The white rose dumplings are proudly plonked in front of me, the herb-filled parcels steaming above a bed of serrated carrot leaves. On a day like this, there isn’t much to do but sample the local food. Looking out to the road I see a cyclist wobbling as sparks of water fly from his tyres, before a boat of Japanese tourists in tangerine life jackets slowly overtake him.
The river has breached its banks and filled the old Chinese merchant houses. Fish and eels leak on to the street and wriggle between the wooden crates of the market. The trading continues despite the half foot of water that flows around us. Cone hats hide the wrinkled faces of the traders who sell lacquered coconut shells, bottles of rice wine containing pickled cobras, fresh flowers and grotesque grinning lion heads made of glittery cloth.
The bridge is now closed. Only last night crowds passed the illuminated dragons on the bridge to reach the restaurants on the other side. Whole trees surge past whilst other large branches are left behind to clog up the flow and create new rivers. The paper lanterns add a colourful roof to the brown sloshing carpet that now dominates the town. A few tourists grumble at the state of the road, whilst others roll up their trousers and wade to the shop entrances that miraculously hang just inches above the water level.
This isn’t a novelty – Hoi An locals are accustomed to the old town flooding every year during the monsoon rainfall, which unluckily coincides with the tourist high season. That evening, we experience a splintering electric storm which leaves white imprints on our eyelids for seconds at a time and cuts through the night as loud as an air raid. Typhoons are common here, and the town was recently battered by the aftermath of Haiyan that devastated the Philippines.
What impresses me more than the traders steely ‘show must go on’ attitude whilst they sit in muddy water is the communal spirit – there are hoards of locals helping remove the debris, delivering fresh water in boats and sweeping away brown puddles from doorways. Hundreds of frogs sing in a throaty hum as the saturated paddy fields become a spawn-filled paradise. Locals and tourists laugh as they pass each other, pointing out the deeper patches as feet gingerly feel for the underlying curb. Tailors joyfully wheel out their latest waterproof stock, ironically a one-size-fits-all job. It doesn’t feel like a disaster, it looks more like perseverance.