Growing up, I had always heard of how romantic Huế can be, how the old-world charms of this former imperial city can steal the hearts of its visitors, and how the melodic Hue accent can lull even the most restless Saigoner.
Maybe it was the romance of the resilient rain that embraces Hue more than the Southern monsoon can ever imagine. Maybe it was the breathtaking architecture of the royal tombs or their equally gorgeous grounds and gardens. Maybe it was the slower pace of the Central Region or the refreshing cooler temperatures.
There was a definite rhythm of poetry to Hue for me, real or imagined. The kind of emotional verses that is not easily accessible from the bustling modernity of where I live, where the fickle facades of the city cannot last even a recession, let alone a war.
In between the travels to the tombs and the imperial city, the stops to a martial arts school and an incense crafting village, as specifically designed for tourist and merchandise purposes as they were, still give real glimpses into the hidden life of Hue, a hard survival as it may be, doesn’t seem to dull that poetry.
The central cuisine is characterized by the meticulous representation and elaborate preparation. As rumored, the noodle soup of Huế, a spicy beef broth with thick rice noodles, hearty and comforting for the dropped temperatures of unpredictable storms, tasted the best in the land where it was born. Surprisingly, it was lighter than its copies in the US, but more flavorful in its depths.
Leaving Hue, we were fortunate to be driven through the Hải Vân pass, a spectacular journey with views that demonstrated how grand Vietnam can be. I had read much of these regions in literature, but couldn’t really imagine how proud I would feel the first time I saw them. I was just happy, to be able to call myself Vietnamese.
The stone-making village of Non Nước is steadily growing, and even though I couldn’t afford many of the magnificent structures, I couldn’t help but get lost in watching the process of how they came alive.