Saturday, March 26, 2011

Hué to Hoi An

Early rise, 3 a.m. In order to leave the hotel with our box lunches at four to get to the airport a little before five for our flight at 6:10. Looked like only western tourists are so crazy; the flight was full, though.
We arrived in Hué – not just gray; it was raining. This, apparently, is normal Hué weather. All the scooters were covered with multi-colored ponchos. Sometimes there was a second person sharing the back seat and the poncho. That is the only color on the streets. Hué is already the south. The houses are wider and not so high. They also look better built and more colorful.
We had a 45 minute boat ride on the Perfume River. Why call it a boat; it was a floating shop and we were a captive audience. It was unpleasant in spite of the adorable little girl who must be about 3, no more. The family lives on the boat. We visited the citadel and forbidden city – just like the Chinese one, in miniature and much simpler originally. Very few of the original buildings exist and have been restored. The citadel was destroyed during the the Vietnam War , the Tet Offensive in 1968. As the symbolic center of power, dating back to the nineteenth century and until 1945, each side wanted it. It had no military significance whatsoever. The North won. After the war, the Communists were not particularly interested in restoring vestiges of the kingdom and western (French) domination. Furniture disappeared; what buildings hadn't been destroyed by artillery fire just collapsed from neglect. The empty spaces became parks. Now that tourism is the big money maker, they are busy trying to restore, but the work is shoddy and the new roofs leak; the lacquer paint is fading. Such a shame.
After a very, very nice lunch, we headed to the kings' tombs in Hoa Lu. We only made it to the first one,  and it is set in a beautiful site, with a lake and gardens. We were wet and cold and not very energetic. We had to walk to and from the tomb through a gauntlet of vendors. Even the babies were chanting “buy banananeus”. (that's not a typo; that's the local pronunciation.) Cute babies, younger than Aurelia, chanting in English! We speculated that these were their first words. We got to our hotel and, for once, we were able to walk to the restaurant for dinner. This was the first day we've done any walking in Vietnam. We've been in the bus too much.
This morning we headed out at 8:00, a late start! It was raining, but Mr. Dung promised that we were heading to warmer weather and clearer skies. It was a long drive that took all morning through the mountains, but once through the tunnel, on the other side, the sky was light gray, no rain. Da Nang was a short distance. It's a relatively clean city, the third largest in the country. It's still a major port. They are clearing the waterfront to make room for resort hotels and casinos. The old US airbase is currently a lot of forest with the old airplane hangars, but all that is going to be turned into golf courses and more resorts. We visited the Cham museum (vestiges of the Hindu period, 7th to 13th centuries) and then had lunch at a Chinese restaurant. We passed by a lot of marble sculptors, mostly of funeral monuments and tombs, on the way to Hoi An. When we arrived, we stopped at a silk factory. They don't really weave the silk there; it's too noisy, but they do the standard demonstration. Then you get to visit the shop. You can see the embroiders, the seamstresses and so on. They even have wood-carving and lamp-making. Again, a prisoner. We stayed and stayed. Eventually people buy, so when everyone had finally made our purchases, ordered our custom clothes (I escaped that), we were taken to the hotel. Now, I'm going down to the lobby to send these last few posts.
I don't want to complain. I'm having a good time and the visits are interesting. It's just this constant pressure to buy is irritating. I'd probably be much more inclined to buy if there wasn't so much pushing. My instinct is to say “no”. There's no way you can admire anything without the immediate price. And many of the things are too expensive for the shoddy work.

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