Posts Tagged With: Cute puppy.

A Bright Light In A Grey Hue.

I arrived in Hue, the former imperial capital of Vietnam, in the dark, after an arduous bus journey which inevitably took much longer than the advertised four hours! I found a small, traveller’s cafe, where the food was hot even if the local climate was not. It was cold, wet and miserable. I huddled beneath my two duvets, wearing three t-shirts, and wondered if I had made the right decision to leave Andrew in the relative comfort of Hoi An.

In the morning, on entering the rooftop, Soviet style breakfast room, I was even less convinced. The dining area was as silent as the grave. I bade a pretentious ‘bonne matin’ to three French girls who were busily tearing at baguettes in the corner, but to no avail. They glanced up momentarily, glared, and then went back to their breadslaughter – expressionless! I normally love the French. Andrew and I spent a wonderful few days in Normandy only last summer. the locals were charming. But on our travels through Vietnam the only type of Gallic cousin we have come across has been obnoxious and stuck up. I fear for their poor necks in years to come, as their noses are invariably stuck so far in the air, they are doubtless causing severe trauma to the upper spine. The Vietnamese loathe them, which I’m sure is not all due to their country’s lamentable colonial history here. Quelle dommage!

I sat at a small table, looking out over the ‘Perfume River’ which today looked particularly unfragrant and colourless. Hue had a very grey hue!

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As did the breakfast.

I opted to ignore the blueish looking noodles and the dull eggs – more grey! And plumped instead for some fresh fruit and coffee, which is always reliable in this country. The mood did not lighten. It was reminiscent of The Last Supper, heavy and foreboding. I wondered if my fellow diners all knew something I didn’t.

imageTwo American ladies on the opposite side of the salon conversed in a manner that only Americans can, loudly, and without any consideration for their fellow breakfastees. One was telling the other in vivid detail how she had eventually mastered the art of potty training her husband.

“I felt like a Carebear” she whined!

I felt like a sick-bag!

Her pal then droned on and on about the benefits of emotional therapy. After twenty five minutes of this interminable shit, I felt I could do with some too! The French just shuddered.

I was more than pleased to get out into the damp daylight, if only to escape the dreariness of my lodgings. I made my way on foot to the old citadel on the opposite side of the river. I wasn’t expecting much, as I had read how the French had ransacked the place at the end of the nineteenth century. They violently stormed the imperial city, burning down it’s ancient library and looting everything of any value, from exquisite treasures to the last toothpick! Then, during that other infamous conflict which occurred more recently here, the U.S. flattened the place with bombs and even painted the historic quarter with Napalm. It is true that this was a counter-attack after the Viet Cong had assumed control, and bludgeoned a sizeable portion of the local population to death, but it was still an incredibly broad brush stroke! The main victims of all of this futile fighting were, of course, the civilians of Hue. Thousands of men, women and children were killed during these atrocious campaigns.

With all of this in mind, I entered through the magnificent Noon gate with a very realistic attitude about what I was to discover on the other side. However, as it transpired, I was remarkably and happily surprised. Although the battle scars were very evident, the emperor’s once resplendent abode now a pile of rubble, there was still much to admire. Many of the buildings had been brilliantly and sensitively restored, and there was a wonderful atmosphere about the place. The site still resonated with imperial echos of it’s grand past, especially in the quieter, overgrown corners where one could imagine the many concubines bathing in their lotus-covered pools, bickering over the attentions of their lord and master.

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As I stood in the centre of the ‘Forbidden Purple City’, once a place to which only eunuchs were allowed to enter, I felt lucky, not just to still posess my testicles, but to just be present in the presence of such regal ghosts.

It was a real trip – I’m glad a made it.

The following day, after another petit dejeuner from Hades, I made plans to visit the Thien Mu Pagoda. A veritable Vietnamese hotbed of political protest. The location which houses the old Austin in which the Venerable Monk Thich Quan Duc made his journey to Saigon to make his famous fiery protest against the treatment of Buddhists in the country, by burning himself into the next life!

Ignoring the pleading and incessant offers from at least sixty cyclo riders to jump into their baskets for the journey, I decided to walk. I had been informed by my hotel receptionist, Valerie,( at least, I think that’s what she said!), that it was a short two kilometre stroll out of town. After an hour of steady pounding, I was still promenading along the side of the river. I thought perhaps I had headed in the wrong direction, not for the first time. Before me on the wooded, mud-track I had foolishly chosen to take, was a group of men, nonchalantly grouped beside an incongrous W.C. on the verdant riverbank. I approached to ask them for directions. Almost immediately I realised the error of my ways. Let’s just say they were more than pleased to see me, and a little dissappointed when they realised I wanted a different sort of direction to the one on offer! It was all very pleasant. One of them looped his arm tightly around my lower waist, and used his free arm to finger my ‘Lonely Planet’, much to the amusement of the present company. I keenly followed his index finger as it ran suggestively along the length of my route-map, laughing along with them in a slightly petrified fashion. After he’d come to a conclusion, I thanked him very formally, and swiftly continued along the path, like a not so little but very red Miss Riding Hood. Feeling fortunate to have freed myself from the clutches of a pack of over-friendly wolves and leaving them to finish off their tasks in hand, which I had so very rudely interupted.

