Wednesday, December 28, 2011

A Fall from Grace

by Pa Rock
International Bumpkin

As we were leaving Da Nang this morning, our tour guide offered to take us by China Beach  - an offer we couldn't refuse.  China Beach is the Pacific at its most beautiful and ruthless!   There were no swimmers or surfers, but many locals and a few tourists were out walking along the free beach.

Our drive to Hue took us along many miles of the Pacific coast and then over the mountains.  At the top of main mountain that separates the Da Nang district from that of Hue, we pulled into a tourist rest and gift stop where we were chatted up shamelessly by women selling jewelry - a couple of whom patted my belly and called me "happy Buddha!"  (I'm getting used to that!)  Across the road we saw a cement bunker that was built by the Americans during the Vietnam War.  On a clear day it would have had a commanding view of the countryside all the way to the ocean, but today was cloudy - and we were actually in the clouds.

Our next stop was at the foot of the mountains on the Hue side where we pulled  over to take pictures of the water buffalo that were working the fields by the road.  There were six or eight of the massive beasts along with a water buffalo calf which was wearing a raincoat!  We crossed the highway at that point - a death-defying stunt - and walked along a mud path to a small row of houses.  Vietnamese children ran out to greet us with their hands out shouting "Hello, hello, hello!"  Tuan pointed to a plaque on one of the houses.  He said that it was constructed by the government for the mother of a young man who died fighting in the war.

As we were entering Hue, Tuan had the driver stop so we could cross the road and take pictures of an exquisite private family shrine.  The gate was locked, so we were taking pictures from over the wall.  As we were about to leave, the owner, a seventy-year-old gentleman, showed up and invited us onto the grounds.  A long cement ramp led from the sidewalk down into the base of the shrine.  It turns out it was actually a long, slick, cement ramp - a fact  that I noted mentally as I tumbled ass-over-elbows before landing flat  on  my back with my head bouncing on the hard and slimy cement like a spiked volleyball!  I survived pretty much intact, aside from a skinned elbow, twisted knee, and a probable case of TBI, but it was not my most graceful moment!

During our second royal burial site visit after my fall, I finally gave up and sat down on the cement railing of a quaint little bridge while Murphy and Tuan marched ever onward.  While I was sitting there licking my wounds, a very sweet college girl from Hanoi named Nhung came up and asked if she could practice speaking English with me.  She had a notebook with words that she was having difficulty on - "r" words like "born," "girl," and "world."   Nhung wants to be an English teacher.  Her primary goal is to make an income, but she also wants to be able to teach her younger relatives to speak English.  Our little encounter was the best part of the day - and it sure as hell beat seeing the grave of yet another dead emperor!

Tonight, knee permitting, I may take a stroll through the neighborhood that surrounds our hotel.  We will see some more historic and cultural sites in Hue tomorrow, and then fly to Hanoi in the afternoon.

Tempus fugit in the land where calves wear raincoats and old men fly!

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