Thursday, December 18, 2008

Hue (a little Hoi An)

On our last day in Hanoi we met Alison and her two children, Alex and Rose - two true Australian teens - for breakfast. One day I guess we'll have a bad experiencve with an Australian, but so far, over a good many years it's been all good. Had a good time, packed, had a last cafe sua da and away to the airport. Photo: Perfume River in Hue

I made a really goofy mistake booking tickets Hanoi to Danang. For some reason I was under the erroneous impression that there were no flights to Hue. So we were thinking and scheming - maybe spend the night in Danang; maybe catch bus to Hue. We finally figured out what to do after landing in Danang - was talking with Terrance, a young man from Malaysia (the one who gave his seat to Leslie), who said they were going to Hoi An. I immediately knew the way to go, and we shared a taxi from Danang to Hoi An. So here we are in Hoi An, where David and Jeff and I had some seriously good times in 2005 (uh-oh, just discovered that my photos in VN 2005 site are gone - something else to sort out when we get home). We're staying at the Vinh Hung 3 Hotel ($22/night), which is nicer than our usual, but we're getting in touch with the realities of the limitations that have visited us with age - no more people's buses, no more non-aircon $2 GH rooms (the worst was one in Rangoon where the walls went up about 6 feet, then chicken wire to the ceiling), no more 8 hour hikes through weird places, etc., etc.

Had some okay shrimp with garlic and tomatoes, decent french fries, and good sauteed spinach for afternoon meal. Later we got chicken quarters with rice, noodles, papaya, that strange-tasting VN leafy vegetable, chilis, lime garlic and a little bowl of blood soup (I didn't realize that's what it was until I tasted it - hmmm). The chicken was 30000 dong (less than $2USD); the shrimp etc was 80000 (about $5USD). Eating the chicken we were accompanied by 2 dogs under the table, using their noses very gently to remind us to drop some scraps on the ground. Photo: Imperial City

So tomorrow we catch the $4 tourist bus to Hue - a 5 hour trip, including an hour stop at a beach somewhere - one more swim in the South China Sea for me. The tourist bus is about 70/30 Vietnamese and travelers. Very nice reclining seats (that did not sit up, so it took a pack and other stuff to kind of sit up. The most comfortable bus ride ever. It's raining and Leslie tells me Van Morrison is singing, "Oh the water, Oh, oh the water, let it run all over me ..." (Problem - no good photos from bus)

The stop at a beach is not a stop at a beach, but a restaurant near a beach. Leslie goes to the WC and comes back to give me her purse. "I don't think I can do this while I'm holding anything." That is, it's a squat toilet. While she was waiting to use the toilet and talking with two young women from Singapore, two Vietnamese women slipped ahead of them in the line (because Leslie and her acquaintences didn't keep the line closed up. "I'm glad this isn't my first rodeo." She says, "Not good to be learning these things at our age."

It's raining and we're driving through padi and garden land with houses pastel blue, blue, green, yellow, cream, white, violet, orange, pink - in that Vietnamese style and sense of style. Photo: Imperial City

Oh! 19th Nervous Breakdown from Got Live album just came on my iPod and I flash back to being a few miles north of here, in my last few months in Vietnam in 1967 when I was in a "psychological operations" unit and we'd go on large operations with Marine units and (listen, this is true) broadcast Buddhist funeral music on big portable speakers that we'd hauled up into trees and there was a Vietnamese guy who went with us and he'd talk to the other guys (NVA) and tell them to give up (chieu hoi) and we'd get bored with that and we had these tapes, including a Rolling Stones tape from the Got Live album and we'd play things like, Have You Seen Your Mother Baby, Standing in the Shadows and 19th Nervous Breakdown really loud in the night at the DMZ and sooner or later the NVA would start shooting (yeah, they'd give up about like we'd give up - Marines that is, not America) and around midnight one of us would crawl out and lower the speakers.

