments when the city was booming and the kids were grown, had enough money set aside for a month, six months, maybe a year, but after two years of little to no income, were far more vulnerable to accepting a few small stacks of bills. And when they did succumb to the pressures of poverty and sell, it is safe to assume the deed to the property did not stay in Da Nang for long. It never does.

Since I’ve known the region, Central Vietnam—especially Da Nang—has had an independent streak. I have always noticed a subtle mistrust of outsiders, not foreigners, but fellow countrymen from other regions, particularly the north. Historical events dating back at least as far as the War with America would, in the eyes of some people, provide reason for resentment of those with the chains of power. As the location of a large American military base, allegiances were mixed. They had to be. In such an environment this would be a mechanism of survival. But even now there seems to be a considerable cultural divide between Central Vietnam and other parts of the country, at least in the minds of those from Da Nang. A friend of mine once told me, when I pressed him about why people from Da Nang dislike Hanoi so much his answer was straightforward.

“People from Hanoi are takers, not givers.” When it comes to patterns of buying and selling land between Da Nang and Hoi An, one can sympathize with this point of view. Though the exact numbers are impossible to calculate, investors from outside the region, often from the north, have purchased large swaths of real estate over the past couple of decades. Much of it remains empty, presumably waiting for the post-covid boom. Large French-style villas occupy other chunks of land, and often one or two families will own several, sometimes using them as vacation homes and other times renting them out. I know one of those investors very well. She happens to be my girlfriend. Her family owns several hectares.

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Three months after the most restrictive social distancing decrees were rolled back, ads in The New York Times tell us Vietnam is open for business. Just today, a recent local newspaper reported that on December 15 regular international flights into the country will resume and gradually increase to pre-pandemic levels, though as we have learned the hard way, proclamations like this must be taken with a grain of salt. Hope can be a dangerous weapon.

As is the case in other countries, pockets of COVID-19 still wreak havoc in parts of Vietnam, including Ho Chi Minh City. And there is still a shortage of vaccines, but 95 percent of the country has had at least one shot. More than half have had two. High-quality therapeutic treatments are now available. While people continue to die from the virus, the numbers are falling. Here in Da Nang, there are almost no restrictions on daily activities.

And yet, a pall hangs over the city. Hundreds of thousands of people remain unemployed. Though numbers will not be officially published for years, if ever, an eye test of the city will reveal the majority of businesses shuttered, many with “For Sale” and a phone number spray-painted on walls or cardboard signs hung on chain link fences. Many have already been leveled, cleared to make way for whatever comes next, rubble hauled away or shoved to the side of the property. Owners of many small businesses that have successfully weathered four brutal lockdowns are unwilling to open, afraid another will shut them down for good. Hotels, coffee shops, and restaurants that have survived remain mostly empty. People simply can’t afford to eat out.

Last weekend, my girlfriend and I made the 20 kilometer drive to the old town of Hoi An. The last time we had been there, it was packed with tourists, and I hadn’t really appreciated the beauty of the place. It felt more like an amusement park than a cultural treasure. A Southeast Asian themed Disneyland. This time, the streets were empty. The extraordinary beauty of the ornate architecture, the ancient wooden bridges connecting manicured banks of small rivers, the antique boats, and the shrines and temples spread out across the ground like a giant textured oil painting. Lotus ponds lay still enough to reflect every detail of the sky. Old-fashioned Vietnamese lanterns hung from nearly every ceramic awning. It seemed perfect. Idyllic. It was perfect.

For about an hour. I’m almost ashamed to say it took me so long to see them, but they were there, the same “For Sale” graffiti scribbled across Da Nang, less conspicuous, but just as prolific. Just as obscene. As obscene as the tourists prowling the streets, people wielding cameras, looking for the perfect picture in a town too decimated to put up a fight. Too beaten down to make them work for that shot.

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On an evening not too long ago, I rode my motorbike to the head of the Dragon Bridge, the golden arc of undulating yellow steel crossing the Han, I finally stopped, pulling out my ten-year-old Canon Rebel. The bridge, normally filled with motorbikes and automobiles, was empty. After several days of rain, the sky had cleared. The familiar soft blue of a Central Vietnamese afternoon covered the city and the highlands to the north collected layers of thick white clouds, beautiful and harmless. After all that time stuck at home, it was impossible not to smile.

Romantic. The view was so romantic. I thought of another city, much larger, rife with monuments and flags, traffic, slums and palaces, its cobblestone streets not unlike New Orleans, only with a past perhaps even more redolent of history.

“If your mother tongue is not Vietnamese, Ha Noi is an incredibly romantic city,” is another phrase I hear from time to time. I suppose it means exactly what it implies, that if you could understand the conversations being had by the cosmopolitan couple on bench next to you as you gaze across Hoan Kiem Lake in the Old Quarter of the city, you would be much less likely to enjoy the view.

What would that couple be discussing as they melted into each other’s arms? Presumably the price per hectare in Da Nang or Quang Nam Province. Although I know many expats who have called the Vietnamese capital home for many years and love it, none of them is a native speaker. In other words, I have I only have my own experiences, and those are purely anecdotal and colored by too many confounding factors to be of any value.

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Ben Quick is a professor at the American University in Vietnam. His essay "The Boneyard"  won a Pushcart Prize for nonfiction. The photographs are his.

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The Dragon Bridge

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Brian Cullman's Riparian Playlist

Down In The Flood (Crash On The Levee) ::: Bob Dylan & The Band

It Keeps Raining ::: Fats Domino

The Rain Don’t Fall On Me No More ::: Geoff Muldaur

Longer Boats ::: Cat Stevens

Staying At Home ::: Fats Waller

Black Market ::: Aziz Sahmaoui & The University of Gnawa

Roadblock ::: Big Brother & The Holding Company

Build Me A Bridge ::: Adele Bertei

No Food In This House ::: Lefty Frizzell