I am at the end of a nearly two-week stay in Hue. My visa ends in a few days, and I will be traveling on to Laos. I’ve chosen to stay here in this city, rather than continue south to Saigon, which has prompted reprimand from the southern Vietnamese food advocates.
But it has been wonderful to stay in the same place for an extended period of time; I am not the touring type of traveler. I like to visit the same few cafes here, and receive looks of recognition from the owners. I picked out my favorite bun bo Hue stand, and though I think that I still pay the foreigner price (a $.25 markup), I get more meat in my soup than I used to. I know my way around without a map. And most importantly, I’m staying in a guesthouse with the most wonderful family, who share meals with me and support my mission to eat the best Hue food possible (Sunny Fine Guesthouse, if you travel to Hue).
While visiting the Imperial Citadal, the center of the Nguyen Dynasty, I came upon this part of the exhibit:
Looking at the emperor, I found myself feeling lucky. For one, I am quite content to not need a poison-tester in my humble life. But on a deeper level, quite honestly, the emperor looks lonely to me. In Hue, I’ve had the fortune to eat like a king, and yet still share my meals with interesting company. Due to the couchsurfing network and lucky opportunities, I was able to meet some incredibly kind Vietnamese people. They showed me around the city and surrounding region, took me to their favorite Vietnamese restaurants, helped me create a long list of dishes to try, and then proceeded to help me cross off each item. I learned about Vietnamese history, society, and humor from long conversations over meals and bottles of Huda (local beer).
These new friends showed me the warmth of Vietnamese culture. And when I think about my time in Hue, these friendships are what I’m most thankful for- after all, what joy is there in eating like an emperor, if you’re eating alone?