ASIA DISPATCH 5 // HOI AN AND HUE // NOVEL TIMES IN ANCIENT TOWN

After a bumpy flight, we met land in Da Nang

and had the luck of scoring (according to our driver) one of the few English-speaking taxi drivers in central Vietnam.

As he shuttled us past marble mountain,

Vietnam-era American heliport, barracks and artillery guns


and a grip of beachfront property that is being sold off to build $3 Million dollar luxury condominiums.

he told us how much he digs American, how the north (from Hue to Hanoi) does not, and that his uncle and father worked for the US Army. After the US split from Vietnam, his uncle fled for San Jose and his father was jailed for four years as a conspirator in the American invader and puppet regime’s plot to enslave the Vietnamese people with big cars and television.

He studied hard in school and did well in college, but still has a hard time getting a job doing anything other than driving a cab due to long-standing discrimination by the North of some South Vietnamese.

And though Vietnam is developing rather quickly and appears to be, at times, more capitalist than America these days, he says he’s over it. His cousin works at a factory in San Jose and he told me he’d rather work in a factory than stay in his homeland and deal with the bullshit. He has to wait 12 years to join the rest of his family in California and he’s got 6 left to go.

To be honest, I wasn’t super-psyched on Hoi An originally, and considered it more of a jumping off place to check out My Son and the surrounding areas. Every image on the web seemed to look something like these. Like scenic…

and quaint…

and old.

I kept hearing how “touristy” it was, but that “I had to see it.” Whatever that means.

So I went and it was pretty fuckin’ dope.

For instance… how naturally beautiful is the backyard of my hotel?

See those “farmers” in the distance maintaining the paddies? Well according to a local, the only reason these paddies weren’t drained and slashed to make way for another hotel is because the tourists love them, and the government pays these pseudo-farmers to maintain them solely for the sake of visiting westerners. Smart.

The nights are quiet here.

And so I had ample time to have dinner with friends
\
check out the local arcade

take a stroll down by the canal.

help out a crippled chair.

spy on a lonely old man

admire the work of a local pyromaniac

learn the craft of bespoke tailoring

look at lamps

watch nervous mothers watch their children drive head on into each other in tiny electric cars

consider what my life would be like as a teen soldier in the Vietnamese army.

sample buddhist offerings

and attend the local Buddha parade celebration party!

Hoi An - Buddha Parade from Sleep Never on Vimeo.

One of the best days of my entire Asian adventure was riding a couple of hours through the beautiful boonies out to My Son on this bad motor scooter. RUFF RYDAZ! (Check out the shadow of my man tits).

Beautiful

No?

Along the way, Katie and I made frequent photo stops, so that none of this was left to our fallible memories.

We snapped kooky gates

and kooky graves

river parties packed with ducks and moos



shanty farms

abandoned carnivals

weird churches

forgotten saints

and doom with a view.

My Son, much like a fat grandpa in summertime, was old and hot and sweaty.


Inside we found Buddhas and bombs.

The park workers there drive Jeeps left behind by the American Army

and the grounds are still littered with unexploded ordnance

so you have to mind the paths past rivers

and lizards

and roving packs of Vietnamese school children.

Back in town Katie attempted to charade/Vietnenglish order what ended up being the worst meal we had in country.

After lunch, I got a taste of the old days when I was attacked with a switch by this old man after I took this picture. It was so fucking crazy. He came a runnin’ and a swingin’ and I had to shut the camera off, back up and talk him down. And all I could think was that somebody who looked a whole lot like me did something very very bad to him or his family or his cattle way back when. I felt like shit. It basically still fucks me up when I picture his angry face in my head. The hate… so strong.

After the attack, I calmed my nerves with a swim at Cua Dai Beach, the beach just south of China Beach. You know, the one a bunch of people think was featured in a surfing scene in that movie about the war that that one guy did, the Italian dude with the daughter who bangs the singer guy from that French band. What’s his name? Not the singer, but the director?


Night fell, and with it came the insatiable urge to design myself a super sexy party suit. So, I went into Elegant Tailors and threw together a simple black pinstripe on black cashmere/wool, two button, black and gray silk lined suit in the 10 minutes before their 10 o’clock closing time.

On our way back to the hotel we stumbled upon a film shoot taking place just across this historic Japanese bridge.

There were like 7 Vietnamese twentysomethings rehearsing some poorly choreographed walk/dance performance. It looked like it was supposed to be for some music video, but they was a sound guy there, so who knows. What I do know is that the chaos on set made some of the American sets I’ve been on seem like boot-camps.

Everybody was talking over each other: the AD and the choreographer (whom I’d both previously misidentified the director), the real director, the video playback dude, the sound guy, and some random producer-type in the back who was yelling at me (the only white guy on set), to turn my camera off. There were looky-loos everywhere (myself included), people riding bicycles through set, neighbors walking out of their houses and into shots…

Hollywood in Hoi An from Sleep Never on Vimeo.

