“And Matilda asked the sailors, Are those dreams or are those prayers?”
We arrived in Hue yesterday morning after a 16 hour train ride. We spent the first few hours in the restaurant car at the head of the train. This was mostly just a prep area for the food to be carried out to the passengers by stainless steel carts. We were fed tofu, bean sprouts and rice – cinnamon peanuts and sweet popcorn. We drank bia 333 and watched the country roll by as the train pushed South. Our $40 ticket bought us an air conditioned sleeping berth that we shared with a family from Da Nang. The night was long – waking at 1am to when we thought we were suppose to arrive. Rough translations with the train worker in our car at the back of the train said we still had 270km more to go, whatever that meant in time. At 6am, we made our way back up to the restaurant car, passing through the 2nd and 3rd class cars with no AC, where most had slept on the floor under the seats. We drank coffee and watched the sunrise with still no clear idea of when Hue would come, only that it hadn’t yet. We had been sitting at a station for a little too long when we asked the kitchen staff our whereabouts. Their faces lit up with hurried recognition when they realized our stop had finally arrived. Navigating backwards through the packed cars we were swimming upstream. So, pulling a classic travel move, we exited the train and sprinted along side as the whistle blew. Jumping back on, our family rose with the same excited faces “Hue, Hue!”
We waved goodbye from the platform.
The shower that proceeded checking in was glorious and 3 days overdue. The front desk showed us to our room before any money was exchanged saying only “First you shower.”
Hue – the city America destroyed in order to save it during the American War. Much of the Citadel was destroyed and 10,000 people killed, mostly civilians. We rented bicycles from a young girl who laughed and said “Have fun, let me know how it goes.” It was much like crossing the streets on foot, same principals, just faster. Sometimes it is necessary to turn into on-coming traffic to avoid being hit by buses.
We rode to the Citadel, former Emperor’s residence and site of the 1968 bombings. Charred stone walls still remain at this World Heritage Site.
It was while drinking coffee at a cafe later in the day that I realized I had erased every photo from my camera. Every photo. It turns out navigating traffic from a bicycle and taking photographs at the same time requires more coordination than I thought. The photos of our train friends, of the hidden neighborhoods we rode through, the little boy waving, the man who watched our bikes for us, the women washing morning glories on the street – all released like some ephemeral dream. The moments that were previously collected in my camera are now collected in my mind, immediately being imprinted when the thought that those moments should ever be lost. Reminding me that it’s all transitory. That this existence we try to record and shape and pin down will one day be erased.
The pictures below were taken after, and like all photos, exist beyond the moment they were taken. They attempt to capture the moments we want to always remember, we want to share. I will continue to attempt to share these moments with you as I continue to imprint them on my mind, being in the present finding the moments that will carry us to the next day, to the next town, to the next moment.
We are headed south to Hoi An by bus. Rain Dogs in my headphones. I can’t seem to let it play past Clap Hands, but I know Time and Blind Love lay ahead, so eventually I will. The rice paddies are giving way to ocean.