Friday, March 16, 2012

A River Runs through It

Hue is cut in two by the Huong (sorry, but I don't know how to add the diacritical marks to the "u" and "o" there) or Perfume River. Historically, the north side is reminiscent of the Imperial days (the Citadel and Imperial City are on the north), while the south side has the remnants of French colonialism. Even today, the south bank is more tied to the Western world; I cannot think of a single tourist hotel on the north bank. Further, while the shops on the first two or three streets running parallel to the river on the south side cater mostly to tourists, the locals shop at the stores that line the streets running parallel to the river on the north. Two bridges cross the river. The Trang Tien Bridge was near the hotel in which we stayed three years ago. The Phu Xuan Bridge is closer to the hotel at which we're staying now. On this morning's walk, I crossed to the north side on the Trang Tien and returned on the Phu Xuan.

The river is vital to Hue. Dragon boats carry tourists up and down the river; dodging the dragon boaters who want to take me somewhere is a big part of any walk I take along the south shore. The river also provides food for those willing to work to get it. People cross the bridge in cars, on scooters or bicycles, and on foot. This woman was likely coming from Dong Ba Market, with produce for her own shop or sidewalk cafe. Dong Ba Market was where I headed first. Just as I learned on my last visit not to show fear when crossing streets, I also learned not to go inside at Dong Ba Market. Stalls surround the outside of a large multistory building into which are built hundreds more stalls. Westerners inside the building are typically approached by a local who offers to help them find things or negotiate prices. Declining the offer simply means that the person will press harder, even to the point of following you around and breaking in if you ask a vendor a question. Once any assistance has been given, whether it was requested or not, the Westerner is then told that they are obliged to repay this debt by visiting the helper's stall on the second floor of the building. Most of the stalls there offer clothing geared to Western tastes. While the clothing may look nice, the prices are not. Even after prolonged haggling, the final price will exceed what the same items would cost at a shop outside the market.

Visiting the outside area can result in something of a sensory overload; there is just so much visual information to process.
Besides the food offered for sale,
the vendors and customers are well worth watching.
Leaving the market, I saw something I honestly don't remember seeing three years ago. Perhaps the sons will comment if they remember seeing these around the city. This is the second set I've seen now. There are small, older buildings labelled "WC" in various parks around the city, but I will admit that I have not visited one since it is just as apt to be a squat toilet as a Western one, and given a choice, I'd prefer the latter.

As I said, this is the side of the river on which the shops cater to the locals not the tourists. Any number of things can be found, each in their specialized store. Scooter helmets,
to go with the many scooters, for example. Or balls. Or hats. One can never have too many hats. There are even some things I'm not sure I want to know more about, though I think some are mushrooms and one is pretty clearly the skin of a snake.

There is even the inevitable nod to Western capitalism. Finally, there are reminders that it was a communist government that took control in 1975 and that today this is the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.
I must admit that I'd be tempted by the bust of Ho Chi Minh if I hadn't stocked up on Ho buttons the last time I was here, which reminds me that I should add the Ho Chi Minh Museum to my list of places for a return visit. In fact, the husband just previewed this post and said he didn't know there was a Ho Chi Minh Museum here. Guess where we're going tomorrow.


Va said...

It is amazing how these scenes compare to Venezuela today, or China's in major cities in the late 80's, and probably still in the rural areas! I love your contrasting shots - and agree the tourists are equally interesting! Thanks so much for sharing all these and your accompanying observations! You are one of a kind!

Jayne said...

Of course she is one of a kind!! Having only traveled to western culture places, I can say I am enjoying this revisiting of this beautiful place!

Debi said...

So many gorgeous photos, Jean. I've hated getting so far behind on your posts, but at the same time, I'm now grateful that while I have a few minutes, I've got several posts awaiting me. (Because I'm reading chronologically.)