The winding path eventually ended and I was forced to join a busy four lane carraigeway, juggernauts and coaches sped perilously past me. I would have turned back but was slighly concerned that the gentlemen at the ‘gentleman’s’ may think I had reconsidered and was popping back for a refreshment stop and a quick handshandy! So I continued onward.

Eventually I stumbled upon a photocopying shack in the middle of nowhere, as you do, and managed to make clear to the lady-copyist the location I was seeking. This involved a lot of mime, including a terrible Joan Of Arc at the stake impression, which actually proved to be the clincher.

“Ahh” she nodded, and gestured further along the highway, “five kilometre”!

It was at this point that the thought of self-immolation crossed my mind too. The idea of dousing myself in petrol and whipping out a box of Swan Vesta, seemed only marginally less appealing than continuing on foot along South East Asia’s equivalent to the M25!

Needless to say, I resisted the urge to strike up, and just under an hour later the sight of the evocative tower before me extinguished any further hot headedness!

I climbed the many steps in solemn fashion, aware of the turbulent history that had unfolded here. As I neared the top, I was surprised to hear peals of laughter rather than religious bells. The whole summit seemed alive with joy and hilarity. A large group of extremely jolly Vietnamese were finding something outrageously amusing. As I got a little nearer I could see them pointing and guffawing, I realised then what the big joke was.

It was me !

They found me utterly hilarious. They were practically splitting their sides with laughter.

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Andrew has always told me I have funny bones, but I hadn’t expected my skeleton to cause such uproar at such a seriously religious attraction. After countless photos, for which I happily posed, and a glut of hand-shaking, back-slapping and giggling, I said farewell to my new found friends and stepped inside the temple. The atmosphere was very different inside – much more sombre.

imageMonks were ambling gracefully around the grounds, and every so often one of the novices would bang a gigantic brass bowl with a Fred Flintstone club, resounding in a massive bong which would startle me every time. I marvelled at anyone’s ability to meditate with the incessant racket of the tourists and Wilma’s mighty dinner gong being regularly bashed, let alone find the extraordinary concentration to set oneself alight.

This was an amazing locale. Made even more so by the startling juxtaposition of the incredibly sacred together with the most mundane. On turning a corner and passing a beautifully ornate temple, I was confronted with a Royal Blue, 1960’s Austin automobile, seemingly parked out back. It was actually an exhibit.

imageIt was the car in which the famous monk had been driven to the centre of Saigon. On arriving in that great city, he alighted from the vehicle, assumed the lotus position, and set himself alight. He was later emulated by several other brave souls who burnt themselves alive to bring light to the suffering of their people.

imageI could not help but be truly moved. I even touched the car in admiration, hoping, perhaps, that some of the spiritual courage may rub off on me. We can all surely take something from such selflessness.

On hearing of this genuinely brave flame throwing, the then president’s infamous sister-in-law was reported to have said, in an ‘Antoinesque’ manner,

“Let them burn! I love a big barbecue party!”

This comment unsurprisingly inflamed an already furious public, setting the wheels in motion for Ho Chi Minh’s communist revolution. We all know the rest!

I was interested to learn, that in 1993, another man performed this same pyromanical trick just in front of the pagoda. No-one knows why, it remains a mystery. Perhaps he was given the same directions as I was!

I sat quietly for a while, and meditated on how any being can develop the clear sightedness to sit calmly and turn themselve’s into a human torch for the sake of illuminating society. I left, feeling nothing but a perplexing sense of admiration for them.

I was, however, unpuzzeld by the route I wished to take back to the city. I decided to avoid the turquoise cottage and took to the water.

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The Riverside Cottage!

Smugly pleased with myself that I had managed to barter the boatman down to just 100 dong for the return trip, I cast off in a vessel all of my own.

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I realised though, on disembarking, just why my skipper had been so ready to reduce the fare for my passage. The port of disembarkation was, I’m not sure how one pronounces it in Vietnamese, but in The Queen’s English I’m fairly certain it is known as, the back of beyond! As I was cast ashore so mischievously I felt the fire in my belly begin to ignite, but instead of blowing a gasket, I thought of those beautiful monks from whom I had just learnt so much, and instead let myself – decompress.
I payed the captain, smiled and bid him ‘Tam Biet’.
I then set out once again on the long march home, this time on the other side of the river. At least there was no danger of having to quell the desires of the five knuckle-shufflers across the water.

By the time I eventually reached my dreary abode, my plates of meat were smouldering, I must definitely have burnt off breakfast, if not the dreadful recollection of it. That unfortunately was branded onto my long-term memory.

