Bopping with Niall JP O'Leary

Niall O'Leary insists on sharing his hare-brained notions and hysterical emotions. Personal obsessions with cinema, literature, food and alcohol feature regularly.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Hooray for Hue

A night train from Hanoi took us to Hue. Sharing a sleeping carriage with Zoe, Helen and Charles, we proceeded to get plastered, the girls and Charles on whiskey, me on cans of lager. Zoe's birthday was the next day, so she and Helen and cutting out coloured card and making up decorations. All very colourful.

All very tired, the next day. Nevertheless we couldn't hang around. Although the traffic was not as bad here, it was still crazy, and we were booked into a day long motorcycle tour. At 10.30, we donned our blue helmets (our drivers wore combat caps with the Vietnamese red star) and headed out on the road. Within fifteen minutes my bike was faced with a tricycle heaped with around thirty metal air-conditioning pipes, a tricycle lacking any brakes, as it transpired. My driver beeped angrily, but the cyclist continued speeding towards us. I'm not sure if he even saw us, he certainly didn't try to avoid us. At the last minute we narrowly cut around him, and I mean narrowly. A moment later there was a loud metallic crash. Helen's bike had not been so lucky. Looking back we could see her sprawled over the road, the bike and driver over her. Thankfully she herself was luckier. Shocked though she was, she suffered a sore elbow and a cut palm. It is a measure of her character that once her cut was bandaged, she got right back on that bike. The tricyclist tried to apologise, and with cops appearing from everywhere he certainly didn't want to make a fuss. Heaping up the metal pipes he just went back on his way. Ten minutes later another bicycle fell at that exact spot. We saddled up and drove out.

After that mishap, the rest of the day was amazing. I suppose the adrenaline pumping through our systems helped; it was scary. But it was beautiful too. We saw the remains of the original royal citadel (11 kilometres of perimeter). We went into the country and had lunch in a monastery, two orphaned kids (training to be monks themselves) making fart noises with their armpits. The kids everywhere were incredible. I am not sure if there is some government directive ordering children to welcome foreigners, but everywhere we went schoolkids scrambled to the road to greet us with 'Hello', waves or high fives. I confess a tear came to my eye. Infants who shouldn't have been able to speak their own language laughed 'hello's at us. To counteract this sacharine sentimentality, I saw one kid point meaningfully at another and run away. Pointing in Vietnam is the equivalent of giving the finger.

On we sped visiting a hat weaver (you know those conical hats), the king's R and R resort (and now grave), Vietnam's oldest pagoda, incense stick rollers, etc., etc. A lot of these ruins, impressive though they are, are less than two hundred years old. War has reduced everything in this ravaged country.

After nearly seven hours on the road, we made it home, everybody safe.


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