The rehearsal for what looked like a one take deal (actors in a line, boy/girl/boy, face the camera and frolic toward the camera) went on for a good 15 minutes, waking, and pissing off, the bats in the rafters of the ancient buildings which swooped down and began buzzing the set.

And the only people who seemed to notice the additional winged rat crew members were Katie and I as we ducked and shrieked and ran through over the historical Japanese bridge, where we spooked more bats and woke up the security guard sleeping there before we made it back to town sweating and scarred by the not so distant memory of our brush with foreign fame and rabies.

In the morning (12 hours after I ordered it), I went to pick up my suit from my lady Chu at Elegant.

The pants were perfect, but the jacket was a little tight in the shoulders.

They said they could fix it, but it would take 40 minutes. I told them “no deal,” my car was coming to take me to the train station in Da Nang in 40 minutes (at 11 a.m. sharp). And if we missed the train, we wouldn’t make it to Hue, and if we did make it to Hue, we might miss our later flight to Ho Chi Minh City. Looking panicked herself, she told me not to worry and all I could think was how stoked I was going to be when I left town with a half-finished suit.

Then she bolted out the front of the store and told me to follow her, so I did.

She jumped on her scooter, suit in hand, and told me to get on back. So I did.

And then she blasted through streets like some Angelina Jolie character in a rape revenge flick, one hand on the throttle, while I held on and pissed my pants.

We ended up in some back alley and she dashed inside this place,


the tailor’s home where two shirtless boys were waiting to accommodate me.

They sewed like motherfuckers and got the shit done as the tailor’s family and dog studied me from the stairs.

At 10:56. She dragged me into the bathroom and put the jacket on me. And it fit like a dream.

I said my goodbyes. She hustled me back onto the scooter.

I hopped on and I racked my nuts on the back fender as the tailor’s mother looked on and laughed her tits off. Chu zipped off down a maze of alleys, one hand on the throttle, as she pitched me on finding her a husband. He didn’t have to be rich. He didn’t have to be handsome. He just had to be a good friend.

At 11:01 I arrived at my hotel, suit in hand and driver waiting.

And two days later I sent her a man. Remember this guy?

(I still don’t know if he came back to the states with a suit or a wife or both.)

Our train ended up being late by an hour so I spent some time in this packed, green, 1,000 degree room

perusing the art collection

spying on super heroes

engaging in a staring contest with this weird looking fish

and watching this kid baller make shit happen.

I assumed that the ride would be much more luxurious than that of it’s Chinese counterpart and I was 100% wrong.

The place looked like the yard of Sanford and Son. Shit hanging from the rafters.

It was packed as fuck and 1,000 degrees.

I kept a panic attack at bay by playing my “I’m a spy in a spy movie” game in my head, the one I usually play in underground parking garages when shit’s deep and weird and there are documents to deliver and nuclear scientists to trail and killers lurking and the ground can open up at any second because we’re near a fucking fault line – but I’m a spy in a spy movie and spies don’t die while conducting countersurveilance in a parking garage — and the ceiling could collapse because the architect bribed the city, because this mall was built in the 80’s you know, and everybody was on cocaine. So how could this place be safe for people to park their cars in? Even assholes like me who are on their way to Lenscrafters, playing spy in their heads and destined to die, buried alive in the rubble of Forever 21, while drowning in their own blood?

On the positive side, the view was absolutely stunning.

We arrived in Hue, checked into our room just off the Perfume River

Just in time for sunset.


So we took a stroll through town


and headed North, over this bridge.

It was kind of freaky. We were two of the only pedestrians on the entire bridge besides the Vietnamese Army dudes who were posted chilling every twenty feet or so for the entire length.

Most of them stared. A few made comments in Vietnamese about us as we passed, a couple smiled, and one said something about taking a picture with us, or us taking a picture of him, or me taking a picture of the soldiers with Katie. I wasn’t completely sure, but neither one of us was feeling the vibe of the proposed photo shoot. So we played dumb and moved on, chuckling politely.

Now I hadn’t gotten any bad vibes in Hanoi, but like I said I’d heard from our driver in Hoi An (just prior to being attacked by a septuagenarian cattle farmer) that the North Vietnamese from Hue to Hanoi were a little less friendly to foreigners, particularly Americans.

Now I could be wrong, but I’m guessing it could have something to do with the fact that American troops pretty much leveled the entire city during the Battle of Hue.


As we strolled the darkened streets and alleys around the Citadel,

(many of the homes there occupied by the people old enough to have been there during the war), I began to feel the weight of my country’s history as a camera-strapped, wide-eyed reminder of the worst days of these people’s lives.

Their homes were open, but not to me. And as I passed, I felt their eyes look through me as they silently wished me away.

Point taken. We erased ourselves from their sight and got some Bún Bò Huế on a corner across from the Citadel.

The thunder of drums accompanied the close of our meal. So we strolled over to see what was up

and found some kind of crazy ass drum recital going off: Hundreds of Vietnamese in uniforms marching the length of the wall, waving flags and banging out a cover of “We Will Rock You.” Some in time. Some out.

