Monday 20 May 2013

Jewels of Halong Bay Recounts High-Adventure in Colonial Vietnam

Nearly 10 years after its launch as one of Southeast Asia’s most transporting cruises, Emeraude Classic Cruises has produced a 112-page narrative history that details the remarkable adventure of a colonial French family, an historic paddle steamship and its contemporary namesake.

The book - The Jewels of Halong Bay: A Tale of Adventure in French Indochina and a Curious History of the Emeraude — recounts the story of three French brothers who sought and made a fortune in colonial Indochina.

Its pictures include vintage shots of life and landscapes in the former French possession, maps, and images of the original Emeraude, which cruised Halong Bay from 1906 to 1937. The story concludes with the resurrection and relaunch of the Emeraude in December 2003.

“This story has captivated me since I first saw a postcard of the old Emeraude in the St. Ouen flea market in Paris in 1999,” said Eric Merlin, who built the latter-day vessel and whose research informs The Jewels of Halong Bay.

“The story gripped me then, and it’s never let go. Because we’ve heard the same thing from so many passengers, this book became inevitable.”

At its core, the book tells the story of the Roque Brothers, who set sail from Bordeaux in early 1858 and whose entrepreneurial skills and daring fueled their fortune. The Roques provisioned the French military during its campaign to establish a foothold in Vietnam. They built businesses in timber and sugar, and finally hit their stride with the development of a shipping company in the 1870s.

At the same Jewels tells the Roques’ story, it’s also telling the story of France’s deepening involvement in Vietnam, from its beachhead in Tourane (Danang) in the 1860s, through the rise of Saigon in the 1870s, and its move to Hanoi in the 1880s.

The Roques expand into greater Vietnam as France does, eventually bequeathing the foundation of their business to the next generation’s Paul Roque. It is Paul Roque who builds the first Emeraude, and three sister ships all named for gems — the jewels of Halong Bay — and who eventually brings his family’s time in Vietnam to a close in the 1920s.

Published by Nha Xuat Ban Lao Dong, with production by Duong Huynh Advertising, The Jewels of Halong Bay is available for sale at $15 at Emeraude Classic Cruise Sales Office and the Press Club in Hanoi, at the Emeraude Cafe on Halong Bay, on the Emeraude itself and at La Residence Hotel & Spa in Hue.

The story is based on research by Eric Merlin, and the text was prepared by Pam Scott, a longtime Hanoi resident.

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