Hue has a little bit to offer everyone. History buffs, art snobs, crypt keepers, potheads and pederasts can all have a splendid time in the old capital city these days.
We arrived in town mid afternoon on Saturday. Our driver stopped on the side of the street and pointed down a dirt alleyway about six feet wide.
“You hotel down there.”
After checking into the Hue Holiday Hotel without getting robbed or murdered, we decided to walk to a French restaurant across the Perfume River near the Imperial City. It was late afternoon, and the worst of the day’s heat was over. We had a nice stroll through the parks and gardens that line both sides of the river.
I saw some nine or ten year old boys playing soccer in one section of the park. They were laughing and screaming at each other and really having a great ime. One of them saw me watching and ran over to me.
“Hi there,” I said. “Do you speak English?”
“A little. I learn in school!”
“That’s excellent. Soccer is for pussies. Get a football, dipshit.”
The French restaurant was overrated. My fish was bone-dry, and the greens were a soggy mush.
The next day, we headed out to explore the Imperial City. The Imperial City is a palace/fortress just on the north side of the river. It’s surrounded by a 20-foot high wall and a moat. Inside the IC is another enclosure called “The Purple Forbidden City,” which is where the emperors of the Nguyen Dynasty lived. There used to be more than 100 buildings in the IC, but during the Vietnam War our B-52s did some old school renovations. Now there are maybe 20 or 30 buildings still in decent shape.
“Imperial City.” “Purple Forbidden City.” “Nguyen Dynasty.” Temples thick with burning incense. Ornate altars lined with golden buddhas. Ominous vines growing over the the bombed out ruins of a bygone era. It’s all very exotic and mysterious. At least that’s what I thought until I took a closer look at one of the carved stone dragons outside a temple.
“Hey, this thing is made of concrete.”
It turns out the Nguyen Dynasty lasted from 1802 to 1945. My neighbor’s house in Ouray is older than most of the structures in the IC. In fact, the Imperial City has to be the only UNESCO World Heritage Site that features a restoration of a “historic” tennis court.
We left the IC and grabbed lunch at a Vietnamese place owned and operated by a deaf family. Most of them are mute, too. Now, watching Pam try to learn Vietnamese from waiters is always fun. But watching it at this place was awesome. She may not be able to speak actual Vietnamese, but her Helen Keller, deaf-mute grunt Vietnamese is spot on.
After lunch, we headed to the Dong Ba market so I could whip out my dong and watch the locals stare in awe at the sheer enormity of all the dong I carry.
The Dong Ba market is this open-air monstrosity where people sell every damn thing under the sun. Most of it’s crap. Actually, I’m just kidding. All of it’s crap, so I left to go stroll around town while Pam and Rae negotiated the price of plastic drinking straws and bamboo place mats.
Back at the hotel, Pam and Rae collapsed in bed and refused to go outside again because of the heat. I went out and bought them a traditional Vietnamese dish consisting of a flat, round bread covered with tomato sauce, mozzarella, fresh basil and garlic. I believe it’s called a “duch bao bon da.” Or something like that. Then I ventured out on my own to grab a bite.
It was a depressing evening out.
I left the hotel at 7:00pm and walked five blocks to a bar. During that walk, I was approached by four different guys on motos who offered me “ladies–young, clean,” “marijuana” and “boys.” (Seriously, boys? I wasn’t even wearing my Lululemon shirt.) The whole scene was gross.
After grabbing dinner and a beer, I decided to walk around some different neighborhoods. The moto-pimps were more or less nonstop. Part of me wanted to just tell them off. Another part of me wanted to punch each one in the face. Instead, I just told each one “no” and kept walking.
I like to imagine that chivalry is not dead. Maybe these guys weren’t pimps. Maybe they just wanted me to get on their bikes so they could whisk me off to a dark alley, show me a PowerPoint presentation on the chilling effects of the child sex industry in SE Asia, then rob me to teach me a lesson. Maybe there were no actual ladies, young and clean.
What also bugged me is that these guys wouldn’t be out there wasting their time if someone at some point didn’t take them up on their offers. So to all the sex tourist weirdos out there, I beg you to please stop banging teenage girls in Hue. If you need to get laid that badly, just do what everyone else around here does: Go to the nearest tourist bar, buy a beer for one of the 5,000 female Aussie backpackers dirty dancing with her girlfriends, and let nature takes its course.
The following day, we jumped in a cab and went to see a few of the tombs outside Hue. The first was the tomb of Nguyen emperor Tu Duc. It’s set on a lovely piece of land with lily pad-covered lakes, storybook forests, and several temples that are in very good shape. The whole place is actually modeled after the Imperial City. Tu Duc had it built so he could escape the rigors of daily life in downtown Hue, which I assume meant a rough day of working on his backhand.
The best part about his tomb is that he’s not actually in it. After he died in 1883, he had his body secretly buried out in the jungle some place. When the 200 servants who buried him returned to town, they were all beheaded so they couldn’t reveal the location of Tu Duc’s grave. A simple “thank you” probably would have been preferred. To this day, no one knows where his body is. (Interesting tidbit: Tu Duc supposedly used his last words to curse the French.)
Emperor Khai Dinh’s tomb was next on our tour. Khai Dinh was a weird dude. A drug addict who died in 1925 at age 40, he was wildly unpopular. He taxed all the peasants in the country to build his ridiculously extravagant tomb. He sold out to the French at every opportunity. In keeping with Hue’s tradition of underage sex, he had a whole flock of concubines. In breaking with that tradition, he apparently rarely had sex with them. (“He was not interested in sex,” reported one.) Many people think he was gay.
Khai Dinh’s tomb is so enormous, so wildly ornate and so completely over the top you’re almost surprised not to see a “Trump” logo somewhere on it. If I were one of those taxed peasants who paid for the damn thing, I definitely would have wanted to see the blueprints before handing in my 1040.
The whole thing is built up the side of a mountain. From the street, you have to climb about 150 steps to get to the top where his actual tomb is located. There are three or four terraced levels along the way. One level contains stone carvings of elephants and soldiers. Another contains a giant stone monument into which is engraved Khai Dinh’s biography. Another level has a garden with several large, manicured trees.
It’s incredibly ostentatious, but in Khai Dinh’s defense, he didn’t behead anyone to build it.
Overall, Hue was step in the right direction for us. Ho Chi Minh City is a loud, bustling, fairly dirty giant city. In contrast, Hue has only 350,00. It’s prettier, more manageable and is better suited for a country mouse like myself. Pervs and pushers aside, Hue was a perfect place to soak in some culture without having to go live in a bamboo hut and pick rice all day.
We’re in Hoi An now. I’ll get some posts up about this place soon.
And now, because I know Lee is waiting for it…
“I saw Glenn Beck on TV last night explaining how he could help me to turn my dong into gold. It sounded sketchy, though. During these crazy economic times, I’m just going to hold onto my dong with both hands and hang on for the ride.”