Return of the Huda
(Ammended to include the tale of the Deaf Dupan)
The Sunday following my dreadful hangover I departed for Hue. Hue was a favorite last time in spite of the 45 degree heat every day. This was due to the fortunate proximity to my hotel of a cafe called Cafe on Thu Wheels. It was directly opposite and saved me last time from saturation sweating by being a great place to welter under the fans with barely cold Huda Beers in the presence of a completely mad woman named Thu.
When my bus dropped me off this time, a girl came onto the bus with a card for her hotel Phong Nha which I instantly recognised as being the exact same place I stayed last time. As I was following the girl up the alley to the hotel, I could see the familiar face of Thu out the front of her cafe, doing her familiar fishing routine. This is where she reels in new patrons with an imaginary fishing line. As she cast the invisible line to me, I just smiled and she said: "I remember you." And sure enough she did. Nice moment.
Since being in Hue I have spent most of my early evenings and had most of my meals at Thu's place. Good cheap beer and food with a crazy host who has seemingly managed to pick up every slang word and expression from every English speaking country. Her Ali G impersonation is something to behold. And one cant quite help but smile when she asks a unsuspecting new Aussie patron of her business: "How are they hanging?" Working the hours she does, supporting her family, she does have her moments and can be a grumpy old b****, but this only serves to make her a little more entertaining as we tend to play on it as she studiously ignores our calls for more beers. Thankfully this time around it is nowhere near as hot and the beers are slightly colder, although they do become very warm very quick. For me, it doesnt really matter. I have become acclimatised.
Thu organises morning or afternoon motorbike tours, which I did this time as well as last time and which I can heartily recommend. This time around on the afternoon tour it was just me and the aforementioned Spud. Nice way to spend an arvo, soaring past the rice paddies, through small villages - darting chickens and dogs everywhere -past the colorful incense sellers, to sleeping villagers taking solace from the sun in a beautiful old wooden bridge and various points of interest, the usual pagodas (where we witnessed a Buddhist prayer ceremony - see the picture of the novice monks for this entry) and tombs, and some terrific views overlooking the Perfume River.
Whereas last visit my attempts to visit the enormous walled and moated Citadel were thwarted by the intense heat, stopping me short at the River in a pool of salty Western sweat (which the cats here seem to like by the way - nothing to do with me at all!), this time I was able to explore its expanses somewhat more comfortably. It was built for the Emporer Gia Long in 1804 (or at least begun then) but was destroyed to varying degrees by extensive bombing during the War. There was little interest in restoring it until relatively recent times, so it is very much a work in progress. The flag tower and flag are the largest in Viet Nam and quite impressive.
Was drunk and stupid enough to hire a cyclo one night when out and all the others had deserted me at a bar called Brown Eyes. This bar has a policy of staying open until the last person passes out, a promise they are more than happy to keep. But after a few games of pool with the manager and some rather desolate conversation, I decided to head out and see where the night would take me. The solitary awaiting cyclo was very persistent (as always) and when he told me he could take me to a local watering hole for 30,000 dong, I succumbed. Of course this dude waited for me whilst I laboured over my one beer with the locals and then decided that as it was approaching 4am and I was well and truly schickered, I should really head back to the hotel. My man took me across the river a very short distance and upon arrival demanded 400,000 dong! Of course I had no intention of paying anywhere near this and so began a tirade of exchanged insults in English and Vietnamese, with the f word thrown in for good effect after about every second other word. The problem was I had no change to give him, so I ran to my hotel and woke the poor b***** who was sleeping and got him to change some money for me. Funnily enough the cyclo driver didnt follow me in. It was almost as if I was in the confines of my own personal embassy which dictated that his laws were no longer valid. Once I had 50,000 in my hot little hands I opened the door and threw it down at his feet before making a hasty retreat to my hotel room. I would have given the dude more if he hadnt been a little.....(I wont even bother using the word I would, as STA have a tendency to censor, so what is the point?)
Post this experience I was a little peed off at all the cyclo and xe om drivers craving my money, beginning each attempt to extort a little cash with the mandatory "Where are you from my friend?" I discovered a number of novel ways to deal with this which made the experience somewhat more satisfying, including feigning deafness as they cycled up behind me. Once in eyesight I would turn and frantically begin signing whilst mouthing things. Whilst most would ignore me at this point in time, one cyclo driver did attempt to work his way around it. As he looked at me he pointed to his watch, circled it with a finger, followed by lifting that finger up, as he said "One hour". I was quite happy with this little encounter but no chance of going there again, even were I to be under the influence.
The other option came from Kashka, a Polish girl I met who told me that she would tell them that she was from Dupa (which, depending on how the censors feel about this word, means arse or bum: I figure if they censor arse they wont censor bum, hence the double take). Whilst drinking the obligatory Hudas we laughed like silly children @ the very thought of these guys nodding as if in complete knowledge and then replying "Ah, Dupa. Nice place!" We then proceeded to make a description of Dupa. Kashka favoured it being an island with 100,000 inhabitants, only accessible by plane. I preferred the more anatomically correct with the country a municipality surrounded by two mountains with a sometime active volcano at its centre! Sad arent we? However I used the Dupa Scam on a number of the drivers and indeed it seems that the Vietnamese think that bum is a nice place. Who am I to argue?
My very last day in Hue was turning out to be a very boring one indeed, waiting for the 5.30 sleeper bus. That is until Thu asked if Spud and I would like to go visit her house. What a wonderful thing. Thu was so generous, bringing along beers and paying for the taxi we had to take due to Spud's rampant emphysema and inability to walk for even 5 minutes (all the way fagging away whilst simultaneously chewing on a Nicorette, God love him!) Funny thing is though, with the business she runs every day of the week, the only person who lives in this 4 story mansion is her brother. She said that maybe when she retires, to which Spud truthfully asserted "I dont think u will ever retire." Got some nice shots of Thu and her nephews on their beautiful plant adorned balcony. Really lovely place and a really nice gesture on her behalf. Made my last day in Hue a wonderful memory.
Then I took the long awaited and long dreaded sleeper bus to Ninh Binh which ends this chapter of the blog. Shall begin the next entry right about now....