Monday, October 11, 2010

The Truong Tien Bridge in Hue

Dateline: Hue. Yes, Hue. Today the paperwork is supposed to finally hatch, the passport and visa should be in the express mail office about six blocks from here, some time this afternoon. It's the twelfth of October, and I've been here long enough to vote I think, but there hasn't been a dull moment. Graduating from being one more blank tourist face to being part of the local scene has been really fun. Last night one of the gentlemen who sells paintings on silk in the street and whom I've gently refused, with long explanations about the motorbike and traveling with a backpack (to which he has steadily insisted that his silk paintings will do fine rolled up or even folded and then are very very small). . .anyway, after the third failure of his sales effort he's given it up and only smiles and waves at me now. . .but I've not gotten to the point yet. . .last night he was sitting on the sidewalk in front of a snack shop on Chu Van An Street (where I live) with a friend, each sitting on a plastic stool, with a pair of beer glasses on a third plastic stool between them and two empty Huda bottles sitting quietly alongside, waved me over, shook my hand (with his good hand, his other is horribly scarred from fire I think) and told me he didn't want to sell me anything tonight, just to drink beer, would I like a beer? So. . .the cyclo drivers and most of the motorbike taxis know now not to offer to take me to a brothel, the photo shops know how I want my prints made and laminated, the sandwich maker starts my breakfast scrambled egg before I'm even off the bike, the coffee shop brings me tea and iced coffee when I walk through the door, the hotel staff comes to fetch me to the supper table with the family, it's all very pleasant. Still lots of surprises of course, no end of the discovering things. This morning, for example the waitress in the coffee shop, who had given no previous clue, suddenly helped me out of a vocabulary blank in fluent, slightly accented American English. She has a 4-year degree in Tourism from Hanoi university, which involves English and at least one other language for the full four years. Good grief.

But I have wandered from the point. I've shown you very little of Hue. So here are some photos of the Truong Tien (older) bridge in downtown. It's not that old really, according to the plaque on the end of it it was built between 1991 and 1995, which means it was probably sponsored by the Soviets. It IS a riveted truss structure and spans some 402 meters with six spans. Very pretty bridge, and nicely integrated into the park on the hotel zone side. For photographers: the exposure turned out best, wide open, at f2.8 for 1.3 seconds (longer seemed to lead to degradation of the image without increased brightness). With the Canon G7, oddly enough, manual focus at inifinity, which might have seemed sensible, resulted in blurring, so the autofocus was allowed to work and did quite well. A riverside park bench did duty as a tripod, with a 2 second delay to allow vibration from triggering the shot to die down. . .a lot of fun to figure all that out and get what I got. As for the bridge, the display is continuous after dark as late as I've been out. The colors change constantly, sometimes segment by segment, sometimes all at once, usually by fade-in-fade-out slide show style. My favorite color is the red and blue blend of purple, but it doesn't photograph as well as some of the brighter colors. The scene along the river front is very busy at night, with boat women vying for your attention to come ride on their dragon boat, people with magical scales that weigh you, measure your height and tell you you're fat. . .or otherwise of course, people selling all sorts of kitsch on mats on the sidewalk, lovers sitting and plotting, old people strolling, noodles, apples, sweets and drinks. . .all pretty much in the dark, or rather, the not very bright. On a warm dry evening it's a fine place to walk and think.

While I'm writing. . .Several of you have asked about my leg and how I'm getting along. That's sort of a mixed bag. The originally damaged leg is in general quite a bit stronger, I've been good about pursuing strengthening exercises. Now, on a good morning I can knock out 200 repetitions of a hard kick upwards (lying on my back with the thigh vertical, kicking with the lower leg. . .exercising the quadriceps directly). When I got here 20 reps was a lot, so that's good. Range of motion is still fouled up and may be permanent, with the wad of scar tissue adjacent to the knee cap, I just can't straighten the leg completely with muscle power, though it will go if i throw it ahead. So if that were the only problem we'd really be in pretty good shape. Regrettably, the sympathy pain in the left side achilles tendon has given me a severe limp and that fatigues my lower back and hips in just a few blocks walking and there doesn't seem to be much I can do with it. Sigh. That and the bad knee persists in occasionally simply collapsing under load, on stairs, jumping from boulder to boulder (very close!) and that sort of thing. I've only actually fallen once though, and that was from putting on my rainpants in front of a coffee shop. I got the first foot in (anybody can do that), started the second foot without having anything to lean on, the foot caught immediately on the damp fabric and I knew at once I was going to go down on my right side, so just sort of let the legs collapse and did a neat karate roll, ended up on my back with the legs and pants in the air. . .what the heck, as long as I was there, wiggled the pants on over the rubber boot, rolled over and stood up. I always do it that way, don't you? So. . .I'm getting on fine with my gimp, but it is a very good thing I have the bike at my beck and call, or we'd not see a great deal. On the bike I'm whole, fast and nimble. On foot. . .a gimped up old guy people feel sorry for.