Thursday, February 5, 2009

Another Day in Hue

We had our buffet breakfast at La Residence again and as usual, it was great. We sat out on the patio on this warm "winter" morning. A perfect omelette, dim sum, exotic fruits and juices. We were getting spoiled. The view of the river and Citadel could be seen from where we sat.

We left the hotel and headed back to the bridge we had crossed so many times before to go to the market in Hue. We decided to walk since it was only about 20 minutes away, or so said the desk clerk. He said it would take him about 25, but since we Americans had longer legs, we would get there quicker. We passed several cyclo drivers, who wanted, once again to give us the full hour tour, but we again declined. There was only room for one comfortable in that seat so it was out of the question to squeeze uncomfortably, just to ride. A taxi would have been just as inexpensive and much more comfortable. But, since it was such a nice morning, we decided to walk.

We passed many shops and riverside cafes, Hue was much more sane than Saigon, even though the traffic was heavy, it was no where near the controlled chaos that we had experienced in Saigon.

We crossed the bridge, the second of two vehicular bridges that crossed the Perfume River and made a right this time. Dong Ba Market in Old Hue is near the position where the Dong Ba Canal merges with the Perfume River. It is newer and has more upscale stores than does the market in Saigon. There is a supermarket, an electronic store and jewelry stores and gift shops. We were able to pick up a few more items to carry home.

We crossed the street to visit the shops that lined the area across from Dong Ba. The shops were similar to those on the Saigon streets but not as jammed or as crowded. There also seemed to be more Westerners in Hue than Saigon. We shopped for a bit and found nothing new so we hailed a taxi to go back to La residence to spend a few hours at the pool. Stacy had set up an appointment for massages at the Spa. I chose the had and neck massage which was supposed to relieve insomnia, we will see.

It was not as warm as it had been, only about 85 today. The pool was cool but bearable. The Vietnamese girl who came out to take our drink orders probably thought we were crazy, swimming in a pool when the temperature was only in the low 80s.

Drinks and appetizers again for a ridiculously low price. The prices were higher at the hotel than they were at the outside places but were still much less expensive than the states.

2PM, now time for our massages. I was led into a room with lockers and shower where I was to get ready to be pampered. Since I never had this experience before, everything was new. After a shower, I was led to a room where I lay on my stomach face down staring into a gold fish bowl. I guess this is supposed to be more relaxing than staring at a rug or tile floor. OI was asked if I wanted a medium or hard massage. I thought I would go for the whole nine yards and for the most part it was OK but at times, I wish I asked for gentle. After a half hour of this, I was again escorted back to the locker area to get dressed. Would I do it again? Probably!

That evening we went into town to what was classified as a local hot spot. The DMZ Bar was a two level bar and restaurant near Little Italy. It didn’t look as good as it did on the website but, because of its name, I had to go there.

We ordered two Huda (Hue) beers to start. Unlike some of the beer in Saigon, these bottles were chilled, no ice needed. We ordered appetizers and another round of drinks. I ordered a traditional Vietnamese vodka instead – Kai – instead of a beer and we ordered spring rolls.

On the walls at the bar, there was a place to write some witticisms.
Many had written before me so I wanted to be a bit original. As I started to write, Stacy was photographing me. I wrote, “ I have been to the real DMZ, 1969-70” and I signed it Bob with a Star. Although, it wasn’t exactly true, I had been close enough to the real DMZ to feel OK about writing this.

We called for the bill – something Stacy liked about Asia. At no time was a check ever brought to a table unless the customer asked for it. It was so nice not to have a waiter or waitress plop a check in front of you and say, “I’ll take that when you’re ready”. In Vietnam, it was the patron who was ready for the bill, not the server. Anyway, we got the bill. In Vietnam a service charge of ten percent is added to all checks. Our bill for 4 drinks and appetizers and service charge was about 95,000 Vietnam Dong or $5.47. I could get used to this. I bought a DMZ t-shirt before we left for $2.00.

We roamed the shops again and I came across a stash of Zippo lighters. Vietnam War Zippos are popular with collectors of military memorabilia. My problem with buying these engraved lighters is that they were either lost by, stolen from or taken from a dead soldier. It was also possible that they may have been reproductions, but the ones I bought seemed old and worn. I searched for one with the 101st Airborne insignia, but had no luck. So, I bought one just to have it. I also bought another for a young girl at home whose dad was a Vietnam Veteran. Her mother had asked me to bring home some trinket from Vietnam for her. Her dad was a flier in the war and was shot down in the South China Sea, but never captured. She lost her dad last year and I thought this symbol may be a fitting gift for her. It still upset me a bit to buy them but it was another thing I just had to do. I got a bit emotional as I handed over the equivalent of about six dollars for the two items. Eyes welled and heart raced but I was OK after a few minutes.

We found a little restaurant on a side street with an interesting menu so we went in and sat down. We were immediately accosted by two children selling Vietnamese art cards. We said no a few times but they persisted. The restaurant owners did not seem to care that their patrons were being bothered. So we gave the little ones a couple of dollars and they handed me four cards and left.

Their network must have been waiting because more children came in trying to sell more cards. “No Mamma, No Papa, please help”, they repeated. We finally just ignored them and they went away.

Dinner was great. I had seafood, again. We paid the bill and again hailed a taxi to return to our hotel to watch the Inauguration of President Barak Obama. Obama was already very popular in Asia. This was evident in the newspaper stories and many t-shirts displayed in the stores of the city.

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