We’re sitting in a lovely cafe in Hue, called “Tomten’s bar – gallery”. There’s a pool table in the middle, a huge bamboo ceiling, and gorgeous lacquered paintings on the walls.
A song about ‘beautiful blue eyes’ is playing. We’re the only ones in here, and the man who owns this place has a real penchant for country music – mind you, when we first arrived here, it was so hot and we were so exhausted, we spent 3 hours here on the 16th, drinking cocktails (banana daiquiris and Vietnamese rum) and playing pool and he played the Fleetwood Mac album ‘Rumors’… it’s sweet and a bit surreal listening to music like that when everything else is in another language.
Just sitting here’s so peaceful. It makes you feel as if life’s just held its breath for a moment, and you’ve been given a bit of a respite for a while. I just think of all the different people we’ve met, where they’re from, and all the places I want to visit or return to, and it makes me feel a little sad.
(A song called ‘Stoney’ is playing.)
It’s a difficult feeling to describe. The closest I can get to is how I felt when I read Jostein Gaarder’s Sophie’s World, and reading Jitterbug Perfume and The Agony and the Ecstasy while traveling through Italy. I feel like I’ve escaped the trappings of what I have to do and am instead floating wonderfully. You get bumped along by sights and sounds, but also by a song playing in a bar, or a painting, or a book. They shape you. You grow. You feel things deeply. You feel again. Fear, nervousness, concern, relaxation, joy. You smile and laugh more. You think about what sort of life you want to live. You understand the things you don’t want in your ‘regular life’ better. You think of gardens, and art and music, of taking risks and trying things out. All of it – travel, study, family. I think about the sort of person I want to be: cultured, learned, traveled, happy with family.
(later.) In a cafe called DMZ Bar. Pool table, walls, ceiling, eve hooded light over the pool table are covered in graffiti by people from all over the world – including NZ. Someone’s written ‘Pukunui 8 the Taniwha’ and ‘cher bro!’ Hehe. Using free email and drinking Huda.
(later.) On the bus to Hoi An now. Met a nice couple, while waiting for the bus, from Switzerland, who were “homesick for Laos”.
Yesterday we went to the DMZ – about 170km north of Hue. It was set up as a buffer zone between North & South Vietnam (around the 17th parallel), during the period after Vietnam agreed to split for around 300 days, into North and South. The communists (and Ho Chi Minh) were based in the north, while the anti-communists (pro-Catholic) were based in the south.
We saw a great deal – “The Rockpile” which the US used as a great lookout post, Khe Sanh combat base (which the US was run out of, 10 days before the Tet Offensive), a great bridge marking the start of the Ho Chi Minh trail, and the Vin Moc tunnels, which the sympathisers in the north lived in, after their fishing village was bombed. They stayed there in order to continue the supply line, from the National Vietnamese Army, down the Ho Chi Minh trail to the Viet Cong (Vietnamese Communists) who were engaged in guerrilla tactics in the south.
Agent Orange was used indiscriminately on all of the jungle in the area, causing massive defoliation and abnormalities in up to 4 generations of children – used primarily to try to find out where the Ho Chi Minh trail was – but apparently the “Ho Chi Minh trail” was actually a network of over 16,000 km of trails, from north to south, east to west – so it was impossible to find all the trails and block supplies.
The Vinh Moc tunnels were incredible – 16 entrances, some by the beach, others up in the hills – all disguised.
We went through about 700m of the tunnels, and saw everything from family enclaves, barely large enough to fit a bed in, to a maternity ward where during the course of three or so years, 17 children were born. They took 18 months to dig out by hand. Incredible.