23 hours by train from Saigon to Hue. Funny to think that it is longer than the time it will take Catherine to fly from Saigon to Geneva … We had the good idea to take the cheapest beds in the compartment with 6 beds (the upper ones), so we have to do acrobatics to get there and eventually go on the beds of others people; once up there, you have to sleep because there is no place to sit. We are a little disappointed to realize that the restaurant wagon offers only a few snacks not to our taste, and therefore we are glad to have made the stock of sandwiches before leaving! Fortunately, we sleep quite well and the time passes quickly.
Hue, a city in central Vietnam near the 17th parallel, border between South Vietnam and North Vietnam during the war with the Americans. No need to say that the city has suffered and most of the ancient monuments, which were a lot because because Hue was formerly the imperial city, were destroyed. The atmosphere is however very different from the cities we have seen in Vietnam until then and we appreciate these old buildings in small stone bricks surrounded by streams. We found a typical Vietnamese house near the old city to welcome us for the next 3 weeks and also welcome Alice’s parents who will come to visit us. It is nice to find a kitchen and to be able to eat quietly what we want when we want! For when traveling, going to the restaurant sometimes becomes a heavy obligation rather than a pleasant desire; so we are happy to cook our meals!
We find our friend Jana who went on a trip at the same time as us, but in an opposite direction since she took the trans-Siberian. She is now volunteering in the Camphill of the Peaceful Bamboos, which we will visit during the party they organize for the 20 years of the association, and the 9 years of the place. To learn more about this place, here is an article that Jana wrote on her blog.
We also find other known faces from Switzerland, including Sara who is also at the Peaceful Bamboos for 6 months. Jana and her take us to an excellent vegetarian restaurant where the aesthetics and the Vietnamese know-how are combined; finally a restaurant where the map is not composed 95% of meat dishes!
As soon as we arrive, we keep our eyes wide open for clues to tell us how to settle here. We wander through the streets of the old city of Hue looking for signs “to rent”. Unfortunately, the only signs we see say “milk labels”, or “mortgage with advantageous rates”, etc … and it is difficult for us to translate these panels because in Vietnamese there are dozens of accents on the letters which make it possible to know in which tone to say the word: the same word can have 6 different meanings according to how one pronounces it. When we do the translation on our dictionary, if we make a mistake on one accent, it is all the sense of the sentence that is changed! So we give up looking for apartments in the streets and we just ask people, in restaurants or other, but nothing.
Mehdi is looking for a basketball club. If we are in Vietnam for a year, he can coach a team and maybe earn some money. He goes to a gym located on the map and meets people who practice badminton (the Vietnamese are very strong at this sport, lively, fast and they play a lot!). He is told the time to return the next day for basketball training. We will return to this place four times (this is considerable when cycling at 35 ° C and 53% humidity) but will never see a basketball training. It seems that people preferred to tell us a time and a day rather than confess that they did not know when the training was going on.
Alice on her side is looking for hospitals. Midwives practicing home births do not exist in Vietnam, so we need to find a hospital that can understand our needs and demands for childbirth; and with whom we can communicate in English, because we have trouble learning Vietnamese. Indeed, it is difficult to pronounce the different tones when we have never heard them, and the Vietnamese do not understand what we mean when we speak, because we do not say the word with good intonation.
We must face the truth after a few days, it is not in Hue that we can settle. So we take the train to Danang, 100km south (still 2h45 by train). It is the 3rd largest city in Vietnam but nothing compare to Saigon, and in addition, it is on the edge of a beautiful long sandy beach of 22km. There we visit some 10 apartments and find a nice room in a Vietnamese house, with a shared kitchen to share with the grandparents and the adult couple. We like it because it is a house with doors! It sounds stupid but here in Vietnam, many houses only have fences but are not closed by windows or doors. The noise of the street is always inside and the Vietnamese live anyway half of the time in the street, in front of their house. But we know that we will need our privacy, and being able to close the door and be at home is therefore welcomed!
Mehdi also finds a basketball club where he can train 3 times a week and get paid; what’s more perfect?
We visit several hospitals with our list of specific requests and find the Vinmec International Hospital, which proposes to provide us with a secretary to translate during childbirth if needed. We feel a little bit better, because the testimonies of childbirth that we had read in Vietnam did not put us very comfortable (giving birth to the chain, doctor on the phone while he helps a woman to give birth, pain not accepted so the woman is not permitted to cry, father can not be present during childbirth …).
Apparently, we can settle here and welcome this baby here. We take the train back to Hue, the heart lighter, ready to welcome Alice’s parents. Once again, it’s strange to find people close and known here in Asia, as if by magic! We enjoy spending time with them and visiting the surrounding area, including the tomb of Minh Mang, 2nd Emperor of the Nguyen Dynasty. To get there, we take a small boat and eat on board a traditional meal cooked by the owner of the boat.
We also visit the ancient imperial city, impressive by its numerous buildings and temples. Although many buildings no longer exist, one can still easily imagine the life of the emperors and all their harem, for the last 250 years.
We are also witnessing the opening of the 10th Hue Art Festival, which immerses us in the Vietnamese atmosphere: a music to pierce the eardrums (but apparently this only bothers us!) and a hundred Vietnamese on the stage dressed in a thousand different costumes and performing various dances and figures; we do not know where to look and are a little stunned as the show is so dense.
We will also see other concerts, including Achinoam Nini, whom Alice knew from Israel, and Berywam, French beatbox champions. It’s funny to see these artists on the Vietnamese stages, with the organization and warmth of South East Asia!
We take the train to Danang again, to show our future city to Alice’s parents, and to visit the surrounding area, including the famous little town of Hoi An, a tourist nest that may once have been picturesque and welcoming but which did not move us today.
From the sea that is 500 m from our house, we see a large Buddha overlooking the bay. This intrigues us and we will visit it as well. It is the lady of compassion who watches over this pagoda. It measures 67 m and is surrounded by temples and beautiful bonsai gardens. We appreciate this quiet and neat place.
Having moped left and right, seen and eaten central Vietnam, it is already time for Alice’s parents to fly, and for us to transfer all our stuffs from Hue to Danang to settle. A very strange feeling invades us; we do not feel out of place and we are not sure why we are here and what we are doing. To see Alice’s parents leaving makes us realize that we miss our families, our friends, and that we will be a little lonely to welcome this baby here. We have met people here, but the level of English of most Vietnamese is very limited and we have little to share. We are not very interested in meeting the expat community neither, for what is the good of moving to a country if it is not to share things with people of the country?
Within a few hours, after talking with our closest friends, we realize that although we have found everything to settle properly, our place is not here. Then very quickly everything is linked and we decide to return to Switzerland, to be close to family and friends, close to France and in a culture that we know and love. This changes all our plans but we suddenly feel light, confident and happy!
Since we have no more videos to share on this blog, here is a great one in which we have the chance to be part of the protagonists! The “Tomorrow” clip of the talented singer Régis Calif! In addition of being our friend, he composes a poetic music, funny and memorable!