Life Life

10/12/2019 - 08:24

Champaca by the window

“Hue has strange corners that makes people who have come to the city remember forever,” said she before leaving for the airport to fly back to Saigon. I did not know what to say but smiled. That is right. Hue is always special to those who love it.

She dropped by Hue on a rainy day and chose a pretty place on a corner of the city to stay. “Even pho Tay (literally meaning the streets for Western tourists) is strange. It may be bustling outside, but so quiet in alleys,” said she. She is right again. The winding alleys in town are always quiet and peaceful. One can even feel the scent of champaca somewhere in the air.

Hue people avoid growing champaca in home gardens. Big trees giving strong scent, to a spiritual land, are considered full of mysteries. I told her so when we both stood watching the champaca outside her window in pho Tay.

The room was cozy for a rainy day. Just a little bit of cold made her happy because she finally could “taste” the cold of Hue winter.

I did not want to tell her that the winter in Hue is even much colder when people have to wear very thick coats and scarves and do not want to go out and that the temperature outside is about 15 degrees Celsius on average. It was because I did not want her good feeling of the nice winter cold would disappear.

I took her to Ru Cha in a windy afternoon. The mangrove forest was empty except for us. The fall foliage was no more, nor was the season of bare branches, nor the season of worms. Above our heads were domes of green leaves. Ru Cha was so beautiful. Roadside reeds were dancing in the wind as if they did not want us to leave.

Thank God it started to rain when we had already been back. Eating Nam Pho noodle soup with a bowl of fish sauce and chilli nearby, she said even chilli in Hue was different: aromatic, sweet and hot combined. 

We came back to the room filled with the scent of champaca, enjoying a cup of hot tea in the later afternoon. On the table were some lotuses. It was so strange this year. Lotuses were still in bloom in November. Tinh Tam Lake was full of pink lotuses. In November, I could still find some lotuses at the market to decorate the altar on the full-moon day. Hue now is so strange; even lotuses refused to wither. 

She wanted me to go visiting Diem Phung Thi Museum with her. It was a white French-styled villa with a statue garden by the Perfume River. She was pleased to see with her own eyes the artworks that she had seen before in books.

Hue always has strange corners. She promised another visit. She was right. Besides the palaces and royal tombs which are often included in the tour, there are very special sites such as the headquarters of Hue University with frangipani trees in front that she wanted to stop by, or this little house with the champaca by the window.

Story: Nam Giao