Nguyễn Văn Ngưu

The Imperial Palace in Hue City, Spring 2005

We married in 1976 and I had promised to my wife that I will bring her to visit my hometown, Hue City. However, working to build up the family and providing care to children, my wife and I could not find time for the visit to Hue City that I had promised her. I had brought my wife and our children to visit my family in Saigon on several occasions since 1983, but during these visits we stayed in Saigon because my whole family – my parents, my brothers and their families, and my sister and her family – already moved from Hue City to Saigon in 1981. Finally, the opportunity came, and I was able to fulfill my promise by bringing her to visit Hue City in March 2005 or nearly 30 years after our marriage.

In autumn 2003, our youngest daughter, after graduating from her high school, left Rome City and us to join her sister and brother in Bloomington City, Indiana State, USA to take up her university course at the Indiana University. During the whole year of 2004, I frequently left my wife alone in Rome as I had to travel to several countries as part of the implementation of the International Year of Rice. In early 2005, I had to travel to Saigon for an official business and I took the opportunity to bring my wife along for her to visit my sister and her family in Saigon and finally to visit Hue City.

After completing the official mission in Saigon and other parts of South Vietnam, we took a flight to leave Saigon for Hue City in the early morning of 6 March 2005. At noon time of the same day, we landed at the Phu Bai Airport at about 15 km from Hue City. From Phu Bai Airport we took a taxi to go to the Huu Ngan District of Hue City and checked in a hotel in the area, which was near my former junior high school – the Nguyen Tri Phuong Junior High School. Along the way from Phu Bai Airport to Hue City, the scenes were lively, although it was cool and there were occasional light rains that the local people called Mua Phun. There were more motorcycles and cars on roads and more people actively engaged in buying and selling businesses especially in the Huu Ngan District of Hue City. There were more shops and eateries along the main roads.

After hotel checking-in, we left our travel bags in the hotel room and impatiently went out and hired a cyclo – the popular pedal cab in Hue City at that time. We crossed the Perfume River through the Truong Tien Bridge to visit first the Imperial Palace, then the Dong Ba Market and main commercial center of the city along Tran Hung Dao Street, the Chi Lang Street and finally the Thanh Binh Alley that led to my old house in the formerly Ta Ngan District of Hue City. We tried to visit, as much as possible the major landmarks of my childhood in the afternoon.

Returning to the hotel in the evening, we walked around the quarter of my former junior high school and finally we landed at a floating restaurant on the right bank of the Perfume River at a walking distance from Truong Tien Bridge. We sat down at a table and ordered food. While we were waiting for the waiter to bring in the food, the rain swept over the surface of the Perfume River and a gust of wind parted away the fine mist that was hanging over the surface of the river.

I realized that Hue City has grown a lot and things have changed greatly. After I left the city in Autumn 1966 and I visited the city in several occasion in 1970, in 1980, in 1981 and in 1996 and to me the city was almost lifeless during these visits. This was the first time, however, I found out that Hue City is lively. The city in March 2005 was even better than that in Autumn 1966, when I left Hue City for Saigon. Changes and development are necessities for advancement, although I thought that my wife would not mind for not be able to see the true Hue City and my childhood river as I used to tell her. Looking out to survey the place, I sensed that something was touching inside me and I told my wife.

– This was the place for American warships to land whenever they moved up the Perfume River in 1963.

– Are you sure? I do not see any fortress, but a small and beautiful park. His wife told him.

– Yes, you are right. It is a park now, but it was an open space at that time. I still remember that on the other side of the street, opposite to the park, there was the building of the high school of our younger brother. The road between the park and the high school was first part of the provincial road that led to my village and then Thuan An seaport. The American warships moved up the river from Thuan An seaport to Hue City and landed here during the high tension in early 1963 when I was in the last year of my junior high school. I explained to my wife.

– You and the family were in great difficulty then and I am sorry, but I appreciate the strength of our family. I am happy to see Hue City, the land, and especially the Perfume River. His wife talked in a low and soft voice.

I suddenly felt my old Hue City and the Perfume River breathed softly in and out, as my teenage years and my departure from Hue City in 1966 vividly unfolded in my mind. The wind again blew the fine rain that hung over the water. I felt certain weightlessness, while my heart was heavy.

You are boring! My wife told me as the waiter was bringing in the food

I told my wife what was appearing in my mind a few minutes ago and I cited for her the poem which I made during my departure from Hue City to Saigon in 1966. My wife knew me well and she said jokingly.

– I really envy with the girls who passed the Truong Tien Bridge.

– Well! What could I do? I asked my wife.

– Let’s eat now and tomorrow you buy for me an “ao dai”. I am hungry and please do not ask me to wait because the delicious food would turn cold. My wife told me.

We both laughed and enjoyed the delicious food, especially the special and crunchy Vả (Ficus auriculata) salad. As we about to leave the restaurant, the rain has stopped, and the Perfume River turned calm. On the surface of the river’s water there were soft waves carrying the golden moon flakes to its banks.

On the next day, we took a tour to visit the tombs of Nguyen’s kings and the Thien Mu Pagoda by boat on the Perfume River. The boat left the city’s center at around 9 am in the morning and moved in the direction towards the mountains. There were some entertainment activities on the boat before it passed the Bach Ho Bridge and the Gia Vien Island.

The boat ride was smooth, the river’s current was mild, and the river water was clear. Looking out towards the different Ben (or a space for boat to land and for people in alleys to carry out different activities on the banks of the river), however, I did not see much activities of local population. I remembered the lively scenes at the Ben of my alley and the nearby Ben before I left Hue City in autumn 1966. The absence of activities of local population at the different Ben on the banks of the river that morning was probably due to the cool and rainy weather.

The boat continued its ways and brought its passengers to the landing places or Ben leading to the tombs of King Khai Dinh and King Tu Duc. We and other passengers spent about three hours to walked around visiting the different areas of these two tombs and then returned to the boat. On the way back, the boat stopped at the landing place of Thien Mu Pagoda. Then the tour operator offered a lunch on boat for its customers, free of charge.

In the afternoon, we took a taxi to go to Phu Bai Airport for the flight back to Saigon. Although our visit to Hue City in March 2005 was short, my wife and I were happy with it. I was able to fulfill my promise to my wife.