Thursday, June 9, 2016

The Historical City of Hue

Our hotel in Hue was located down a small alleyway off a main street. In the hotel lobby we were greeted by three employees, all were gracious and accommodating. Our room was on the third floor. The elevator had no depth. We walked into it, turned around and our backs were to the wall and our faces next to the door. It was a nice hotel for less than $25 a night. The room was clean, the bed was comfortable and the staff arranged for any trips or cab rides we needed. Breakfast was included and served every morning in the lobby.  I had a small freshly baked baguette or Croissant with scrambled eggs and fresh fruit and Vietnamese coffee, yum.

The first day we went to the Citadel, located across the Perfume River from our hotel, the walled Imperial City filled with ornate temples and buildings. It was Vietnam's capital from 1804 until 1945 and the home of Vietnamese Royalty. Instead of walking all the way down to one of the bridges to cross the river, we paid $2.00 and rode an ornately painted “dragon boat” operated by a man and his wife.

Image from
In February 1968, Hue was attacked by ten battalions of North Vietnamese soldiers and Viet Cong. American forces along with South Vietnamese units battled it out in the city for 25 days. The last stronghold of the enemy was the Citadel. In order to root out the enemy, we bombed it, destroying many of the structures. I was in Vietnam at the time and one of our interpreters had taken some time off to visit his family in Hue for the New Year’s celebration. He survived the month long fighting and returned to our unit and told us all about it.

The day was extremely hot when we wandered around the palace grounds. We carried bottled water and had rags to wipe away the sweat.  There were a few signs that mentioned the war and the battle of 1968, but without the negative tone against the “American aggressors”. There was still much evidence of the battle from almost 50 years before, destroyed buildings and walls, bullet holes in the bricks and deep holes in the ground. I tried to imagine my fellow soldiers fighting the enemy in and around these historic buildings.

After an hour or so of taking in the many beautiful ornate buildings, they became rather redundant. We read about the royal family and looked at many pictures. They seemed rich, spoiled and out of touch with the rest of the people in their country. They enjoyed gluttonous meals consisting of hard to get or hard to prepare foods and they used eunuchs (castrated boys) as personal servants. The men in power had many wives as well as many concubines.

The next day we hired a cab driver to take us to a restored primitive village with an historic old bridge. The expansive countryside around Hue was beautiful, green and lush. The cab driver told us he was a journalist and worked for one of the local papers. As Katie and I traveled the country, we were disheartened by all the trash, plastic bags and bottles etc. scattered along the sides of the roads and floating in the waterways. In and around the cities the trash problem was the worst, less so out in the country. We asked the journalist/cab driver about it and he admitted that it was a big problem. He told us he had written an article about it and submitted it to his paper. “My editor asked me if I was willing to go to jail over it and I told him 'no, I didn’t want to go to jail'.” So his editor told him to drop it and write about something else.

Even though under Communist rule the Vietnamese people do not yet have all the freedoms of a democracy, in general, this young population seems happy and hopeful about their future.  In Hoi Ahn when the school kids rode past us on their bikes, invariably they would shout out a friendly “Hello”. One evening when we were strolling along the Perfume River in Hue, we were approached by a small group of young Vietnamese women. They were students at Hue University and asked us if we would mind talking with them so that they could practice their English. We sat on the river wall and talked for over an hour. They were excited about their future and wanted to learn all about the world. They did not seem the least bit worried about their country or the government and no topic was off limits. 

On the third morning we took a cab to the Hue airport, flew to Hanoi, then back to Singapore. We had spent fifteen days in Vietnam, and similar to my first time there in the sixties, I was both happy and sad to leave.