December 29 – Hue

I’ve never liked motorcycles very much, so when it was suggested that we have a special motorcycle tour of the countryside surrounding Hue, the imperial city, I was a bit hesitant; but the itinerary sounded so inviting, it was hard to resist. We started our tour after breakfast. The drivers were all waiting for us outside the hotel. Leon got picked first, like the star player on the new basketball team. I got picked by a very nice man – Pham, who put a helmet on my head and buckled it up like a mother would to her hesitant child. He understood that going fast would be frightening not exciting, so he drove carefully as I held on to his waist for dear life. As one of the other tourist said, ‘they could tell we are from Australia because we were hanging on like Koalas.’

We travelled out of the city, stopping to see an incense factory, a small village where a lovely old woman showed us how rice was harvested and processed before mechanization and where I had my fortune told by a palm reader who had been married to an American GI. We went for lunch at a Buddhist nunnery, enjoying a delicious vegetarian lunch. We stopped to meet a conical hat maker, a traditional craft of Hue. This lovely lady has only one hand, due to an accident of birth (the result of Agent Orange contamination), but manages to produce 4 hats a day. We continued our travels through a very large cemetery and stopped to see the bunkers above the river that had been built by the French and the US military. The day turned sunny, the air was clearer than we had breathed in Hanoi. It was just lovely! After a very short while, I became quite relaxed and starting thinking how nice it would be to own a Vespa scooter of my own.

Dinner was held at a private home in the city. We met the hosts in the first of 3 houses that the family owned. The grandmother was introduced, a lovely small woman with a white chignon and jade pearls to highlight her beauty. In Vietnam, it is considered beautiful to have black teeth, so the old ladies chew a combination of lime (the kind you put on dead bodies to decompose them, not the fruit), a certain leaf and some beetle nut. This makes the teeth go red and then black and shiny, like pearls. The grannie was quite proud to show off her smile and joined us for dinner in the 3rd house after we had visited the kitchen. The eldest daughter was our chef. We were served peanut and squash soup, light spring rolls, caramel pork, rice, beef and star anise soup, green with garlic, tomatoes stuffed with pork and some fresh pineapple with salt and chili for dessert. We had joined another group of tourists for the meal and enjoyed good conversation as we sat at low tables with small plastic yard chairs. Granny sat that one end and enjoyed a beer along with her meal too. Just a lovely, warm, loving evening.

That concluded our tour of Hue. On the previous day, we had visited the Imperial Citadel, the Emperor’s tomb, took a dragon boat ride on the Perfume River, before meeting for a royal dinner where we dressed as kings and queens, were entertained with traditional music and enjoyed some exquisitely decorated foods. Too give you an idea of the prices – dinner for 2, with beer and tip was $35!

Jenga at the bar with our fearless leader Phat
fortune teller in Hue countryside
food for an emperor
mr & mrs military mandarin
lunch prepared by the nuns
making sandlewood incense sticks
martial arts show Hue
motorcycle mama
overlooking the river where the bunkers were
granny blackening her teeth with beetle nuts
dinner at a private home with another tour group