Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Tet 1968: The Citadel

Another must stop for anyone seeing more than just Saigon and Hanoi is Hue, the ancient imperial capital of Vietnam. I was interested for that reason and because I was there during Tet 1968. The palace is now a ruin, in part due to normal wear and tear over the centuries, WW2 and the fighting during the 1968 Tet Offensive. The Communists used it as a base and as a result the grounds suffered immensely due to the fighting.

Anyone familiar with South East Asia and/or part of Georgia for that matter will know about Cicada, the grasshopper like bug that emerges each 17 years to live a short but incredibly loud life. They were on the Citadel grounds when I was there and there is no way I can over state how loud they were. Loud enough to cause me to cover my ears.

Note the two pictures of the Citadel; one with a flag and one without. I took both some 31 years apart although quite by accident. I found the 1968 photo among my war pictures only after returning from the 1999 trip . Pure serendipity. Or does it qualify as deja vu if I was actually there??

Perfume River

These pictures were taken on the Perfume River near the Citadel. Those people you see on the boat, and countless others like them, live their entire lives on the river on those boats. I cannot even begin to imagine what that would be like.

Also at the river’s edge is the Thieu Mu Pagoda, a beautiful structure and grounds about 5km from Hue City. Built in 1601 and heavily damaged during WW2, it is still a major tourist attraction today.

Reunification Express to Hanoi from Hue

Back on the train, this time from Hue to Hanoi overnight and as before, bring what you want to eat and drink and minimize visits to the “facilities” and you’ll be fine. A bit warm and humid but overall an overnight train ride just like anywhere else.

There is an interesting story associated with this part of the trip from Hue to Hanoi. When I boarded the train I put my bag under the bottom bunk. Shortly thereafter I was joined by a middle aged Vietnamese couple with whom I would share the compartment. They attempted to put their bag under the bunk as I had done but for some reason it wouldn’t fit. So I got down on my hands and knees reaching under the bunk to see what was stopping it.

My head was turned toward the couple as I felt under the bunk. Way back in the corner I grabbed something that, to me, felt like what I think a dead woman’s leg would feel like. It was fleshy and cool to the touch and felt as though it was wrapped in nylon (hence, dead woman’s leg.) I grabbed hold of it pulling it out from under the bunk and as it emerged, I saw a look of horror come across the faces of my traveling companions. What I had was not a leg but a 6 foot cobra snake wrapped in a mosquito net.

The snake belonged to a conductor who was smuggling it north from Saigon. Cobra meat is an illegal delicacy with many men drinking the snake’s blood believing it to be an aphrodisiac. However not for me. One bite and I would have been toast. How ironic to have survived the war only to die decades later on that train.

Hanoi Street Life

Unlike many cities I have visited around the world, in Hanoi my pictures were more often street scenes involving people in contrast to the structure pictures I would take in Europe and other parts of Asia. It's not that I don’t find Hanoi’s buildings interesting because I do but the people in the streets IS Hanoi. I can think of no other city where the street life interests me as much as do the buildings other than New York.