April 22, Sunday: Our excellent tour guide, Truc, started off the day by leading the hardy on a walking tour of the Imperial City of Hue. It seems really ancient, but was only started in 1802 when the when the emperors, Nguyen brothers, moved it here from Hanoi after having gained power with the support and arms from the French. It remained the capital until 1945 when the Emperor Bao Dai abdicated to the Viet Minh, and Hanoi became the capital again. The French briefly installed him as the “head of state” of the colony of Indochina, but that did not work out so well, as you may recall. The Imperial City is quite beautiful. It was seriously damaged during the Battle of Hue during Tet 1968, but having since been declared a World Heritage Site, there has been much restoration funded both internationally and internally. Much of the damage has been repaired, although some important buildings were completely destroyed and not rebuilt. A ‘selection’ bullet holes and shrapnel have been left for effect, see photo.
After a wonderful lunch at a restaurant run by a deaf-mute family during which I added the VFP logo to the graffiti-riddled white-tile walls, we took a relaxing boat trip up the Perfume River to Thien Mu Pagoda. It was so relaxing that I fell asleep in my chair and missed most of the sights on the way. When we got to the pagoda, there was a group of about 15 NVA veterans lining up for a group photo in front of the tower. When they saw our Veterans for Peace shirts (in Vietnamese: Cuu Chien Binh vi Hoa Binh), great cheers and backslapping erupted. They insisted that we stand with them for the photo-op, which some of us did. I commented to Mike Blecker that they really had us surrounded this time. They took one photo, then split like the ghosts they used to be, and NONE of us got a single photo. Some things will never change.
Thien Mu is an active pagoda and on Sunday the monks and novices were out in force cleaning the grounds, although we noted some young novices behind a wall near the back of the property surreptitiously playing soccer. Obviously the military does not have a monopoly on shitbirds and slackers.