Good Morning Hội An

Chasing the light at dawn may not always turn out how one expects.

The streets are strangely hushed as we make our way from the hotel towards Hội An’s Old Town. The sun has not yet risen, and the world is covered in darkness. Quietly, we walk past homes where the residents are slowly beginning to stir. On one doorstep a woman is sweeping, hunched over her broom and tidying leaves that have fallen the night before. It is too early for the shops to be open, but from within their closed doors lights are switched on and the smells of cooking begin to permeate through the air.

We quicken our pace, walking hurriedly so that we don’t miss the morning sun. I had visions of snapping shots of fisherman in the light of dawn as they reel in the morning’s catch, and of seeing the sunshine bounce of the still waters of the Thu Bon River and illuminate Hội An’s already bright yellow buildings in a glorious golden hue.

As we make our way to the Bridge of Lights, the sky lightens from midnight blue to a hushed grey. But where are the boats? I think to myself as I calculate how much time we had left until sunrise.

My eyes roam over the bridge, taking in how the morning’s quiet colours make me feel like speaking too loudly or moving too quickly would break some sort of universal law that mornings should start gently.

That is when I notice a woman in green walking delicately along the street parallel to the river. Her quiet beauty and elegance seem to effortlessly suit the muted morning. I calmly snap her photo, as a small smile alights her lips while she walks on.

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Closer to the water’s edge, I spy a number of figures stretching. It seems that for many of Hội An’s elderly residents, the morning is an opportunity to awaken the body and mind with some light exercize. Walking towards me, her face a mask of seemingly contemplative thought, a woman quietly shuffles the night’s cobwebs away. I feel invisible to her as she goes about her morning routine.

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Looking up from my viewfinder, I realize that the sun has risen. No magnificent sunrise, no fishing boats — perhaps being on a fishing boat may indeed make it easier to take such photos — and no golden hues lighting up Hội An’s buildings. For the morning was overcast. Grey clouds dominated a grey sky and made the Thu Bon also, a reflective sea of grey.

One of the beautiful — if at times vexing — qualities of travel photography is that one can never plan for the unexpected. And that if the shot you thought you would get doesn’t happen, then one must adapt and shoot anyway. At least, that was my philosophy as we wandered upriver, past the Old Town Market that was nearly set-up for the day’s customers, and off the sidewalk to a quiet residential strip.

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While I may not have gotten my wish to shoot Hội An’s renown fishing boats with their stunning wide nets in the dewy dawn, as we walked away from the bustling streets we did spy one or two boats languidly resting in the river — offering a slice of life view into a typical morning in the city. A woman sat crossed-legged and silently on the edge of her boat, while slightly further down a man appeared to be lost in thought as he anchored his boat beside the pillars of a bridge.

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On the other side of the bridge, a woman walked away from the market, her striking red basins a bright contrast to the otherwise subdued morning tones.

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After snapping her portrait, I looked out into the water and noticed a man and woman sitting in a boat. Facing separate ways, not speaking, I imagined that they had just returned from their morning catch — perhaps having already sold their fish at market — and were taking a moment to themselves as the quiet and still morning gave way to the Hội An’s usual vibrant hustle and bustle.

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Photos and Text by Sarah Comber

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