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Running away from Home

And yet another tour...

VIETNAM | Thursday, 15 April 2010 | Views [285]

Brick breaking-part of the martial arts demonstration

Brick breaking-part of the martial arts demonstration

I really like Hue. I really like my hotel room, even though I have a hard time remembering the name of the place where I am staying. (Binh Duong) This high-speed tour of Vietnam is breaking my heart. I wish I had more time to savor my visit. I haven’t made the slightest attempt to learn any of the language except “thank you” and the Vietnamese always say it to me in English. One thing that I have noticed though is that the café au lait is getting weaker as I head north. I suppose it is a regional difference in taste. After today I am completely ambivalent about guided tours. Yesterday, I purchased a tour through the Mandarin Café, a place with a good reputation for both food and tourist information. The stupid heifer that wrote out my voucher told me to be waiting on the corner this morning at 8:00am. I even repeated her instructions to make sure I heard correctly. I had been waiting for half an hour when I grew weary with it and marched back to the café. The famous Mr. Cu greeted me personally and I expressed my concern about the time. He told me that I was supposed to come to the restaurant to meet the group. I was so angry and embarrassed. Not only had I been given this piece of misinformation, but the waitress I had yesterday either needed new glasses or she was giving me the stink-eye. Regardless, I felt very unwelcome and I won’t be going back to the Mandarin Café.

It was a lousy way to kick off a full day of sightseeing. The ambivalent feelings come from the fact that once we got started, the tour was really good. I liked the tour guide. He didn’t have the humorous candor of Joey, but he knew his stuff. The group was able to pick and choose the tombs and temples that they wanted to visit. The tour price just included the cost of the transportation and lunch, not entry fees. The first mode of transportation was by boat and we were able to see a Sampan village as we cruised down the river to our first site. If I hadn’t joined the tour, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to see the demonstration of Vietnamese Kung Fu. The students weren’t Shaolin Monks, but their forms were well-practiced and the weapons handing was impressive. We visited a pagoda, a temple, and then we had lunch on the boat. When I disembarked at the next destination they asked me for 10,000 Dong. Apparently lunch was on the house, but the can of Diet Coke that I had drank was not. Pretty sneaky!

We visited the tomb of Minh Mang. The Vietnamese emperor who holds the world’s record for the number of children that he sired. I can’t remember the exact number, but it is something like 132 by over 500 wives. The tombs of these emperors are more like monuments that they built to themselves. Even more than that. They are compounds where the emperor would go to get away from the hassles of imperial life. They would relax there, go fishing, write poetry, or just sit and enjoy the quiet. In Minh Mang’s case, it’s probably where he recovered from his husbandly duties.

We left the boat and visited two more tombs by bus. I had to skip out on Khai Dinh’s tomb because I couldn’t afford both. I chose to see the tomb of Tu Duc. This was a very cruel, self-centered emperor. When he found out that it would take six years to build his tomb, he demanded that it be done in three. This resulted in thousands of Vietnamese being worked to death or being killed during the frequent building accidents. He also demanded at every meal that 50 dishes be prepared by 50 different cooks and served by 50 different servants. It was 4:00pm when I finished touring Tu Duc’s tomb, and even though I felt like I had not done much, I was tired. The older folks who had joined the tour had skipped this site and were snoozing in the bus, so I know it wasn’t just me.

I had been so enthusiastic about trying more dishes at the Mandarin Café, but I wasn’t going back there for dinner. I found a newer place called Avocado that had the same kind of blended menu. They were also in the tourist/internet/book exchange business. Even their décor emulated that of the Mandarin Café. They seemed so disappointed when I wasn’t interested in taking a tour. Even though the tour today was really good, I won’t be signing up for another one in the near future. I would have liked to stay and work on my computer for an hour or two, but I was the only one in the restaurant and the host was hovering.

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