Sunday, 14 November 2010

Half-Hue Home

We haven't lost the Hue [hwey]. There's no Hue we're turning back now. And we've still got a long Hue to Ho Chi Minh.
No more puns. At last we've reached Hue. We're eating lots of food. We're taking hot showers. We're sleeping. We're sleeping on clean sheets. We're staying in clean rooms. We're staying in rooms that smell nice. We're staying in rooms without hordes of mosquitoes. We're getting our stinky clothes clean. We're relaxing. We're enjoying all the simple things and luxuries we haven't had thus far and won't have for the rest of the ride.
And it's been pouring. The rain has finally caught up with us, or vice versa. Either way, we got pretty drenched during yesterday's ride. The sky had threatened rain for several days and I think we'd pretty much all expected to get wet. With our first rest day today, it couldn't have happened at a better time. The forecast for basically the entire country predicts nothing but rain for the foreseeable future. We're going to get wet again.
I had a couple interesting encounters yesterday. The first came just as it started raining harder and I pulled over at the nearest convenience store/cafe for a short rest and to protect my electronics from the weather. I had a broken English/Vietnamese conversation with six twenty-year-old guys at the next table. They were tickled that that I'd turned up out of the rain and insisted I take a shot of rice wine because it would keep me warm in the rain. Oh, what the hell. I was admittedly a bit chilly. I downed the shot and looked at the time...10:30 a.m. Still about 30 kilometers left.
The latter encounter occurred just as I laid eyes on the Imperial City's Citadel walls. A man pulled up to me on a motorbike and started chatting away. This is no way unusual. I'm used to at least one curious person a day following me for a couple kilometers seeing what I'm about. Usually it's the same old questions about your nationality, age, etc. But today -- in good English -- this guy immediately tells me he lives in California and that he hates the Vietnamese government. Understandably, since he was imprisoned by the government from 1976-78 because he was a soldier for the south. In 1981 he left from Hue's Perfume River on a boat, where he spent 30 days barely surviving ("I thought there was a 99 percent chance I was going to die," he told me.), eventually making it to Hong Kong where he sought and received asylum. Ultimately, he reached the United States like so many other Vietnamese and settled in Orange County, where he's lived for nearly 30 years. He owns three Latino grocery stores in L.A. and speaks Spanish fluently. Now he's back visiting in Vietnam for a couple months. "F$%k the government here," he said. "They say this and do that." I was so shocked by the whole thing I hardly knew what to say. "What an incredible story," I managed as we bid goodbyes and I biked under a massive fortress and into the Citadel.

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