Monday, 20 October 2008

The Ancient Capital...Hue

Another day, another coach driver trying to kill us. What is wrong with these people? Would it be too much to have a few more traffic lights, roundabouts which are more than a lump of concrete in the middle of the road, and to lay off the horn a little? honestly.

This particular fool was trying to overtake coaches of equally terrified fellow travellers, faces blanched in fear at the windows, on uphill roads and blind bends. One a few occasions, there were near head-on collisions with other coaches barrelling down the hill. I was sat near the back on the driver's (left) side. It was with black humour that I laughed as the people further forward scuttled to the other side of the bus with each imminent death scenario. One missed us by barely a foot. The Jock said I needed to relax and not watch the road ahead. I simply replied that if I was going to die, I at least wanted to see it coming and have a few happier moments flicker across my mind beforehand. Grandad acting the fool. My Yorkshire Terrier Callie, now croaked, trying to run up a wall in the house. Mum's macaroni cheese. Getting Dad stoned. Andy Saville's second goal at Leyton Orient when North End won promotion. Things like that.

But no, we survived. For now. Arrived in hue to the usual melee of touts "You see my hotel? Is real nice." Get fucked. We're hardened to it now. It's like the rudeness you develop in London after 6 months. Very useful. So we found a nice place opposite Thu's traveller's cafe. She's the woman to ask questions in Hue...a mental local with a variety of party tricks. Some painful (like the one I suffered...a cocktail stick inserted into my cranium and lit like a candle) and some not. Just humiliating. Beer's cheap as in there...25p a bottle. So we were there quite a lot. Her and the family do tours around the area, usually on scooters...but we did a car as it was lashing down.

The downpour made the place seem more atmospheric. We saw singing and praying monks in beautiful pagodas...all saffron robes, drums and fingerbells. Beautiful. The dedication thses people have to Buddhism is absolute. I'm not religious, but I still admire it...and it's a very peaceful religion, after all. This monastery was the home of Thich Quang Duc, the monk who self-immolated in protest at President Diem's treatment of Buddhists in the 60s. His car he used to drive to Saigon that day is still preserved here. He never flinched or moved a muscle as the petrol he'd doused himself in burned, and the flames consumed him. A brave man, indeed.
David Halberstam wrote of the scene: "I was to see that sight again, but once was enough. Flames were coming from a human being; his body was slowly withering and shriveling up, his head blackening and charring. In the air was the smell of burning human flesh; human beings burn surprisingly quickly. Behind me I could hear the sobbing of the Vietnamese who were now gathering. I was too shocked to cry, too confused to take notes or ask questions, too bewildered to even think... As he burned he never moved a muscle, never uttered a sound, his outward composure in sharp contrast to the wailing people around him." The horror...

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