Almost Vietnamese

Before travelling to Vietnam, my vocabulary was limited to phở, that famous Vietnamese bowl full of slurping goodness, and Nguyen, the 13th most common name in the Australian phone book and soon to become the top family name in the urban areas of Melbourne and Sydney. Not a lot to go on you might say.

Another day, another phở This one with noodles or bún ( pronounced boon) with tofu ( pronounced dậu hũ ), and prawn or tôm( pronounced with almost a d)
Another day, another phở, pronounced fer. This one with noodles or bún (pronounced boon),  tofu ( pronounced dậu hũ ), and prawn or tôm ( pronounced with almost a d)

The locals around Hue (pronounced hway) are keen to teach the language and correct your pronunciation: they write things down, demonstrate the tonal stresses, ask you to repeat the sounds and urge you to practice. This is good language teaching in action. Although the phonology is difficult to master, at least you get to read the language (unlike with Thai or Mandarin for example) and the diacritical marks give you some indication of the tones. I am constantly being corrected and that’s good. Words are coming fast, but today I need to practise cài baò càrôt, before heading off to the huge market across the Perfume River to begin my hunt for those magic graters.

Prising open the doors of language.
Prising open the doors of language.

As it turns out, my other well-known word, the name Nguyen, pronounced nwen, turns out to be quite handy in Vietnam. It is estimated that around 30 million Vietnamese, or 30 percent of the population, have this family name. Hue is the home of the Nguyen Dynasty. Established as the capital of unified Vietnam in 1802, Hue was not only the political but also the cultural and religious centre under the Nguyen dynasty until 1945. In that year, the last Nguyen emperor Bao Dai abdicated the throne and transferred power to the Democratic Republic of Vietnam led by Ho Chi Minh.

Inside Minh Mans palace
Inside Minh Mang’s palace

A tour of Hue’s monuments, because of their spread throughout the countryside, is most easily taken with a tour. A bus tour, taking in the tombs of the Nguyen emperors Minh Mang, Khai Dinh, and Tu Doc as well as the Citadel, Royal Palace and the Thien Miu Pagoda, takes around 8 hours. The trip includes a Vietnamese banquet lunch and concludes with a forty minute cruise down the Perfume River. Most importantly, it includes the service of a well-informed tour guide. The tour costs 255 VND /AU$15. Entry tickets to the various monuments is an extra 360,000 VND /AU21.23. You will walk around 8 kilometers during the round trip and climb many stairs. To survive, you need comfortable footwear, a good sunhat and lots of water. Our tour guide remained cool, calm and totally charming in her apricot polyester Ao Dai and 6 inch high wedged sandals. The temperature reached 36ºC on the day of our tour and I noticed that the price of cold water increased along the way.

Our tour guide takes a short break in the summer gardens of t
Our tour guide takes a short break in the summer gardens of Emperor Tu Doc.

As mentioned in a comment by Maree in an earlier post, the Vietnamese are very forgiving people, though around Hue, one of the hardest hit cities during the French colonial period and the American War which followed, they still harbour some distrust of the foreigner, at least at the official level, when it comes to preserving their heritage. In 1885, French forces stormed the Royal Palace, burning the imperial library and removing every single object of value. This was followed by the American bombing and napalming of the ancient complex of the Purple City. Only 20 of the original 148 buildings survived. The diorama on display inside the second palace representing the Royal Complex in the past, enables one to imagine its former grandeur. The Royal Purple City of 500 hectares was dotted with ornate buildings, moats, lakes and walls before the area was severely damaged. One could say that it was comparable to the palace and gardens of Versailles.

Yellow walls around tu Doc;s tomb. Yellow is associated with Royalty in Vietnam.
Yellow walls around Tu Doc’s tomb. Yellow is associated with royalty in Vietnam. Now the colour can be worn by anyone.

The city of Hue became a UNESCO world heritage site in 1993. The estimated cost of restoring or rebuilding the Purple City is around US$35 million. Consequently the project is very slow as funds are short. I have a few suggestions as to who should pay.

More mosaics on walls of xx
More mosaics on the walls of Tu Doc’s summer palace, Hue.

For Mark M, lover of Hue city.

Our tour was organised by MotorVina Travel, near 42 Nguyen Cong Tru st, Hue.

20 thoughts on “Almost Vietnamese”

  1. Knowing the history of the Country you’re visiting deepens your understanding and appreciation for what surrounds you doesn’t it. They have every reason to mistrust foreigners. I’m amazed that those beautiful dresses worn by the women are polyester – in 36c! Lovely photos again Francesca.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, it does help quite a bit. Although I have studied Vietnamese history before, ( a long time ago) I didn’t know much about Hue and the destruction of the Purple City, only about the proximity of the DMZ or demilitarized zone that is near this town.
      Polyester and high heeled edged shoes and not a drop of sweat- now that is cool.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Julie. I get a bit worked up sometimes- you know me well by now. Having a lazy day in bed: have a bit of a stomach thing but with a two roomed apartment, aircon, TV fast internet and so on, at $32.00 a day, can afford to do nothing. Slowly getting better.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. What an informative post, Francesca. Have you relocated from Hoi An to Hue now? I honestly don’t think I could cope with 36C heat and the humidity, and certainly not for 8 hours. The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. Heat and humidity stir up my fibromyalgia like nothing else except overexertion. Lovely post, and photos, glad I can enjoy it vicariously!


    1. Thanks ardys. It was a rather exhausting, especially the stairs in the heat. I needed this weather to recover from barious Melbourne illnesses- swelling of the joints and asthma associated with bronchitis. It only took a few days in the heat to recover. We do, however, stay inside during the extremely hot hours, writing and reading. and in Mr T’s case, doing legal research which I find so odd. Yes we are in Hue for 9 days and have our a double roomed suite for only $32, making the trip rather economical. Sounds like Asia is not for you Ardys.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I hope you recover soon from the tummy lurgy–the cure for the bronchitis sounds like it has it’s own drawbacks 🙂 I think you are right, 10 years of living in Florida and Darwin and then visiting Bali and Singapore have worn down my tolerance for that type of climate. I’m enjoying your posts though!


  3. Beautifully shot post, Francesca, but I’m sorry to hear that you’ve not been well. I’ve been there. Drink plenty of fluids. get some rest, and with a little luck you’ll be on your feet in a day. Feel better!

    Liked by 1 person

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