The bus driver is going slow through the rain, past these houses, past a funeral, past a wedding, houses and garden and padi all green and it's edging toward psychedelic here. Green! Vietnam! Photo: Imperial City

Through mountains and there goes the train on our left and on the right the South China Sea and there went the remnants of a French blockhouse - High Flying Bird and then Barricades of Heaven, a song about a place in time, not geography- "Oh the world is shining!" Water buffalo, padi and muddy dikes like I've walked a thousand times, some of the padi ready to plant (all is wet and watery and muddy), buffalo boy riding a buff, wearing a sheet of plastic sheet and conical hat. Cane, chickens, pigs, ducks; Leslie points out a vast cemetary set into the side of the hills on our left. And we go bumping, the bus swaying and across a one lane bridge.

Goin' Down to Old Woodstock, Bullet the Blue Sky, little girl on a pink bicycle, holding on to her straw hat, riding down a dirt path. A temple, another river, another temple, another wedding all the bridesmaids wearing pastel orange ao dais, looking good (I said something earlier about the Vietnamese sense of style, right), through a beautiful tiny town, lanes and rectangular pools of water, ducks, children playing, people having tea, all the houses open in the front, Lady With a Fan/Terrapin Station, duck farm with many ducklings destined for a dinner table, maybe a wedding table.

All the everywhere now muddy. Woman sitting in her front room sewing, people having tea, a midday meal - Oh! An arbor! Chickens on a front porch, another river. If this is a tourist bus, how come most of the people are Vietnamese and there's a Chinese action movie in Vietnamese on the TV - on the other hand, the movie isn't really blaring so that's a check in the it's a tourist bus column. Altars at most of the houses along this road. Leslie just gave me some of the vaselin (no e on this brand) she bought in Hanoi. Small temples along the way, water cokes beer etc. for sale and there's another river and here comes the market, Cho Phu Bai. Photo: The people's bus at Hue market

I was in Phu Bai in 1967. That's where a small contingent of men from C Company stayed while the rest went to Khe Sanh. I went to Phu Bai to visit my friend Jeff and we were drinking in the squad tent that the REMFs had there and had a can of C-rats cooking on a little heat tab stove and a sergeant who was also in the tent told us to quit. We didn't and he got agitated and he and Jeff ended up fighting and in addition to Jeff beating him down, the sgt stepped on the still lit heat tab, which stuck to his foot giving him a pretty good burn. The outcome of the whole thing (in addition to the interrupted party) was that Jeff got sent to Khe Sanh, which was okay with him, except that he was wounded at Khe Sanh, but not badly, so no problemo. Miss Sarejovo (Miss Saigon).

Still on the road to Hue: old mossy Catholic church built by the French, haystacks, lots of chickens, tiny market, laundry still on the line - hey, it's getting wet, cemetary, dogs, Kwan Yin - Our Lady of Compassion, another old blockhouse, gun ports empty for a long time now.

Wish list: "I wish I was a sacrifice, but somehow still lived on."

Leslie is plotting and scheming on how we can get back to Hanoi in another year or two. One really nice thing about here is the lack of discernable prositutes. Photo: Hue market

Hue: bus stopped at a big hotel. Leslie went up to look at a room, but the best they would was $22, which seemed high. Then I went off with a guy on a moto and came up with a place for $10/night (Ngoc Binh Hotel) in a backpacker alley. It's okay, not great - your basic $10 room, I guess.

Somewhere along the line, after another interaction with yet another charming person I said to Leslie, "I wonder if people think we're goofy with our pretty constant (unspoken) 'Oh man.'" She said, "We may be among the happier travelers they see (so our responses may not be so typical)." And I'm thinking about that for a couple of hours and thinking, Maybe so. But not happier, I think than the two Canadian travelers we've run into several times - one big old, good old boy and his friend, drinking beer and smoking them cigarettes.

Leslie arranged for a slightly more expensive room ($12 vs. $10 and nicer - aircon, hot water, internet in room) at the Binh Duong 3, still in the same alley and across the street from a classic backpacker cafe with good music (REM, Bob Marley, U2, etc.) - Thu on Wheels, operated by the frenetic, husky-voiced Minh Thu.

