Wednesday, November 10, 2010

a weekend of culture....(and dancing)

Having met Kathy and David in Heathrow airport on the way to this Vietnamese adventure, it's very sad that they're about to finish up their placements in Hanoi and go back to the UK. Being alone, far from home, and in a very unfamiliar culture, they've been a big support to me and the rest of our little starting-out group. So to say goodbye, the six of us met up together for a weekend in Huế, central Vietnam. One of the wettest cities in Asia. In the middle of the rainy season. Whose idea was that?????

Well despite the constant rain, persistant cyclo drivers, post-Dengue fatigue and Shimpei's dodgy massage (more about that later!) we had a really fun weekend.

The city is green and aesthetically pleasing, with the Perfume river winding through the middle, and lots of parks and ornamental gardens with footpaths running through and round them. The streets are very very clean, and much less crowded than Hanoi or Saigon. If it ever stops raining I'll go back and spend time walking around.

Huế is renowned for it's temples, the Citadel, and it's food. I missed the tour of the temples and tombs, staying at the hotel to preserve currently-limited reserves of energy for the evening's fun and games, but the Citadel was an experience - walking amongst the ornate temples and buildings in the mist and rain was atmospheric and other-worldly. We wandered around, imagining going back 80 years to a time when the Citadel was home to Nguyễn emporers, their wives and concubines and eunuch servants, with their Mandarins in elaborate robes lined up to advise and discuss important matters, and elephants trained and dressed up for show.


Following hours walking around in the rain, our good friend mister Shimpei decided to make use of the hotel sauna and massage service. The sauna turned out to be 10 minutes shivering in a lukewarm cupboard, and the massage was, in his words, 3 minutes of "rubbing, scratching, and pinching" in a very seedy little room. When the young lady climbed astride him, pointing to his lower region and saying..... "bay-bee? bay-bee?", he claims to be pretty sure that she was offering an extra service and not just being descriptive, and escaped as fast as he could! Despite him turning down her lurid advances, we'll be calling him 'baby' for the rest of his life. Hahaha.

So the rain continued, but couldn't put a dampener on the evening, as we feasted at a popular local vegetarian restaurant, with the torrential rain hammering the metal roof. Huế has quite a lot of fairly devout Buddhists, and therefore has more vegetarian eateries than any other city in Viet Nam. Who'd have guessed that savoury fried sesame jackfruit would be so tasty?

And after dinner we made our way to an actual nightclub, where 'happy hour' lasted from when we arrived until we'd danced our socks off, every guy had tried and failed to chat Sarah up, and we'd finished the bar's stocks of sambuca. Good times.

I spent Sunday night with some volunteers living in Huế and some of their local friends. This was an adventure, consisting of beers at the backpacker hostel, local street food, 

an hour at the Miss Hue University beauty pageant (degrading, chauvanistic and UNBELIEVABLY slow, but an experience. Cameras and lights and sparkles and celebrities and gold suits and screaming ahoy).....

......followed by late night exploring of the city on scooters in search of sinh to, sheltering under low plastic sheeting to crowd round a tiny table to eat hot sweet fried goodies, more scootering, more street food and finally to bed.... fun fun fun in the, er, rain rain rain

I somehow slept all the way back back to Tam Ky on Monday morning (when the ticket says 'hard seat' they're not joking, and the smell of dried squid was pretty intense)....

....and then slept through most of the cultural show I was invited to attend that afternoon. Local government and Party officials and university directors were gathered for endless speeches, dancing, singing and a large buffet. I was almost dribbling with tiredness, and for the first time since university lectures was doing the thing where you fight sleep until your head drops down, waking you up, and you quickly look around to see if anyone has noticed. Know what I mean?

If you read this, Sarah, thanks for the welcome to Huế, and Kathy and David, good luck for your travels and thank you for being wonderful and 'tot bung'. See you back in the UK....

And the rest of you - see you at Christmas!!

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