Yes I use the term a little too loosely. The low-lying Mekong Delta is disappearing thank to that global warming and rising sea level thing but I’m actually talking about something else. One of the things I absolutely adore about ‘The Delta’ will, not only for me, but for many Vietnamese become just a distant memory. It’s sad to see the Mekong’s iconic car ferries on a sad path to extinction.
Saigon has seen it with the dwindling fleet of cyclos and nowday’s their’s only a few routes left along small streets for the rarely seen ‘mini-truck’ buses (where people sit on benches fixed to the tray). Large, modern and roomy A/C buses are now becoming common place on the cities already over-crowded streets and like Saigon too, new bridges are quickly being built all over the Mekong Delta. When a replacement bridge is built, it’s an all to sudden and painful death for the more beloved than loathed car ferry. People hate travelling to certain parts of the Mekong at holiday times due to the massive queue to board a ferry to get across a sometimes relatively narrow river.
Over the past few decades Vietnam has been a rapidly developing and is still pushing forward at an incredible pace. I’m all for progress, especially in regards to infrastructure and sustainable development but a downside to this progress is that you always have to sacrifice something you love. You might loose a part of who you are, maybe some memories, traditions or others comforts could get pushed aside for the more convenient, more profitable and faster pace of life.
“For every action force there is an equal and opposite reaction force.” – Issac Newton
For me, with the disappearance of the ferry: there goes that 15 minute window of time to slow down, look about, relax and not rush to my next destination. I truly appreciate it… so maybe have to invent another distraction – luckily it’s very easy to get distracted in Vietnam.
The numerous ferry crossings still seen on the banks of The Delta remain the efficient fleets of boats busily criss-crossing back and forth like clockwork. There maintenance schedule and training must be great because I’ve never seen a failure of any kind in their system. Living here, I rarely but I always get shocked when I discover an efficient system in Vietnam so I usually feel a little less uncomfortable when I travel on these boats.
One thing I’ll miss when all the ferries are gone is that feeling you get that you’re all travelling together. Hoping off your motorbike for that short journey across the river gives you a chance to buy something from the “Stowaway Sellers”. You’ll always find a small gaggle of ladies weaving between the compression of cars, truck, buses and bikes offering you anything from fried bananas to cigarettes. That little break in your trip, allows you to turn to the family next to you and simply say ‘Hello!’ to make them all giggle. Not far from you right elbow there’s sometimes a baby, so you can blow raspberries and tickle their feet. You’ve just gotta walk over and say ‘hi’ as you shake the hands of the three boys sitting four over. Me? I like to just pull a funny face at the girl who front who can’t stop staring at me like I’m a monster.
If I had a Vietnamese Dong… actually make it 1000 Vietnamese Dong for every time I had a brief and enjoyable time with a friendly local I’d have… probably only about US$5… but people always seem surprised to see a foreigner on the ferry and often they are keen to practice their English – I’ve been offered anything from jobs to snake wine. Even though many passengers on the boats don’t talk to others or interact like I usually do, they silently keep each other company as they share a common goal with each other for the next 10mins. The goal that is to get to the other river bank whilst remaining dry.
I’m not sure what the street vendors and shop keepers will do – once the ferries ticket booths are closed, so is their trade. People won’t stop as they head up and down the access ramps to a free, ticket-less bridge. They also won’t have the time to feel the cool breez, take in the view or interact closely with their fellow man like you do on a Mekong car ferry. Everyone will be in too much of a rush to get where they’re going.
Before they even realizing their loosing it, it’ll be gone. That closeness is what will disappear when all the car ferries go. Perhaps one day, it’ll be remembered by some.