Hue (pronounced Whey)

Vietnam Volunteer:

Hue (pronounced Whey)

What a week it has been! Sick children, late nights, and of course my short getaway to Hue to see the Purfume River, Citadel and beautiful pagodas.

Little baby Dung is back at the orphanage this evening; I reluctantly had to leave the dear one with his caretakers at AOV2 orphanage. I understood the enormous importance of having good translators today when trying to communicate with the caretakers about Dung’s healthcare needs and feeding/burping/etc. At first my instructions were not well-received and I was worried that I was returning Dung to the orphange too soon after his illness. But I feel confident now, after speaking with Jen, Ms Huong, and the translators, the mothers will properly care for Dung as he recovers from bronchitis. I was a nervous wreck leaving him there, since my perhaps over-the-top expectations for caring for an ill child are far different from those in Vietnam. I should mention that the Vietnamese mothers are certainly qualified caretakers - evidence of 80 million healthy people living in Vietnam today! All I thought was: “I’m going to need a prescription for Valium to calm my nerves, whenever I become a mother.” Mom: NOW I sort of know why you worry about me all the time!!!

Not gonna lie, though, I AM looking forward to a continuous uninterrupted night’s rest tonight (no 10pm or 3am feedings, no midnight nebulizer treatments!)

Despite my parental responsibilities, I was able to sneak away for a short getaway this past weekend. On Saturday, Jen took over all motherly duties for Dung, while I took off to Hue (2 hour bus ride north) with Kyle, Jess, and JD. I’ve read horror travel stories before, of people being crammed into tiny buses, unable to see their feet, having unknown hands jammed into tight spaces, no bathroom or window to speak of, and 6 hours of hot, non-air-conditioned bus riding. Fortunately, most of these horror stories originate in rural China or Mongolia. Our ride wasn’t quite as uncomfortable, but I did arrive in Hue with numb feet and a wicked charlie-horse in my leg. The quarters were tight and I couldn’t really move from the moment I sat down, as people were seated or standing 360 degrees around me. I sweat off about “half a stone” as JD would say, but we arrived timely and safely.

Hue is quaint and quiet, in comparison to Hanoi, DaNang and Saigon. Few motorbikes and plentiful sidewalk space. Little cafes and bars sprouting up all along the Perfume River and hostel areas. We took a tour of the Citadel (old emperor’s quarters) and the remains of the Imperial Enclosure and Purple City. Hue took a heavy beating during the war, as it is only a few kilometers from the DMZ. Most historic buildings were toppled, and the city is still recovering. We then visited the Thien Mu Pagoda, where Buddhist monks currently reside, and I was fortunate enough to catch one of their prayer services. Beautiful chanting and prayers coming from monks of all ages, ranging from 12 to 70! Pretty remarkable.

Behind Thien Mu is an old Austin motorcar that became famous from a photograph taken in 1963 in Saigon. Remember the infamous monk who set himself on fire in protest of the policies of the South Vietnamese government? His fiery protest caught the world off guard and the photograph was known around the world within days. The car that transported monk Thich Quang Duc to the site of his death was pictured in every one of these published photographs, and it sits on display behind Thien Mu Pagoda.

We took a boat trip of the Perfume River, and saw a village of fishermen and their families who live and work on their fishing boats. It was a remarkable scene. We did some shopping, ate some great grilled shrimp for dinner, and retired to ‘Why Not? Bar’ at the end of the evening. The waitress approached and asked if we wanted another round of drinks, and before we could answer she said, “Why not?” So we bought another round. I tried Vietnamese Dalat wine for the first time, and was impressed! Since I was expecting a wine that tasted like mouthwash, I was pleasantly surprised that it was only somewhat terrible. It couldn’t have been TOO bad since I polished off 3 glasses. :)

Where the real adventure began was during my walk to the bus station the following day. It was about 100 degrees and the sun was HOT on Sunday afternoon. The others decided to stay a little longer in Hue, but I missed baby Dung and wanted to get back to DaNang. According to my trusty Lonely Planet travel guide, the bus station was on the northwest corner of the Citadel, on the outskirts of the city. I could have taken a taxi, but decided to be old fashioned and walk. I left the hotel with my pack and began to walk. And I walked…and walked…about 6 km. It was HOT and muggy. No one was stupid enough to be outdoors like me; all the locals were inside napping in the shade, or drinking a cold beverage. I spent the first 30 minutes of my walk trying to locate a cold bottle of water. When I found one, I spent the next 60 minutes trying to find the bus station. I asked for directions a few times (of course had forgotten my phrase book in DaNang) to no avail. I was not lost, since I could locate myself on the map exactly. But the supposed bus station on the map, was NOT where it is located in real life!!! With the help of an empathetic Vietnamese woman who spoke excellent English, I flagged a motorbike taxi and eventually got to the correct bus station. (Note: the correct bus station was in the exact OPPOSITE direction in which I had been walking for 90 minutes). Just so you know, the Vietnamese woman looked at my map and agreed with me: the MAP was wrong. So, $3 and a 15 minute motorbike-ride later and I was boarding my bus.

The bus ride home was not as crowded or hot, and I could feel my feet the whole time. I couldn’t help but laugh, however, when a few of my fellow passengers back to DaNang were ducks.