Vietnam, in the style of Chile, is so long that it has these things.
After several days of exploring the Hanoi capital, from Halong Bay and other northern areas under an almost cold tropical winter, always humid and cloudy, we reach the middle of the country and the weather changes. In Hué, the sky is resplendent blue and a torrid sun shines.
We are unconditional heat lovers of any kind. The summer surprise caresses our senses and stimulates us. We didn't even waste time recovering from the previous night's road torture.
We install in any guest house in the vicinity of the trucking station, we rented a speedboat and left in exploration mode.
Right there, in the vicinity, dozens of drivers from a fleet of cyclos (Vietnam's human-powered rickshaws) regard them and the motorcycle with a disdain comparable to that which many Lisbon taxi drivers have for newcomers tuk tuks.
The Lasting Heritage of the Vietnam War
Forty years after the end of the Vietnam War, some of the social wounds opened up by the conflict still heal. Several of those men were his victims.
After the North Vietnamese victory and the forced annexation of the south, the new communist leaders banished from all state offices – and as much of society as possible – the Vietnamese men who had collaborated with the US in the anti-communist alliance.
Stripped of possessions and prospects of prosperity, as soon as they managed to gather meager resources, they invested in cyclos and in one of the few professions they were allowed to exercise.
Ostracism has faded over the years, but the government is doing everything to control the proliferation of these iconic trinkets that tie up traffic in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh and other major cities.
In Hué, in particular, countless elderly drivers or their descendants are subjected to the last throes of pen and tradition. They survive cycling against the will of the authorities and against modernity.
Purple Forbidden City: The Imperial Heart of Hué
We circulate around the 10 km perimeter of its citadel surrounded by ditches and canals, along the green banks of the Perfume and Nhung rivers.
We visited the imperial stronghold and the heart of the Purple Forbidden City where the only servants admitted were eunuchs who did not threaten the exclusivity of the royal concubines.
Wherever we go, Cot Co's starry red-yellow flag waves supreme on Vietnam's tallest flagpole.
This flag and several others that are not so high impose on any Vietnamese era, the political-social agenda and the triumphal reality of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam for four decades now.
The War Atrocities Hué Passed Through
Shortly before his death in 1999, Harry G. Summers, an American colonel frequently recounted an encounter he had with a Vietnamese counterpart named Tu, in 1975, during a visit to Hanoi.
"You know, you never defeated us in the main battles of the war." Summers told him in good Yankee bragging rights.
To which the Vietnamese colonel, after a brief pause, responded with the subtlety and pragmatism that had already guaranteed resistance Vietcong: "It might have been, but that's irrelevant, isn't it?"
Hué hosted one of the bloodiest battles in the famous 1968 Tet Offensive.
It was the only city in southern Vietnam captured by northern forces for more than a few days (3 and a half weeks) long enough for communist cadres to have implemented plans to liquidate thousands of uncooperative elements.
About XNUMX civilians, including merchants, Buddhist monks and Catholic priests, intellectuals and others were shot dead, bludgeoned to death or buried alive.
Later, during the reconquest of the south led by the USA, the number of casualties among the city's inhabitants amounted to ten thousand, the vast majority civilians.
In the middle of the Cold War, the Vietnamese colonel's words summed up the geopolitical irony of the outcome of the confrontation. They also advocated the long term communist which, as happened with the conductors of cyclos, was not long in sacrificing Hué.
The Medieval Genesis of the Great and Fortified Hué
At its origins in 1687, the village was called Phu Xuan.
In 1802, already walled, it became the capital of a vast southern area then dominated by nobles who would form the powerful Nguyen dynasty.
This dynasty inspired the most popular name in Vietnam today, adopted or inherited by almost 40% of the inhabitants.
He also founded an empire that dominated a substantial part of Indochina. Nguyen feudal lords held power until 1945, but from 1862 to 1945 – the long French colonial period – that power was no more than a formality.
The new ex-Vietcong leaders who took over the country after the end of the Vietnam War considered the city's centuries-old buildings as shameful legacies of the nation's imperial past, declared them politically incorrect and vetoed them for abandonment.
Around 1990, at a time when Vietnam had already opened up to the world, local authorities understood the tourist potential of that legacy. They promoted the monuments to national treasures.
A UNESCO rewarded the turnaround, designated them a World Heritage Site and supported major restoration and preservation works.
As we explore the city, we find it increasingly difficult to distinguish it from its prolific history.
The Proliferation of Religions in a Strongly Rooted Communist Nation
Despite the proselytism of both Portuguese and, later, French priests, despite the nation's submission to communism, in Hué, Buddhism is unnaturally tolerated by the authorities of the socialist republic as in no other Vietnamese city.
Hué has always had the largest number of monasteries in the country and its most reactive and therefore most notorious monks. In such a way that the Thap Phuoc Duyen tower of the Thien Mu pagoda – also built by a Mr. Nguyen and which, in the 80s, hosted strong anti-communist protests – is preserved as an official symbol of the city.
One of the guides who enforces his services at the entrance informs us of this. We ended up admitting it and the tour guide refreshes our memory of other surprising facts.
“In 1963, in the midst of the Vietnam War, Tích Quàng Dúc, one of the most nonconforming resident monks, drove an Austin to Saigon to protest against the anti-Buddhist policy of the South Vietnamese government. He ended up sacrificing himself in public.”
Images of his atrocious death in flames that roamed the world and inspired several other self-immolations come to mind. “Many Westerners were less shocked by the suicides than by the reaction of the cruel Madame Nhu, the president's sister-in-law whom the people dubbed the Iron Butterfly because of her exquisite cruelty.
She declared that the self-immolations were mere barbecues and, to top it off, added: "let us burn and we'll clap our hands."
To reach Thien Mu, we travel four kilometers on the accelerates, along a luxuriant bank of the Perfume River where secular and sumptuous mausoleums of ancient emperors succeed each other.
The tower is 21 meters.
It appears prominent on a riverside elevation, so we can detect it without difficulty.
The Perfume River and the Oriental Elegance of Hué
Once inside the pagoda, we join groups of pilgrims who seek expiation and spiritual improvement there. We admire Vietnamese faithful who light incense sticks at the entrance to the temple.
Even without wanting to, we are also purified by the smoke and the aroma released.
Like any native or resident, Quang takes advantage of his presence to tell us about the beauty of the women of Hué, revered throughout the country.
On our own, we return to the tranquility of the Perfume bank when we come across a potential archetype of both this beauty and Vietnamese exoticism.
A lady dressed in purple trousers and a blue long-sleeved shirt looks at us squatting in Asian and semi-acrobatic fashion on a small high wall facing the river's flow.
A scarf that matched the rest of the garments and a more than expected hat not the they protected her face from the tropical sun and preserved the yellowish clarity of her skin, an unavoidable requirement of physical perfection in these parts that are really close to the old woman. cochinchina.
The lady only spoke Vietnamese. Using illustrative gestures and instigated by the empathy that emanated from her tiny almond eyes, we understood that we could photograph her.
When we did, we felt a big smile behind the colored scarf.
Until the end of the day, we continued to discover the charm of the proud people of the ancient capital of Vietnam.