Okay, it looks like I have been very biased. Two recent entries I wrote in Hanoi were depressive and melancholy, so it is easily misunderstood that I had horrible days in Vietnam, and I spent most of my time shedding tears in my closet.
In reality, besides the emotional, depressive moments, I did have a wonderful time in Vietnam: first, an amazing vacation in Hoi An and Hue, then a re-union with my friend Charlotte and Giang, and an amazing time with my grandparents, uncles and aunties. Thus, I find it unjust to not talk about these beautiful moments, and here I am, spending my friday digging up my photo folders and reflecting on the trip.
In this entry, I will focus on my four-day trip to Hoi An and Hue, which are located in the middle of Vietnam.
First, let’s talk about Hoi An. This was my second time visiting this town, and I fell in love with it once more. It was a really awesome place for photography: the colorful temples, the 300-year old rusty houses, the street food, the sparkling lanterns at night, the river, the boats, the people whose smiles are so genuine and sincere.
Amongst many ways to enjoy Hoi An, here are my two favourite activities.
The first was riding the boat along the edge of the Old Quarter, allowing me to see the full view of the Old Quarter. The boat driver, a woman of 50, was very nice and welcoming, and Charlotte and I had great time chatting and listening to her. We knew that she had four children, that she had worked as the boat rider since she quit her fishing career four years ago due to declining health. We knew that beyond the laid-back tourist area, life out there was difficult and challenging for many Hoi-An people, who occasionally had to confront natural disasters such as floods and storms. And that’s the reason why I love travelling. Not to see the buildings and monuments so much, but to listen to people’s stories, and get inspired.
My second highlight in Hoi An was my visit to Reaching Out teahouse, a teahouse where all the staff were people with speech and hearing impairments. The coffee and tea were marvellous; the hand-made cups and tea pots were beautiful and unique, but it was the tranquility and peace that attracted me to this place. There was no chatting, no clashing, no humming. There was only a sweet silence that harmoniously accompanied the bitter coffee, the hot tea, the dry cookies and the humanitarian philosophy of the restaurant. Being here reminded me that difficulties, including physical impairments, can be overcome, and when they are, they manifest several beautiful attributes. I unfortunately did not take any photograph of the place, but perhaps it was better that way, because for me, Reaching Out teahouse was somehow surreal: you come there for escapism, but eventually you have to return to real life, the noisy, chaotic world with many things to be done.
The next place we visited was Hue. Many people I knew found Hue boring because there was hardly anything to do here. However, personally I really enjoyed being in Hue, so ultimately whether you like or dislike Hue depends on your personality. To give you a picture, here are some of the things you can do in this small city: walking along the Huong river, living reclusively in pagodas, eating sweet snacks, or feeling nostalgic about some long-gone dynasties in the Forbidden Palace.
My favorite place is the Forbidden Palace, where the Nguyen dynasties resided until 1954. The palace is like a mini version of Beijing’s Forbidden Palace, with many parts having been destroyed by the Vietnam War. However, compared with other palaces in Vietnam, Forbidden Palace in Hue was perhaps the most complete, and thus the best way to connect to the story of people living in pre-republic Vietnam.
Although I am confident with my history knowledge of the Nguyen dynasties, I confess that I never really understand about the periods, if not disconnected from them. There are two reasons for his. First is the language barrier. Since the French romanised Vietnamese language in late 19th century, the Vietnamese has been using the Latin alphabets and abandoned the Chinese letters that we had been using for centuries. Thus, I could not read any of the original writings of the Vietnamese, or the letters inscribed in pagodas, temples and palaces. As a result, for me the people of pre-colonial Vietnam seemed so distant and alien, as though they were not Vietnamese at all. The second reason for the sense of estrangement is perhaps the textbooks which tend to generalise the experiences of Vietnamese people and hence make it incredibly hard to relate to them as human beings. For instance, the Emperor Khai Dinh, whose tomb I visited in Hue, is usually portrayed in a very simplistic and negative way – a drug addict, a puppet of the French authorities, a traitor; however, when reading about his life through the photos at the tomb and his clothes, I realise that he is much more complicated than that. Anyway, history accounts, after all, are very political, so I would not comment on that any further. Ultimately, my point is that being able to see some traces of pre-colonial Vietnam beyond what is written on history text books was really an amazing and enlightening experience for me.
Do I recommend Hue? Yes, definitely, if you are seeking for some moments to go back to the past and learn about the last dynasties of Vietnam, about a confounding time when the influx of foreign forces strongly challenged the indigenous culture and country’s stability. Being here also makes you realise that you too will be a part of history, because the streams of time will not cease or leave you out.
You can see more of my photos at my Flickr