26 October 2009 – day 10 – Monday – Hue, Vietnam
Today we woke up in Hue city in this beautiful hotel, after the most amazing dinner last night. After breakfast, we got on the OAT tour bus and were taken to the Citadel. However, we were getting good photos before we even left the hotel. We saw a pair of Cyclo drivers sitting in their vehicles watching for tourists to capitalize on across the street.
Outside the hotel we could see a woman go by with her bicycle loaded as full as humanly possible with plants. It was so full she couldn't even ride it; she had to push it to her destination.
We saw other interesting things on the way to the citadel too.
The citadel is the remains of the old town, the original city of Hue, a walled fortress where people lived for a long time. The fortress is surrounded by a mote,
with pretty lotus flowers. Nearby, I spotted a fisherman and actually saw him catch a fish.
Inside the mote were huge walls. Inside the walls, room for thousands of people, including a “forbidden city” not unlike the one in Beijing.
We started taking lots of photos,
but suddenly we heard a shrill squeal from a distance. Suddenly, the whole place was overrun by—seemingly—thousands of school children. They laughed, they played, ran in all directions and they made such noise. They were very cute.
We walked over to a lookout post and Lee gave us a talk about the place. I told him I enjoyed photographing the “wild animals”—the children.
The citadel was beautiful, highly influenced by the Chinese designs.
There were many ornate buildings
and structures with stone steps and dragon stairways.
There were also many beautiful sculptures sitting around.
In one place there were huge bronze urns with decorations, but you could still see marks from bullets during the “tet offensive” in 1967.
Eventually we went in to a building that contained the graves of several emperors of Vietnam. It was fun, but we weren't allowed to take photos inside. I took a few before anyone noticed the sign saying not to.
Pretty soon, we were overrun with children again. I took lots of photos.
It was very hot, but not as hot as the past few days. We were actually in high spirits and did some clowning around.
We saw many ornate gates. One of them was called the concubine's gate. I looked all around, but I couldn't find any concubines. Oh well.
Some areas were under construction so we didn't see it all.
There was another building with an emperor's throne, and again, I accidentally took a photo before I noticed the “no photo” sign. Oh well. I try to respect those signs, really I do. They need to make them a little more obvious.
We also saw a small display that showed various artifacts and statues of the ten judges of hell. I didn't know there were ten.
On our way out of the complex, someone was selling food to feed the coy in a pond near the exit. When someone tossed the food into the pool, the fish would go crazy. The water looked like it was boiling with the mouths of hungry coy fish.
We walked back to the bus and it took us to our next destination, an orphanage. While we rode, Lee told us the story of the orphanage. Supposedly, one day a Buddhist nun was working on a shrine when she discovered a baby that someone had left behind. She tried to find the parents, but couldn't find them. Then she tried to find a family to adopt the baby, but the people were too poor and could not afford another child to feed. She tried another nearby village, but nobody there wanted the baby either. Given no other choice, she was forced to feed and take care of the baby herself. Eventually she got some help from other nuns and other babies were dropped off. Now she has been running the orphanage for more than twenty years. She now has more than 200 children of all ages.
When we got to the orphanage, the children came to greet us. They were very happy and playful. We took lots of photos.
One little boy wanted to use my camera and he stood in front of me and I helped him operate my camera. It was fun for him and me both.
The nun who started the orphanage talked to us for a while about her school.
She didn't speak English but Lee acted as our translator. She was very big on education. I asked if she was around during the Vietnam war and she said yes. The war left many people dead, so many children without parents, and that was a very bad time.
After her talk, I got a photo of her standing next to Kathy. The nun was small and had wire-rimmed glasses and very short hair. She reminded me a lot of the Dalai Lama in many ways. Kathy was much bigger and towered over her like a giant.
I also asked whether they taught the children Buddhist meditation but she said no. The children are taught to pray at night but they're taught what is important is how you live. There was a Buddhist shrine, but I got the impression it was basically lip-service.
The orphanage apparently gets no help from the Vietnam government, except for the fact that the children get to go to school for free. Other than that, they rely upon donations and help from people like us. Our tour group, OAT, has a foundation that offers this kind of help. It's called the Grand Circle foundation. They've donated thousands of dollars to the orphanage. This was very similar to the school we visited in Chile last year. Kathy and I gave a donation, plus we had brought some pens and paper for the school to use. It was very fun.
After visiting the orphanage, we drove to another Buddhist monastery where we ate a vegetarian lunch. This is the first meal I've had in a very long time that did not have any meat, and it was very good. There were several dishes and all of them were outstanding. I wish I could get the recipes!
One of my companions told me about a funny comic strip he saw. It was two monks walking side by side in silence, holding fancy cell phones. The one monk sends a text message to the other saying, “Can we send text messages or does that break our vow of silence?”
After lunch, the bus took us back to the hotel where we were given a choice: free time or go with the group to see a special pagoda. Kathy and I were disappointed that we wouldn't get to see the old emperor's tombs, which was something written about in our Vietnam book. So we opted for free time, while the rest of our tour group went to the pagoda.
So Kathy and I hired a driver—who spoke no English—to take us from the hotel to the two tombs, then to the same pagoda, then back to the hotel. People from the hotel gave the driver explicit instructions because he didn't speak English. The trip was from 2:30 until 5:00pm.
The driver drove us quite a while until we reached the first Emperor's tomb we wanted to see: the tomb of Vietnamese Emperor Tu Duc. It was a big, beautiful complex, set in the middle of a forest. It was beautiful and we took lots of photos. We were there for over an hour, and that was rushing.
Next, we went to the tomb of Vietnamese Emperor Khai Dinh. It was newer, from 1925, but it was very ornate and very beautiful. We took lots of photos. I think we were there more than an hour as well, and again, we had rushed to see everything.
The driver then took us to the same pagoda our tour group visited earlier. It was very cool.
We happened to be leaving just as the sun was setting, and it was beautiful.
We got back to the hotel later than planned, but we still had enough time to shower and then go to dinner with the tour group. It was another very nice dinner and now I feel very full.
Overloaded vehicles of the day: