Monday, March 5, 2012
The Grand Arrival in Hue and the Aftermath
Written from Hue City on Monday, 3/5/2012
When last we spoke I had just ridden up to the Hotel. I was expecting a big welcome from Miss Hong the first string desk clerk (and a fine friend, with a shared history of ten gruesome days hoping for my passport to come back from Hanoi. . .but that's an old story from last trip you could dig back through the blog and find). She had had morning shift, and was off at 2:00. I came through the door about 5:00. Oh well. She'd be coming in tomorrow at 2:00 (shift change) and I'd catch her then. So, I claimed my favorite room, dumped my bag on the bed and rinsed my hands and face. I'd managed no more than that, when a great racket erupted down in the lobby. Miss Hong had dropped back by the hotel and the (new) on duty desk clerk told her I was here so she came screeching up the steps for me and ACTUALLY GAVE ME A HUG. That's an absolute first for me from any Vietnamese ever. Anyway, as it turns out, what she was coming by the hotel for had to do with the fact that Mr. Canh (the hotel owner and paterfamilias of a large extended clan) has been a grampa for 30 days again. . .or maybe that should be has been a grampa again. . .for 30 days. Apparently (and I didn't know about this) Viet Nam is another culture that studiously ignores a new baby until it's managed to make it 30 days, then the whole world is invited to a party to celebrate the new baby. Maybe it has more to do with letting the new mama recuperate a little before she has to have a houseful. . .no, a whole front yard full. . .of company, or more likely yet, it's to give the caterer time to organize the feast.
It's a very family sort of thing, but cousins and employees out to a considerable distance count. Anyway, Hong took me as the big surprise (mind you, I'd just ridden 278 km in 8.5 hours so you can imagine that I was very dusty and no doubt somewhat stinky. There was no getting out of it, so since she was on foot and there were otherwise an uneven number of motorbike seats, I put Hong up behind on my grotty bike with my saddle bags (crusty) still strapped on the back. . .and we were off to the party with a whole fleet of others. (It won't hurt to point out again that the motorbike (or more than one) serves as the family car for essentially all Vietnamese families. People make all manner of creative adjustments to the size of the seats and 3-person bikes are commonplace, but 2 by 2 is the most popular solution for grown ups).
I'll not bore you with details of the party. The baby was small and light brown with a dark head of hair. All but completely swaddled in soft clothes, there wasn't much showing but a cute round little face as he lay in the middle of a big double bed with female relatives all around. Mom looked a little tired but very happy. The street outside for a block or so was filled with motorbikes, the whole house and a large front yard were all filled with tables and the tables were all crowded with people and groaning under their loads of food. And that was just the first course. The caterers kept swapping out trays of delicacies, sometimes on alcohol fired stoves to cook things at the table, other times just plain (??) platters of gorgeously presented food. . .stacked high. A bevy of young helpers circulated with soda pop and beer and no glass was allowed to stay empty, or even close. I was drug around and introduced at least once to everybody and aside from the Great Grampa I think I was the oldest thing there. Good grief. The atmosphere was non-stop high volume happiness, everyone talking louder than anyone else, with periodic eruptions of "Mot, Hai Baaaa" ("One, Two, Threeeee") from one of the tables of younger rowdier people enjoying the beer together. I don't do all that well at parties even when I can understand the conversation. There was a certain modest amount of English at my table, so now and then something would get repeated for me, and when Mr. Canh was around he prompted me in Vietnamese (probably on purpose) to show off my vocabulary, so my reputation as a linguist is probably pretty good today (though I'll never keep it up). Under the circumstances, having smiled at everyone, shaken hands with most of them twice, stuffed myself on fabulous food. . .having managed all that, I wasn't unhappy when Miss Hong said we had to go early since she had to go to the hospital to visit her father. That's another story. I drove her across town to the hotel (using that modern navigation device, the backseat helmet banger. . .as in "bang bang. . .turn right turn right, oh no no no, left, left so sorry. . ." as I faked out the young person trying to pass on what was suddenly the wrong side.)
One party for one new baby was just fine and I lived through it. The next morning I was advised to be back to the hotel at 4:00 pm to go to a party for another new baby. It was the other side of the family, but what the heck. So we all gathered round, probably half of the same crowd and half from the far side of the family. . .and did it again my second night in town. This time Hong was on duty so I rode alone and this time, instead of a fairly straightforward route it was twisting and dodging all over Hue (which after all is a big city). There was no hope of my finding my way home alone so. . .Oh well. I stayed until the last dog was hung, the caterers were gone, and my hosts from the hotel were sitting around with the other grandparents, starting on the left overs (I kid you not) and being entertained by the uncle who'd had the most to drink. Sigh. All in good fun though, and we still got home at a reasonable hour, though my ears were ringing and I didn't care if I ate again for a week.
Somehow in the past couple of days I've managed to get out to the island twice for an hour or two, to get over to the big market and buy a HIGH topped pair of rain boots, took a great picture of a little kid or two, and haven't been able to pay for a meal or a drink except for breakfast today. . .I'm being well taken care of. Tomorrow we (Mr. Canh and I) are going IN A CAR belonging to the Stone Quarrying Company, for a tour of four out of five of the quarries. I think. These things don't usually work out as I understood the plan. It's just as well, by the way, that we have the quarry tour to do. Left to my own devices I'd ride somewhere on the bike and my saddle sores might finally go over the top. Can you die of saddle sores I wonder??? In any event, there is a certain amount of actual business to take care of here this year, so I'll be in Hue probably 3 more days, one or two for work and one or two (depending) for a long run out on the island.
Almost two weeks into the trip I can report this has been the easiest so far for my. . .er. . .maybe you don't need to know about that. . .okay, well, I have saddle sores (bruised sit-bones with irritated hide over the top) which should harden up in a bit, they usually do. My throttle hand knuckles are problematical. After a full day riding my hand is only sort of functional. This is something that's been coming on for a while now, but it's the worst manifestation we've seen to date. I'll have to try to rig a throttle holder on the little bike like the ones on my big bikes at home. I've looked at it pretty hard and it might be do-able with standard pieces. I'll bring them next year.
The Photos: The first party looking in from the street; Cleaning a room in the hotel (3 ladies do laundry and clean 10 hours a day for 11 rooms and the associated stairwells.); A new baby with Mother (the second one actually); Two cute kids at the beach; One cute kid downtown; Flowers in the riverfront gardens; A beautiful young lady on the bridge; A beautiful garden and an old gardener on the island; Four guys clowning around at the beach; A temple and palm trees in the sunset (you'll have to trust me about the temple).
It's late again.