Just like the story of the brave and brilliant monk. His fate had seared itself well and truly onto my hard drive. I shall never forget the story of his burning passion for freedom and justice, and how it must be to have a real fire in one’s soul.

Quang Duc, a Buddhist monk, burns himself to death on a Saigon street June 11, 1963 to protest alleged persecution of Buddhists by the South Vietnamese government. (AP Photo/Malcolm Browne)

He surely was a true beacon of light in an often grey and murky world.

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Bless him x

Categories: The Lola Boys | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Hot Stuff In Kampot.

Kampot, a charming riverine Cambodian city, famous for it’s pepper, used by top chefs the world over, and it’s quaint nineteenth century, french-colonial architecture.  It may be tired, but a Notting Hill designer would charge a small fortune to replicate the effortless gallic chic that pervades this place.

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A faded but resplendant touch of french Indochine, that captivates it’s visitors like a talented Parisian tart on the Rue Pigalle.  We  are completely caught up in the limbs of this seductress, exploring each avenue of shuttered shopfronts with an almost salacious delight.

We, however, are not residing in one of the more high-falutin establishments on the left bank.  Non.  We have elected to stay at Captain Chim’s.  A much more local kinda place, downtown near the bus station !

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After meeting the Captain and his lovely shipmate, Ria, we waited for our room to be cleaned, or built, whichever happened first.  After convincing Ria that we really didn’t mind having to share a ‘big bed’, (Andrew assuring her we would go ‘top to toe’), we met a marvellous character by the name of Mick.

We learnt that Mick, a wild, beautifully blue eyed, rough around every edge, type of bloke, had been in the Royal Marines for twenty five years.  We also gathered that he taught Katami, the art of fighting with a Samurai sword, plus almost every other form of vicious combat one can imagine, mostly using unspeakable weapons.  We then learnt he had been into battle on more than one occasion, worked tirelessly as a merciless mercenary, and now lived in the Cambodian countryside building houses out of giant lego and growing radish.

He also told us that we were staying at one of the best places in town, and if we encountered any trouble we should inform Captain Chim immediately, who would be more than happy to have the perpertrators punished.

Apparently when the local baker was robbed of some dough last month, the two guys kneading in the kitchen, caught up with the thief at the next roundabout.  They then proceeded to turn him into a human doughnut – plenty of oozing jam and a hole through the middle and everything ! Let’s just say, after they’d proved their point, he didn’t rise.

It’s not just the pepper that is volcanic here, the locals are a spicy mix too.

After eventually checking in to our room, for practically a peppercorn rent. A fiver a night! We headed to the river and happened to find ourselves in the ubiquitous Irish bar that we always seem to discover in these slightly sketchy Asian towns.

Before our stout was even contemplated, there was a loud crash and a female tourist came off her moped right in front of us. She lay in the road, her head bloody whilst ours were still settling!

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It took a while, but eventually she was moved onto the pavement, and surrounded by concerned and fascinated Cambodians, she began to revive.  There followed a fiery debate between the cyclist and the onlookers as to what had actually occurred, which  we decided to stay out of, not wanting  to throw more pepper into the Kampot.  It was a sufficiently heated already.

Later that evening we met our ex-marine mate, Mick.  When I asked for a photo, he was happy to oblige.  However, he made me assure him that I would not publish it on Facebook, it seems there are some cyber folk out there who would be more than happy to unfriend him.

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I promised him I wouldn’t, and as a thank-you he showed me one of his special moves, that ended with him almost karate chopping me in the neck!  As I felt the breeze from the wake of his substantial forearm cut across my gullet, I heard Neil, the Irish landlord, chastise my ex-navy buddy,

‘No martial arts Mick. Not here!’

As I took a very deep breath, feeling fortunate I had avoided a partial tracheotomy, Mick apologised, his baby blues full of contrition.

‘Sorry’, he said, ‘that’s why I got barred the last time.  Some cunt wound be up and before you know it he was on the floor with a fractured collar bone and a broken nose.’

When he left for the loo moments later, I told Andrew to lay off any of his wind-up jokes and to just smile and be compliant.  My nose is, after all, odd enough, and I love the shape of my husbands.  I didn’t want either of us taking any risks. We didn’t want to put Mick’s nose out of joint!

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Today, after a visit to the pepper co-operative, and a walk along the beautiful riverside into some jungle, we bumped into Mick at Captain Chims.  He has invited us to his house in the foothills of The Elephant Mountains for a bar-be-que and sleep over.

He is so interesting, and charming, that we are both, irresponsibly tempted.

Albeit, slightly apprehensive that any dish he may happen to serve up, could be a little too spicy, even for our seasoned palates.

Looks like we may have to take his invitation with a pinch of salt, and leave the pepper alone.

 

Categories: The Lola Boys | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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