Or, pondering permanence and the search for the best Bun Bo

Apart from Ho Chi Ming, Hue is by far the most city I went to in Vietnam. After seven hours of motorbiking through greenery that snakes around mountains, entering Hue is a shock to the system.

Tall buildings, wide highways, sophisticated looking shops. 

But the hostel is at a tourist area, and while that’s in the middle of the city, it has the “tourist charm” to it. Once checked in, I dropped off to sleep for a couple of hours.

Dinner found me walking around looking for someplace that isn’t packed. I did. In an area filled with tourists, I found the one restaurant that’s almost empty of them.

And that’s because the cater to the locals. None of the people who work there speak English and the menu isn’t translated. I ordered based on how the food looked on the menu. 

A spice, a vice, and a surprise

If I had one vice, it is that I always want to try local food. I’ve discovered some really good stuff that way, but it’s a hit or miss.

When my order arrived, I wasn’t sure if it was a hit or miss but, by the Goddess, how it burned.

It’s this one.

It was the hottest meal I have ever had in my entire life, and that includes that time in college I took up the dare of eating a red hot siling labuyo. And eating that spicy Korean instant noodles that people are raving about being the hottest there is.

I love spicy food. But after two bites, I had to pause and think if I should go on eating it. I did. Because while the heat stuns you, the flavour underneath makes it just a hair bearable. Plus I was really hungry and tired.

My apologies to Mr. Gump. But I found that life isn’t like a box of chocolates, it’s a bowl of whatever that was I had on my first night at Hue.

You make your choices despite not understanding the whole thing, you take what you get, and you make the decision to push forward or go for something else.

By pushing forward, there is the possibility of discovering something new – about the world or yourself. By going for something else, you have the opportunity to start anew and maybe have something more favourable that you can handle.

There are no wrong answers.

I made it through that meal. But I had to go look for milk after. I’ve resolved since then to always ask the spice level of my meal before I order.

Surprising pockets of calm

Hue was the capital of the former Empire of Vietnam. So, of course I’m going to visit the Imperial Citadel.

To get there, I would have to motorbike through the streets and across the Perfume River, but decided to walk because it was sunny but cool out.

It was noon by the time myself and my companion arrived at the bridge to cross the river. I liked it; the sun was hot and strong, but the chill in the air made it pleasant.

At least for me. I was worried my companion would faint and I’d have to drag a 6-foot dude across the bridge.

The beauty of Hue is that it’s a very walkable city, with enough space just for pedestrians.

Upon reaching the other side of the river, we sat to rest a bit on the benches along the bank. In a place as busy as Hue, it was marvellous how devoid of people that part of the river bank is. It kinda felt like the modern city with all the cars are on the other side of the river, while we’re on the side that’s quiet and slow.

One of the things I dislike about my own country is the lack of green spaces in the city. And the few that we have are so crowded (owing to the fact that there is just so few of them). In Hue, spending close to an hour on the banks of the Perfume River is the pocket of calm I always search for when I am in the city. Any city.

Pockets of calm give way to moments of wonder. Moments of wonder add up to a grateful heart.

And a grateful heart, at least in my opinion, opens the eyes to the realities of the world. If you allow it, it changes the way you move in it, and gives you a much deeper sense of justice for the world in general.

From the river bank, it was a quick walk to the Citadel.

They say old places have soul. In the Citadel, you feel them. It wasn’t as grand as some of the places I’ve visited. In terms of scale, it doesn’t hold a candle to Angkor Wat, for example.

No, the beauty of the Hue’s Imperial Citadel is that is makes you see. You walk through the gardens and know that people who have had a hand in changing the history of a country has walked the same path. You enter the buildings and understand that important, life-impacting decisions were made there.

And beyond that, what I love most about it was the many places where you can just sit and be. To enjoy those pockets of calm in the middle of what used to be the bustling centre and seat of power of Vietnam.

Coffee after exploring, of course. Then waited for the sunset in the middle of the bridge across the Perfume River. It was a day of walking and sitting beside bodies of water.

The impulsiveness of permanence

I woke up expecting to go to Thuan An Beach but was greeted with torrential rains instead. Since it looks like it won’t be letting up soon, I figured the beach was off the table.

It was a late start, of course. Stormy, gloomy days during vacations demand more time spent lounging. I spent the first half of the day in bed, and only forced myself to get up because of hunger. And since I was up anyway, and the rain has stopped momentarily, I decided to to explore the nearby streets.

I decided to walk the surrounding streets as I haven’t explored them yet. They’re mostly restaurants but there are some interesting shops. In this trip, Hue was the most city that I’ve been but that didn’t mean that I didn’t enjoy discovering the little pockets of fun I came across, while I played hide and seek with the rain.

A couple of minutes in, I had to stop and take shelter when the rain started again. By sheer coincidence, I ended up taking in a tattoo shop. No other clients there. A whole afternoon stretched in front of me. Zero possibility of going to the beach. What the hell.

It took me three years to decide on my first tattoo. It took less and less time for each one following that. That rainy afternoon with nothing else to do, it took me maybe 3 minutes to say “yep, I’m getting two.”

I used to think permanence is scary. But I’ve proven to myself that it isn’t. A tattoo I chose is not scary. Changing my life to accommodate someone else is.

It’s not the permanence, but having no control, the fear of making terrible judgement, and the possibility of regrets that make you stop and think multiple times.

I don’t trust myself to make good decisions about people. A horrible, terrible past experience that I truly regret put me off building attachments with humans – even with friends. I’m working on that.

But permanence doesn’t mean stagnancy. The best forms of permanence are the ones that remain through the changing of the seasons – your guiding principles, your ability to adapt, your openness for growth, your growing capacity to love.

And through all that, the capacity to forgive yourself when you make mistakes, and the steadfast trust and belief that you will be able build something better from those mistakes and bring yourself where you need to be.

If you’re wondering what goes on in my head while getting a tattoo, that was a sample of it.

I treated myself to a temperature-controlled actual restaurant and overpriced coffee after that.

Cozy interior while the rain rages outside.

A quick bout of insanity for a bowl of noodles

Delicious noodles, to be fair.

I’ve been eating a lot of noodles in Vietnam, and seeing as I’m in Hue, it would be a shame not to enjoy several bowlfuls of Bun Bo Hue (it was named after there, after all).

On the last night in Hue, I decided I want my dinner to be this delicious Bun Bo I tried on my second day there.

Slight problem though: it was freezing out.

Clad in a summer dress that’s entirely useless in cold weather despite the accessory of a scarf and a borrowed hoodie (I packed for summer), I marched on through the streets of Hue in search for that one side street cart.

It was 8PM, with temperature as low as 18 degrees and strong gusts of wind that are bitingly cold, and no one on the streets because who in their right mind would be out in those conditions?

The insanity paid off; the cart was found and they were open. By 8:15PM, I stood shivering in front of the cart, anticipating that huge bowl of noodles. They didn’t set out tables and chairs because the wind keeps blowing them away.

I enjoyed my steaming bowl of Bun Bo in Hue, standing up with the cart’s tarp cover slapping repeatedly at the back of my head. It seems ridiculous to go through all that for a single bowl of soup, but in life, there are some things worth the trouble.

It differs for everyone, and sometimes we don’t understand the reasons behind them, but given the fact that our own reasons may not always be as sound as we want, it’s not our place to judge people for the things they find worth their trouble.

At least, not aloud.

Up next: Ho Chi Minh

4 thoughts on “Finding love in questionable places: Hue, Vietnam

    1. I hope you enjoyed reading and I do wish you will be able to visit Hue. But also, I’m sure there are places in your own city or town that could give you moments of wonder.

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