Tuesday, June 15, 2010

More reality

Photo: One of the most common questions asked is, did we eat dog? No, but this puppy looks good.

May 27th
- Leaving Hoi An behind, we got a ride back to Danang but this time to the train station. We didn't spend any time in Danang and after passing through the city, didn't regret that decision. Tattoo-girl was born in Danang, but wasn't really even interested in looking out the window. When we passed a large hospital in the center of town I remarked that she might have been born there. She nodded with a shrug. She has lived her entire conscious life in Houston and doesn't feel any connection to the country of her birth. To her, Vietnam is just a hot, dirty place where people speak the same language she does (at home).

We took the train over the central mountains, from Danang to Hué, but the trip was longer than advertised. For one thing, the train was at least 30 minutes late, closer to 45. For another, the non-stop train stopped several times. I thought asian communists (or are they communist asians?) ran on a tighter schedule. The only other train I've been on, other than the PATH between New Jersey & Manhattan, was in France so my experience is somewhat limited, but the SE6 train from Danang to Hué was a pretty bumpy, noisy, smelly affair. It was tolerable to me, but tattoo-girl sat on her bunk on the verge of tears again, with a wet-wipe over her face. Part of the problem was just being hot & tired, despite our compartment being air conditioned, albeit lightly. The other problem was that the restroom, shared for all compartments on our car, was right next to our compartment: It was not what one might call "clean." Further compounding the issue was that every time the train went through a tunnel, the diesel fumes would back up into the cars, making me a little nauseated as well. We shared our 4-bunk compartment with a 20-something (maybe late teens?) Vietnamese couple, both of whom had iPads and kept quiet for the entire trip. The guy also had a professional-level Nikon with some serious glass, but he was way too young & immature to have actually been a professional photographer. More than likely, they live in America and spend their summer(s) in Vietnam with family. The view out the windows was heart-stopping, both beautiful and frightening at times, but I enjoyed it. Tattoo-girl describes both the train and Danang station as "disgusting" but it really wasn't that bad. Upon arriving in Hué, she resolved to discard the tickets we'd already purchased for the trip 2 days from now for the train from Hué to Hanoi. Our hotel in Hué arranged for us to fly instead, and it was actually cheaper than the flights I had bought from home. I had expected to get hit with a huge "last-minute" penalty.

Arriving at the Hué train station was easy and we found a taxi to take us to our hotel. Hué is a very attractive, smaller city with an ancient past. We had a suite with a view of the river for $35/night. That night, the streets were ablaze with hundreds of tiny fires as it was the night before the Buddha's Birthday, called Le Phat Dan in Vietnamese. The next morning, we arranged for a private car & driver to take us to the Emperor's Tombs, the Citadel/Forbidden City, and Thien Mu Pagoda. We saw 3 different emperor's tombs, including the tomb of the last emperor's father (the last emperor is buried in Paris). With the exception of the newest one, the tombs and citadel were in a pretty sorry state of repair. Although the guidebooks and plaques suggest that this is due to the Americans dropping ton after ton of ordinance on the country, I think that the Vietnamese people just don't care enough about their history to repair or maintain anything. They tell stories about their glorious history, ousting the Chinese, French, and Americans, but the respect that the average citizen shows for historical monuments tells another story. There is not a pond, well, moat, or other historic hole in the ground that doesn't have at least one plastic water bottle and several plastic bags floating in it. Historic sites in Vietnam are either crumbling, poorly restored, or over-restored. It's not uncommon to read something such as the following at a temple:
A temple was originally built on this site in the year 1400. From 1420 to 1700, this temple was the most prestigious center of Confucian learning in the Annam empire. The current building dates to 2006.

Thien Mu Pagoda was just ok. The view of the nearby Perfume River is much better than the temple itself. The monks were chanting when we got there and there was a lot of joss (incense) burning for Le Phat Dan. As with other sites, the Vietnamese visitors were not terribly respectful of what was going on, and the celebration was a poor comparison to the one I witnessed in Beijing back in 2004.

Although I love Vietnamese cuisine and frequently eat Bun Bo Hué (Hué-style noodle soup) at home, I was disappointed that we didn't really get to try it here. The restaurant we went to for lunch had sold out (not uncommon here at home) and rather than walk the scorching streets again, we settled for other fare. We had one small bowl as part of a 7-course dinner, but as with the other food we've had here, it was bland (compared to home) and disappointing. We dined in a fairly nice restaurant (total bill $12) and were serenaded by musicians in traditional garb. As an open air garden restaurant, there was nothing to stop the bats from swooping in an making high-speed passes. There are lots of bats here in Vietnam, which reminds me of home. Later that night, a small boy peed in the street, splashing a bit on tattoo-girl's leg.


At 9:27 PM, Blogger Zelda said...

I think those bats were really nightbirds.

At 6:57 AM, Blogger Gillion said...

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