Life Life

08/12/2017 - 08:14

Hue... so strange

Late October, Class Literature K1 at Dai hoc Tong hop (Hue University) met for the 40th anniversary.

As if there were something that kept drawing you back.

Stories kept up for 40 years were then uncovered. White heads (not dyed), black heads (definitely dyed) kept fidgeting with excitement. There were smiles and endless laughing, and moments of silence; there were tears and embraces as if we were 18. 

Everyone missed Hue. Everyone admitted that Hue had turned them from innocent students, just graduated from high school (called Level 3 then,) to proud literature students and then to "somebody" now. 

Hue is well known as a city of pupils and students. Previously, young men from Quang Nam came to Hue to study, feeling timid with the poem: "Học trò xứ Quảng ra thi/ Thấy cô gái Huế bỏ đi không đành" ("Students from Quang Nam come to Hue for the exam./ They can't leave when seeing Hue girls.") Later someone, as a representative of Quang Nam's style, mockingly changed it into: "Students from Quang Nam come to Hue for the exam./ Some Hue girls can't leave." I am not sure how much those lines hold true, but very few Quang Nam men stayed in Hue; most of them returned home, bringing along some Hue girls. Hue girls' voice in Quang Nam sounds even sweeter.

Hue is now a tourist city. Previously it was known as the city of students as well. Though not wealthy, the city houses many big universities, both national and regional, with students from everywhere: Hanoi, Nha Trang, Tay Nguyen, etc. Hue was willing to feed them all. After graduation, they came home, bringing Hue memories, Hue dreams and their nostalgia for Hue. Many of them had their first romantic love in Hue.

Hue is well known as a city of students

What do we miss?

First of all, we missed the nights at the dorm. At the time, the dorm at 27 Nguyen Hue St. had just completed and we became the first residents there. Gentle and naughty, decent and spoiled, serious and easy-going, caring and absent-minded, reliable and insecure, etc. were all present there. Life in the dorm was so lively that even some Hue natives and those in neighboring areas found ways to be able to stay at the dorm. We missed poetry nights hosted by the students of the Literature Department. We missed the afternoons when a certain hot boy with shiny glasses was playing the guitar with his eyes staring at the sky. Now and then he shook his head, then his legs. All the girls' rooms were wide open; all eyes and all ears, sobbing hearts, vague implications, desires and imagination. The music filled the afternoon...

Then we missed the shops around the dorm.

They all had names, but we preferred to call them Miss and Mrs. Wallet. It was just like helping each other. Those who happened to live in front of the dorm sold food that students lived on such as bread, banh bot loc, boiled cassava and sweet potatoes, ice, frozen bananas, etc. Books, clothes, coupons, soccer balls, sugar, even toothpaste could be taken as pledge. Each student was reserved a page in the old debt book. It was the book that kept many young men from losing face. Some of them could even be able to materialize their dreams, i.e. win their lovers' hearts.

Missing Hue simply means missing people

Student love affairs developed at basketball and football fields, along An Cuu and Perfume Rivers (now Nguyen Dinh Chieu walking street), on Kho Ren Bridge, at An Dinh Palace, in Nam Song Huong Store, etc. Some couples even ventured up to Thien An Hill or down to Dap Da (Stone Dam). The whole room, even nearby rooms got excited when someone had a date. We assisted one another by lending shirts, pants, shoes, even pens (to be pinned at the pocket), but rarely money. No worry. Just drop in on a certain Ms. Wallet. Some notebooks, coupons, or even the student ID card would suffice. Then we would have money to bring girlfriends to some restaurants although sitting beside them, all we could think about was how to keep them unaware of our shortage of money and how to leave the restaurant with calm.

Those who had no one to date went to the library. The library was another world. There were diligent and hard-working students, but there were also those who came just to look around for girls or to show off themselves. I remember there was one from Quang Nam, always wearing a thin white shirt with his student ID card in the pocket for everyone to see and with a thick Russian dictionary on which he wrote университет Hue (Hue University) in bold.

At that time, Tet in Hue was sad days because students returned to their hometowns for Tet. The city became as quiet as it naturally was. But it was as if there were something missing. Students were part of Hue life.

For many people and many generations, Hue is their love. Some student couples became husbands and wives. They came back home to work, then send their children to Hue to study. Their children then went to eat che with someone else; then they together came back and had children. There is such a couple in my class, Dang Xuan Thu and Thu Hien. They are now working for VTV in Da Nang and their grandchildren are dreaming about studying in Hue.

Some people said almost all provinces now have universities, but if they could be back to school, they would still choose Hue to return. Saying so, they have considered Hue as their home. Even when they are far away, they would want to return whenever possible. They are imbued with Hue character though they lived their for four years only, (six years at most.) To Hue natives, wherever they go and whatever they do, they always want to come back, at least once a year. There is always something simple but sacred beyond explanation in going back to their hometown and with their ancestry. Students who used to study in Hue now feel the same. They find ways to come back whenever possible, afraid that it will become too late.

Hue is so strange; as if there were something that kept drawing you back.