Slow Coffee in the Street

I spot the traveling cart with a large sign, advertising “cà phê”. I hold up one finger, and an older Vietnamese woman, dressed in comfortable slacks and a floppy fishermen’s hat, pushes two small red plastic stools my way. I take a seat on one, putting my purse on the other, and call out “Cà Phê Sua Da”, or coffee with milk.

My long American legs hunched up toward my chest, I look around this quiet side street. Around me, groups of young people have pulled their small red stools close to each other, forming a flexible arrangement of social cliques. To my left, two women my age examine their phones, checking Facebook while sipping coffee. To my right, a group of high school students share brightly-colored sodas. Two of the young men are clearly talking about me, and I laugh to myself. People not-so-covertly staring at you is obvious, even through a language barrier.

My coffee arrives, with a side bowl of ice on this hot day. I stir in the milk and then add the ice, trying to water down this strong brew. I take a sip- oh, how I love Vietnamese coffee.

One of the best parts about a slow cup of coffee on the street here is the people watching. As my foreignness can hardly go unnoticed, most of the time I stare back unabashedly. I usually bring a book to the cafe, but today I leave it in my bag, because the street is exceptionally busy. I simply sit, enjoying the sunshine and the cool breeze coming off the Perfume River. I have nowhere to be for another few hours, until I meet a friend for lunch. I grin and take in the day, enjoying all of my senses. I treasure these wonderfully slow mornings in Hue.

A panoramic view of the Imperial Citadal, the home of the Nguyen Dynasty. I wonder if the emperor and the mandarins ever had quiet mornings like mine, sitting near the lakes, drinking coffee.

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