Sunday, February 20, 2011

Last day in Hue

I've got to say that Hue has really brightened my perception of Vietnam.  I know that it's pointless to try and pigeonhole a country after seeing so little of it, but experience is a more powerful method of persuasion than literature and logic.

Today was truly wonderful.  Our goal for the afternoon was to rent bikes again and make our way south of the city to the elaborate tombs of various emperors.  We took our time getting going in the morning but eventually joined the motorcycle traffic and wound our way through the unexplored passageways of Hue. 

Before arriving at the tombs, we found ourselves biking up to a big concrete wall, behind which we could see tall trees encircling something beyond our vision.  Compelled to enter, we found ourselves leaving the busy city streets for a quiet enclosure.  Rows of tall conifers shielded us from the glare of the sun while the high walls deflected the street noise.  This place was an unexpected but welcome oasis.  We approached the main structure unaware of its purpose.  Breath and movement slowed in the quiet.  Perception heightened.

David feeling the moment
We walked around with an unhurried pace, taking photos and pondering the environment.

Found a friend on a tiny tree

Slow movements
Before leaving, we opened up our guide book and found out that the place is called Nam Giao Espanade and was once the most important religious site in Vietnam.  The three tiers represent Heaven, Earth, and Humanity.  Ancient emporers would make elaborate animal sacrifices every year on the top teir of the Espanade to ensure their ongoing stability and superiority.  In modern times, rituals are still held regularily onsite.

We left the area feeling light and adventurous, ready for the next leg of our bicycle journey.  A few kilometers later, we were at Tu Duc Tomb.   We expected to see a temple with a sarcaphogus in it but we were met with much more.  The site was a huge walled-in space filled with ruins, multiple burial sites, a man-made lake and islet, and various other buildings that were used by Tu Duc for reading and writing poetry; housing his 104 wives, multiple concubines, and slaves; entertaining guests; and whatever else he felt like doing. 

One of Tu Duc's modern slaves maintaing the flowers

Large man-made lake in which Tu Duc leisurely paddle and fished

Ferns growing out of the ruins of concubines' residense

Grave of one of Tu Duc's 104 wives

Pre-enterance to Tu Duc's grave.  The slab directly behind Robyn and Jevin contains Tu Duc's autobiography in which he elaborates on his many faults as a ruler.
The story goes something like this:  The country was in poor shape due to a continued struggle against the French who, at some point, colonised Vietnam and made life generally miserable for its inhabitants.  The situation stressed Tu Duc out too much so, instead of doing something to better the situation for his people, he had this tomb built by thousands of slaves so he would have a place to forget about all the problems he was supposed to be solving.  Instead of ruling his people, he wrote poetry.  I imagine that his 104 wives and as many concubines probably took up quite a bit of his time as well.  In the end, he admitted to his many faults as ruler and is now remembered as a humble and self critical man.  My detailed psychoanalysis is that he was able to sidestep his responsibility to the nation by being the first to point out his own shortcomings.  I've probably messed up some details, but this is my impression of the situation.

Walking around the ruined buildings was quite nice.  Moss and ferns covered everything and it felt like we had the whole royal place to ourselves. 

We left the tomb and headed back into town down a back lane that looked like something out of a movie.  The three of us wheeled down the cobbled street passing ladies in cone hats, old men on rickety bicycles, and children playing games of imagination.  To the west, we could see over the Perfume River to a decrepet old town on the side of a hill.  We slowed upon passing a graveyard, tombstones and shrines piled on top of eachother.  This might be the land of ghosts. 

Back in Hue we joined the traffic.  As crazy as the rules of the road are, it's pretty fun to bike in the thick of it.  We were just three of a thousand bicycles all crossing a bridge.   I feel that this mode of transportation is one of the few ways I can do as the Vietnamese do.  It's a simple thing but it feels good.

A few hours and a bunch of raw tuna later, I decided to break from the pack and hit the night streets on my own.  With no destination in mind, I wandered into an art gallery. I really enjoy the candor of asian watercolors.  The lines, colors, and concepts are so simple but they fascinate me all the same.  I bought a small painting.  The scene is of three people, just taking a walk through an old town.  Simple. 

Feeling mellow, I headed for the river.  I wanted to find somewhere to lose myself.  Across a bridge, I said goodbye to the last white face I'd see for hours and wandered down a side street. 

I stopped when I heard the bell.  Mindfullness.  Is that what it meant to the 20 or so people dressed in white? Kneeling and bowing towards an alter.  Standing.  Hands to the third eye center in prayer.  Back down.

I walked into an alley and listened as the bellsound faded behind me.  Should I be here?  A man followed me.  Did he follow me or does he live here?  I'm not afraid but I'm a little afraid.  There are dogs, voices.  It smells like vanilla.  You could never breathe in this deep in Bangkok.  It might be sweet at first but then you'd get a big whiff of urine and that would just ruin the whole thing.  I keep walking and spot another house full of people chanting and singing.  What does it mean?  They are all women.  Men stand outside.  I am noticed.  He smiles and attempts communication.  Failure, no surprise there.  I decide that it's time for the alley to turn into a road but it doesn't listen and just turns into a dead end.  I've got to go back.  Past the man.  Past the dogs.  Mmmm, past the vanilla.  Deep breathing.  Into the street.  I feel safe. 


No comments:

Post a Comment