The book launch took place on November 27, 2015 at the Fenix Food Factory in Rotterdam.
Experts discussed how the Netherlands take advantage of water opportunities in Vietnam. The first copy of the book was handed over to Mr Van Ommeren of the Interdepartmental Water Cluster of the Dutch government.
I have been fascinated by Vietnam ever since I was a child. With my friends I would re-enact the war we knew from TV, from the programme Tour of Duty. It will have been 1987, I was 10.
Later, in secondary school, my political awareness developed. Vietnam, as I understood from the media, was a strange mix of emerging capitalism controlled by a strict, communist regime. Dutch idealists supported the regime with medical help. And I dreamed of visiting the country before all traces of communism – a relic of the war with America–would have disappeared.
After I graduated as an architect in 2004 I grew even more fascinated by Vietnam. In the years I worked for Soeters van Eldonk Architects I mainly focused on the role of water in the city and urban development of waterfronts. I studied the improvement of Dutch water cities with their canals, squares, dams and dykes. I learned that water creates appealing living environments and allows for more rainwater to be collected. It was a wellknown mantra among town planners: the water needs more space because the climate is changing.
In the numerous publications I’ve read on this topic, Vietnam was often mentioned as it is one of the countries that is most threatened by climate change. This is not surprising considering the country consists of two deltas – the Red River Delta in the North and the Mekong Delta in the South – and a long, narrow coastal strip that connects them.
Both Vietnam and the Netherlands are threatened by climate change – but the South East Asian country will never be able to protect itself against that threat like the Dutch have done ever since the Middle Ages. With the thousands of miles of long riverbanks and seacoast, the construction of dykes is unthinkable, if only because of the costs. Yet how do the Vietnamese cope with the rising waters? Can the country learn from the efforts of the Dutch? And perhaps the other way round? I wanted to find out all about it and decided to write a book.
My story had to be about the urbanisation and the rising waters in the Mekong Delta. I noticed that discussions about the organisation of the deltas were dominated by scientists, engineers and policymakers, who presented their new ideas at conferences and in delta plans. Ordinary inhabitants of the Delta were never present at such conferences, the farmers and villagers who have been developing skills and know-how as to how to cope with the water for generations.
As French anthropologist Claudes Levi-Strauss said, the worlds of the engineer and the bricoleur (the opposite of engineer, the ‘do-it-yourselfer’) clashed. Whereas, in his opinion, the engineer concentrates on the abstract and the new, the bricoleur has a ‘wild’ way of thinking, focused on the practical aspects of their daily life.
For this book, I travelled through the worlds of the engineers and the bricoleur. I met engineers, policy makers and designers and reported their analyses – from Vietnamese people, but also from Dutch engineers who were looking for fitting solutions for Vietnam based on Dutch thinking. And I travelled through the Mekong Delta, where I received warm welcomes from farmers and people who live and work in the Mekong Delta and who see the water rise bit by bit every year.
Science and anecdote are united. This book paints a picture of Vietnam from the outside, but also from the inside – and the way that the changes, under pressure from the increasing population, urbanisation and climate, manifest themselves in science and in the daily lives of normal people. And more importantly, how do they adapt to this?
In Spring 2009, I quit my job, packed my suitcase and left for Vietnam. I travelled through the Mekong Delta and met people who live and work there. In the frontline of climate change.