Monday, 24 November 2014

Hue is Hue?

Number one daughter continues her journey through Vietnam - never a dull moment, clearly! 

A three and a half hour journey by train dropped us off in Hue - after a slight 
reluctance to leave Hoi An, knowing that it would be difficult to compare our 
experience there as we travelled northwards in Vietnam. The train chugged 
and hugged the coastline, giving us views of narrow inlets and pockets of 
beaches, fishermen and their boats and the scaling green hills on the other 

Hue is home to the Citadel and was the capital city of Vietnam in the 19th 
century and where Ho Chi Minh grew up. As you walk along the street into 
town, Hue is divided by a clean split down the river - the Citadel down one 
side and the town down the other. For this reason, the charm that we had 
been hit by in Hoi An, was lacking here - the people choosing not to base 
themselves around what is to tourists, the heart of Hue, and very reason 
why so many people come to visit here. You are left with an impression of 
a 'wannabe city' - modern hacked buildings, unappealing hotels and cross 
the bridge to immerse yourself in history and culture.

We felt finagled by the promise of Hue - but I promise that this disappointment 
will not linger long in this blog.

Hue's Imperial City, the Citadel, is a fortress surrounded by a moat, with 
water taken from 'The Perfume River' - which runs through the centre of 
town. Inside is the imperial enclosure to the 'Purple Forbidden City' - where 
the Emperor, his wives and his concubines lived and where all official 
business and ceremonies took place. The Citadel was bombed in the 
Vietnam war and we are told, looked very different a few years ago, but 
now all of the bomb craters have been filled up with soil and modern 
hallways provide paths to and from the original buildings that have 

Now, Alex is a typical boy in that, in laddish fashion, he spent much of his 
time looking around the Citadel and designing his own personal fortress. I 
am informed, by him, that I may live on an island in the middle of a lake and 
build my own treehouse but that I do not have permission to fish to survive 
and that if I was to disobey him, he would arrange for his servants to throw 
things at me and order the angry seabass in the moat to deprive me of 
bathing or escaping, akin to Austin Powers.

In retaliation, I spent much of the time imagining well-oiled men in loin cloths 
tending to my every whim, daily massages and a library beating the splendour 
of Codrington Library at Old Souls College, Oxford. The list goes on.

The DMZ bar hosted us as we clinked our glasses and watched the football 
and England vs New Zealand rugby in sequential fashion. The DMZ bar 
stands out due to its ceiling which is a geographical tour of the Demilitarised 
Zone which was the dividing line between North and South Vietnam during 
the Indochina War which saw the Viet Cong beat the French to be 
recognised as its own government in North Vietnam. This paved the way 
towards the Vietnam War which saw Americans in South Vietnam fighting 
the 'communism of the North', or as the Vietnamese would probably say - 
barbarically depriving them of their right to independence. A tale of two sides, 
as always.

Speaking of which, those who know me well are aware of the amount of 
literature I absorb on a weekly basis. So far I have probably read about ten 
books in the past two weeks, but the one that has left me absorbed in the 
history of Vietnam is called 'Saigon' by Anthony Grey. Through the eyes of 
a young American who visits the country for the first time in 1926, hunting 
tiger in the jungles with his wealthy father and brother, the book spans fifty 
years of Vietnamese history. The young American returns, time and time 
again, haunted and beguiled by the lumbering country as it leaned harder 
and harder towards independence. Constantly torn between his patriotism 
and an innate understanding of the sacrifices Vietnam had made for 
French colonialism, you observe the battle within himself as much as he 
details the battle surrounding him. Historical fiction might be its genre, but 
the way that the author cannily and accurately portrays Saigon, Hue and 
other places around us leads me to take much of his account as truth and 
it is considerably unbiased in comparison to the other fiction and non-fiction 
I have read in understanding this country better.

In Agatha Christie fashion, we boarded the sleeper train that would carry us 
to Hanoi. The tracks lie flat to the platform and local men sit casually puffing 
away in the smoky dark until the train arrives. We found ourselves in a cabin 
with two bunk beds and a narrow table sitting in between. The door only just 
about shuts and a guard sat outside our cabin, presumably, to ward off the 
spooky and murderous ghosts of the Orient Express. The train, I had 
imagined - in typical romantic fashion, would rock me softly to sleep with 
murmurs of the 'chug-a-chug' beneath me. This was not to be. The train 
would slow down mildly before throwing down its brakes and hurtling to a 
stop - nearly throwing us out of the bunk. Occasionally, the guard felt the 
need to slide our door open and pop his head in, throwing light into the cabin. 
This was, I assume, to check that we were still there not that somebody had 
climbed over the top and murdered us in our sleep.

Next stop is Hanoi - on a brief detour before we climb the hills and the fog to 

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