​APEC and Damrey in Vietnam: Whew! It’s over!  

I can’t speak for other expats but I felt APEC was an underwhelming spectacle of sirens, motorcades and young policemen repeatedly waving their traffic truncheons in the pouring rain

Delegates discuss at the APEC summit in Da Nang, Vietnam, November 6, 2017. Photo: Tuoi Tre

I knew if I kept my eyes shut long enough, that Typhoon Damrey and APEC, running from November 6 to 11, would eventually leave. When I opened them again, life seemed to slowly come back to some sense of normality. Mind you, this is Vietnam I’m talking about here…

In (relatively) quiet and peaceful Hoi An, the streets have been hosed down, the mud jammed into the drainage system, along with this week’s consignment of cooking oil, fat and plastic and all’s right with the world. So long as my local coffee shop is brewing that wonderful aroma of coffee beans and hot milk, I’m as happy as a pig in mud. Squeal! Onk! Squeal!

I can’t speak for other expats but I felt APEC was an underwhelming spectacle of sirens, motorcades and young policemen repeatedly waving their traffic truncheons in the pouring rain. It was a bizarre feeling as roads became deserted while other avenues were lined with crowds waiting to catch a glimpse of someone in a black tinted car whizzing pass. 

Delegates pose for a group picture at the APEC summit in Da Nang, Vietnam, November 6, 2017. Photo: Tuoi Tre
Delegates pose for a group picture at the APEC summit in Da Nang, Vietnam, November 6, 2017. Photo: Tuoi Tre

APEC carried a lot of weight this year for Vietnam and Da Nang. Vietnam’s wish to wrap up the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal although Canada at some point wanted to back out for reasons unknown was the big item. The idea was the deal would act as a ‘counterweight’ to the immense power of Chinese economic influence. With the country hoping to expand export markets further, it would have been an unexpected blow had Canada really left the negotiation table.

For Da Nang, hosting APEC added more credibility to the city’s ability to hold major international events and its reputation as a competent and efficiently run alternative to Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City for economic and social events. For the most part, I was impressed. The airport coped well enough, there were no major embarrassments and the overall atmosphere was positive.

Luckily I live in Hoi An and I had stocked up on everything well before the leaders rocked into Da Nang so the impact on my life was almost nothing, which is just the way this jaded, old expat likes it. 

Damrey, on the other hand, was surprisingly more of a wallop than some people had imagined. Although it struck more southwards around Nha Trang, the winds even hammered coastal Hue and reached into the mountains with devastating force. Its eventual cost in lives lost, agricultural damage and homes wiped out will stretch out for months if not years. 

A woman sits amid a market in the wake of storm Damrey in Khanh Hoa Province, Vietnam, November 4, 2017. Photo: Tuoi Tre
A woman sits amid a market in the wake of storm Damrey in Khanh Hoa Province, Vietnam, November 4, 2017. Photo: Tuoi Tre

For a comfortable foreigner living blissfully here, it was an unwanted reminder of how hard life can be on this central coast. The majority of the population struggles to make a living outside the major cities when almost yearly they get beaten down by natural catastrophes. 

Fishermen in the south will take months to repair boats and equipment. Farmers will have to abandon some crops and start over. Mountain dwellers will need to relocate after landslides, road collapses and land degradation.

While storms like this bring out the best in Vietnamese communal support, they also reveal the flaws in infrastructure, communications and disaster relief. I thought the flood warnings were just a little better than last time. 

Yet the fact that communities were cut off due to roads swept away by days of rain and there are few alternative routes available shows how much still needs to be done to connect the country. Vietnam’s ‘el cheapo’ road production is costing the nation dearly. Let’s hope next year’s highway construction work will address this and reduce the road death toll too.

Jersey barriers were damaged by storm Damrey in Khanh Hoa Province, Vietnam, November 4, 2017. Photo: Tuoi Tre
Jersey barriers were damaged by storm Damrey in Khanh Hoa Province, Vietnam, November 4, 2017. Photo: Tuoi Tre

A suggestion by a friend that they should build very strong shelters, such as school gyms, where people ride these storms, was a good idea. Whether the local or national government would decree this into reality is another matter.

The nation will also need to get harsher and tougher on deforestation. Some of the landslides – particularly the access to Da Lat – shouldn’t have happened and the more energy that needs to be spent repairing all that would be better served on improving the local economic prospects. The future of rural Vietnam depends on tougher enforcement now.

Anyway, we’re all glad to see the backside of all this nonsense and get back to sunny, cheerful life again. Vietnamese have a reputation as a truly tough people with a good heart and you never see that more clearly than at times like that.

For all Vietnam’s unpredictability and chaos, its capacity for growth is endlessly fascinating. It’s like the first new flower to rise up from the ground after an earthquake – Vietnam is unstoppable!

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