Monday: up early after sleeping like a log for 10 hours. Back to Thu's for coffee, banana pancake with honey and mango shake - classic backpacker cafe fare (think I'll have the same tomorrow). Started walking to VN Airlines to book a ticket to Saigon. Of course that and changing money took longer than you might think. Then we got completely lost and wandered, fortunately, in a circle. Met two transcendentally cute Viet students who tried to help, but didn't know where to tell us to go. Later, as we continued our circular walk, one of the students dashed across the street to try again, but by then a young woman at a beauty shop had walked with us 1/2 a block to get us on the right track. Photo: Market in Hue

After lunch Leslie went to the room and I went on a walk to the huge Dong Ba Market. People I encountered on this walk included a pretty gross guy who had sex on his mind. Then an alleged university student selling toothpicks (she said) to benefit the blind. Then a Viet woman from Germany whose photo I took (with her camera) on the bridge. A little further along the bridge a girl on a bicycle gave me a soft/firm slap on the chest (and then a gale of giggles) as she rode past with her friends. I was very tired when I got back to the hotel. Dinner was at the Hung Vuong Cafe - baguette sandwich and salad. Hope the salad doesn't do me in.

"Keep it tidy"

Tuesday: no ill effects from the salad - think I'll do it again this evening. "Keep it tidy" indeed. On this day I endured comments about (1) me splashing too much when showering "Why don't you keep it tidy," (2) me drinking straight from (my own) water bottle, (3) "I think we should spread up the bed a little bit - I don't want them to think we're complete aborigines - though one of us is," and (4) my propensity to step in water puddles while walking. I wish I was Muslim so I could have 3 more wives - YEAH! Photo: don't eat the fresh vegetables

Breakfast at Cafe on Thu Wheels: banana pancake (10000 dong - 16900 dong/$1USD) and cafe sua da (5000) for me and a baguette with veggies and cheese (10000) + coffee for Leslie. I think I have the banana pancakes figured out and it does not include any pancake recipe.

We took xyclos to the Citadel (20000 dong each) across the Perfume River (Song Huong), along the river and into the fort, past the fort to the gates of the Imperial Enclosure. We had talked earlier this morning with a man from Manchester who told us he had found the Citadel unremarkable, but we found it pretty great, not in a monumental way, but beautiful and in the rain, perfect. We walked from one end to the other, having a good time in the rain and some mud. Photo: Thu's cafe - a classic backpacker place

In 1967 I was one of the few Americans to go there. I caught a truck from the base at Phu bai, then a cyclo to the Citadel. It was almost completely deserted and I walked around inside for several hours andf outside for several hours. It was a lasting and wonderful memory to me. A year later, the VC executed more than 4000 civilians in the streets of Hue and after the slaughter had them buried them in mass graves. Hue is a city with too many ghosts.

We left around noon and shared a cyclo to the Dong Ba Market - "What a sight we must be" Leslie said. It was a memorable ride in the steady light rain. At first I had my head under Leslie's umbrella, then, hey hey, let's go, I got out from under and enjoyed the rain and the ride. The cyclo driver said, "The people of the world, they like Obama." We walked around in the market for awhile, then to a new adjoining department store and grocery, both pretty empty.

We walked across the bridge and on to our hotel. Lunch at Thu's: water spinach, spaghetti & garlic for Leslie and one banana & pineapple pancake and one banana pancake with honey and two cafe sua da for me. Photo: taken from Thu's

Tomorrow we leave for Saigon. As it turns out, flying is about $20 more per person than the train and, needless to say more than $20 more convenient/faster and less demanding, so here we go on Jetstar Air (after more banana pancakes - I was telling Leslie that there is a snobbery in some quarters re banana pancakes, because, I guess, they are so prototypically backpacker fare - what foolish snobbery).


Anonymous said...

I love your blog. And I love the pictures & your insights into SE Asia then and now. I spent a couple weeks in the Philippines when I was 12, but I've always wanted to have a more in-depth visit.

Thank you for sharing these experiences with us!

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