Some Observations From A Rest Day In Hué, Vietnam
It is two weeks since the Golden Buddha Ride began and we are on our third rest day in Hué, the former capital of the Nguyen emperors. Hué is a lively modern city with the main attraction being Kinh Thanh (Citadel) built between 1804 and 1833. The Lonely Planet calls it, “splendid and sublime.” I wonder what LP would have called it before large part of it was destroyed, first by the French in 1885 and then during the Tet offensive in 1968 when, in three and half weeks, apparently more than 2500 people were killed in the Citadel. Though there has been some serious restoration done since, only 20 of its 148 buildings survived. Still, it is definitely worth a visit as LP goes on to say that many of the sight in the huge complex are “highly atmospheric and sublime.” I must say that whoever wrote this LP book certainly had some ‘sublime’ thoughts.
As you will recall our cycling tour started in Saigon, so it is no wonder that the scouts of this adventure chose an appropriate place to stay in Hué, the Saigon Morin Hotel. It is a venerable old establishment that is presently celebrating 122 years of existence and over this time it hosted some esteemed guests. Just in the last two decades the likes of the King and Queen of Sweden, the King of Norway and the Grand Duke of Luxembourg have graced these premises. And now it is our turn. The three storey hotel takes up a whole block and the inside courtyard has a pool, garden and an outdoor restaurant where we had our breakfasts. What can I say? Fit for kings, queens, grand dukes…and cyclists!
The hotel is situated on the right bank of the ‘most poetic river in Vietnam,’ Sông Hương or the Perfume River. According to Wikipedia, “in the autumn, flowers from orchards upriver from Huế fall into the water, giving the river a perfume-like aroma.” After visiting the Citadel, which is on the left bank of the river, on my way back to the hotel I crossed the river and, it being autumn, I took some heavy breaths to smell the perfume. The only perfume I managed to snort, however, was from a tourist standing in the middle of the bridge taking pictures of the colourful boats floating on the river. Then again, they say that as one ages, the sense of smell is not what it used to be. Or maybe there were just too many scooters on the bridge, diffusing the aroma.
Heading back to the hotel, I came across two young women, or perhaps still teenagers, one practicing her hip hop dancing moves to an English song, whose name I wouldn’t be able to recognize, not being a hip hop aficionado, while her friend was actively filming every move and dancing to the beat herself. There were to be several takes as the two women looked and discussed each attempt. Obviously, this was not just some silly selfie but a serious business.
Looking at those young women, a sudden thought hit my consciousness. This being a country where red flags with hammer and sickle abound everywhere we cycled, I wondered what the three ‘wise men’ behind the communist ideology adopted by the present regime, would they say if they saw Vietnam today? Free enterprise is everywhere and well-heeled tourists are spending their hard-earned pensions on big modern hotels, fancy restaurants and excursions on the river. Would they call for another revolution or would they join the festivities? As an aside, I do recall that when I worked in Ethiopia during the infamous Derg regime people told me that the reason the ‘wise men’s’ ideology didn’t work too well, was that having only one ear between them, they didn’t hear what the people were saying.
Speaking of free enterprise, a month or so before the trip, I lost a set of keys through a hole in my pocket. It included a key to my bike lock. Since I had a spare key, I decide to go to a hardware store to make a new spare. The ‘key man’ looked over my lock and declared that with this lock I would need to go the manufacturer and hopefully they could help. It sounded like major effort not worth my time so I brought my lock with one key, hoping for the best.
On the way to the Citadel at the edge of the bridge, I noticed a man sitting behind a small table, bent over a small machine making keys. When I came back from the Citadel, I took my bike lock and headed to the local ‘key man’ to try my luck, knowing from my past experiences in developing economies that the locals have talents that are now completely lost in our advanced countries. He was still there, reading the paper. I showed him my key and in sign language I asked what he could do. He took the lock with the spare key and got to work with a file, a pair of pliers, a hammer and a small electric metal grinder connected to a battery. I doubt that it took him ten minutes. Quickly, there was a new spare key in his hand and a big smile on his face. Total cost – US$2. So much for going to the manufacturer.
Golden Buddha Ride
Join us on our cycling quest for the fabled Golden Buddha. Our journey begins in the bustling modern city of Saigon and continues up the country's...