Wednesday 14 January 2015

Days 241-2: Hue - Baroque monstrosities and seasonal storms

Beautifully adorned buildings in Hue
An orphaned script is a strange thing.  Chinese characters adorn the red and gold throne room in Hue's Imperial City, once the capital of Vietnam, yet modern day Vietnamese people learn their language in the Latin script.  The flowing Chinese lines will not find many readers here.   But perhaps they never did; with a single-figure percentage of the population able to read and write, queues of would-be readers in Hue's throne room were never exactly a problem.  So out with the old script; in with the new.  The Imperial City's black lettering may shout its message at deaf ears until the buildings crumble (they're already well on the way) while the occasional word-lover, literature student or all-round nostalgic looks sadly on.  Perhaps I mean a childless script, not an orphaned one?

But some of the words in the Imperial City were very much written for today's readers.  Most of them accompanied maps of the Paracel Islands and their surrounding waters and informed us that the archipelago ABSOLUTELY belongs to Vietnam and ABSOLUTELY DOES NOT belong to China - and there the record player got stuck.  Reading up on the dispute, it looks as though the exhibit's authors may have a point.

Never mind islands, water became a major theme of the rest of our stay in Hue.  After a high pressure shower on our way back to the hotel, we stepped into another vertical bath the next morning on the way to join a Perfume River cruise.  An Irish bloke greeted us as we stepped aboard with a huge grin and the words:

And the rain fell... making it quite picturesque actually!
"This is my first holiday for three years but I've got violent toothache, it's pouring with rain and there's a typhoon on the way.  You've got to smile, haven't you?"

We tried.  As well as the inside of a raincloud, the tour took us to a traditional wooden house with a pond in the garden to deflect spirits who will see their reflection in it.  Looking at the house's furnishings, the proportion of atheist / Buddhist Vietnamese people became a matter of dispute.  "Eighty percent of people are atheists," our guide told us.  "But I was told that eighty percent are Buddhists," someone countered.  The guide's view was that God didn't help the Vietnamese very much in the Second World War, when so many people were starving, so the locals gave up on him after that.  But as God seems to remain a strangely popular fellow in other disaster zones, despite the divine no-show at critical moments, I wasn't entirely sure about this line of reasoning.  The rain meanwhile contributed the thought that it didn't take a strong view, one way or the other, just so long as it could keep on pelting down.

Shrine after shrine at the tomb of Minh Mang
The afternoon took us to a pagoda then a series of mausoleums of former emperors.  The first was beautiful and seemingly endless; shrine after shrine strode away along a pathway.  Impressive as I found it, I'm OK with just having a bog-standard grave when I die, thanks.

The second shrine was even more striking but very far from beautiful.  The French influence had seeped into Vietnam by this time and the result was a baroque monstrosity.  Thank goodness the Chinese influence resurfaced in mausoleum viewing round three.  Even the rain was so shocked it stopped temporarily.  But probably not for long.  When we arrived in Southeast Asia we were looking for a change from the hardships of the Himalaya.  Well, we've got a change all right.  Unlike Rolwaling, the water here is definitely not frozen; it's flowing at shower setting number ten (Spinal Tap setting eleven).  Where's the umbrella shop, quick?!

The citadel with the Vietnamese flag proudly flying

Gates to the citadel

Thai Hoa Palace in the citadel

Thai Hoa rear elevation

Screen doors in the citadel


Thien Mu Pagoda

Buddha on his mobile

Working temples


Dragon boats on the river

These huge butterflies (the size of sparrows) were comparatively easy to photograph as they flew so slowly

The tomb of Khai Dinh

Ruins at Tu Duc's Tomb

Tu Duc's tomb


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