Hue Celebration - Drum Parade from Sleep Never on Vimeo.

A crowd of mopeds gathered behind us to watch the spectacle. Bad ass.

After we followed the distant glow of party boats towards the river. Outside the Compact Disc café.

Some Vietnamese teen scrambled out of the trees and asked us if we’d like a table. But he didn’t take us to the café, he took us back between the trees, through some knee high weeds, through some bushes

and down to a bank just east of the café where a few other locals were chilling on a spread of tiny seats watching the boat parade portion of what turned about to be the annual Hue Festival!

No menu, no kitchen in sight, the kid asked us if we’d like to order anything. I went with a Coca Cola. He asked for the money up front and disappeared into the bushes. Strange. I was sure the kid was gone forever. Whatever.

Look at all the pretty lights!

But before I knew it, homie returned with an ice cold Coke in hand! And my fucking change!

And that’s when I realized that the dude, utilizing about fifteen plastic stools and the resources of an adjacent restaurant, had put together a pop-up restaurant of his own on the bank of the river to specifically cater to celebration hangers.

Now how’s that for communism, Captain America?

At the close of the celebration we headed for the bridge. It was packed. Like tragic bridge-collapse packed.

Shit was hot. I got dizzy and prayed to Uncle Ho for strength.

I felt his spirit…

And hearing my call, he talked me out of a happy ending

and delivered me, by the light of the moon



back to my hotel, where I got naked and tried on the complimentary shower cap.

Next day, our electricity was out. The hotel’s was out. Everybody in Hues was out. Apparently the energy it takes to illuminate all those pretty lights doesn’t grow in paddies, so the city government literally shuts off electricity in the entire city for 20 hours a week, even when it’s 90 fucking degrees.

Lucky us!

So we hopped on our scooterbike (check the “Mickey” helmet)

and headed to the Citadel and the not-so-Forbidden City



Inside we found lilys and bridges

dragons


ancient gates and scooters


opulent rooms

cool old buildings and trees




imperial tennis courts

and this whacky ass chair some eccentric powerful guy used to sit on

At one time trespassing in the Forbidden City was punishable by death, but now dipshit tourists can take a picture in traditional emperor garb to send to their friends back home! My how times have changed.

Signs of the Battle of Hue are everywhere you look


and much of the Citadel and Forbidden City is under constant (re)construction

After our trip back in time, we headed out for some grub and happened up this little slice of heaven.

At first we were attracted to how progressive the scene was there, their catering to interracial couples and all,

but the food this old broad cooked up was bonkers.

After Katie was guilted, by some twentysomething dude posing as a restaurant worker, into buying a painting to benefit some starving orphans that lived under some bridge some where, we zipped off for the Thien Mu Pagoda.

Outside I found some counterfeit money.

and a pet monkey.

My traveler doctor, the one I paid $300 to vaccinate me and educated me on everything that could possibly kill me in the whole of Asia, had warned me about these monkeys. In fact, she specifically told me NOT to engage in photo ops with random monkeys, for fear I could be bitten, for fear I could get rabies or worse. And of course, I was like “Try not to get your panties in a twist. I have zero intention of “engaging” any monkeys.”

And then this furry little methed-up fucker took a leap at my scooter as I pulled into pagoda parking.

I nearly shit my pants and then he just laughed at me and went back to selling hats.

After narrowly escaping another horrific end, we hiked past some of the monkeys customers

up the steps

past a local troublemaker

through the graveyard

a magic forest

some sleeping monks


and stumbled upon this tribute to Hòa thượng Thích Quảng Đức (the Mahayana Buddhist monk who set himself on fire in Saigon on June 11, 1963 to protest the horrific and stupid Vietnam War), which features the car he rode in on his way to the scene of his self-immolation.

Being too a big of a pussy to set myself on fire in the name of peace, but totally agreeing with Hòa thượng Thích Quảng Đức’s view, I went to the temple to meditate and cry a bit.

Afterward, our driver “Hong Kong” picked us up at our hotel and we were off to Da Nang airport. The view on the drive was stunning.

The topic of music came up and as bad modern hip-pop blared from the crappy minivan stereo, Hong Kong asked if I thought Lady Gaga was sexy. I dodged that question and he asked if I liked hip-hop. I said sure, the good stuff, golden era stuff, Wu Tang Clan, Tribe, Public Enemy, etc.

Hong Kong told me he’d never heard of any of them and asked if I could put some on his thumb drive. So I took out my laptop, banged some “36 Chambers,” and Hong Kong, not impressed, and without another word, turned up his stereo to drown it out.

When Hong Kong (with the clock ticking and the shorter, tunnel route to Da Nang blocked by a traffic accident) decided to put it all on red and take the longer and more dangerous mountain route to Da Nang, I decided it would be better to upgrade his name to “King Kong.”

But then “Ding Dong” came to mind 3/4 of the way up the mountain when shit got hairy and I realized Hong Kong was nearly out of gas…

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