Culture Culture

29/02/2020 - 07:58

The camphor tree No 19

“The camphor tree No 19” is the nickname of a meeting place for artists and journalists in Hue. Later, that place is also where Hue people meet their friends from afar visiting Hue.

In the peaceful green canopy

That camphor tree stands there on the sidewalk of Truong Dinh Street and is numbered 19, just like any other trees in Hue. Odd numbers are for trees on the left. It is the 10th tree of Truong Dinh Street from Ha Noi Street.

At the beginning of Truong Dinh Street there is the camphor tree No 2 where Khau (Mouth) Cafe is located. The name sounds rustic and odd, but it is where artists in Hue  meet to talk about their writings every early morning. 

In the Canopy of the Camphor Tree Vol. 1 and In the Canopy of the Camphor Tree Vol. 2 are the titles of the two poetry collections published some years ago by Thuan Hoa Publishing House. The poets were inspired from lengthy debates throughout the sunny and rainy seasons. The poems are contributed by both well-known and young authors of the ancient capital city. 

It is impossible to sit in the canopy of the camphor tree No 19 without cold beer. The right cold beer must be refrigerated at 8-10o C in at least 2 hours so that the beer becomes lighter, but still keeps its sweet good smell. That beer should be sipped slowly. “One who finishes just one bottle, then leaves is the one who reaches ‘enlightenment level’”

While enjoying the cold beer, drinkers look up at the green foliage of “the camphor tree No 19.” The tree looks smaller with its rough trunk compared with others nearby, but its leaves are so green and tender. It is like a guitarist who looks rugged, but has long fingers to play the guitar so well that everyone likes upon listening to.

Artists in Hue often choose this place to recover their minds and cherish their new feelings. It serves as extra refuge for those who do creative work. 

Strolling in Tu Tuong (four elephants) Park near the Perfume River on a sunny day, Hue people recall the lyrics by Trinh: “Mau nang hay la mau mat em... Lua nang cho buon vao mat em... Ban tay xanh xao don uu phien. (“Is that the color of the sun or of your eyes?... Shoo away the sun so that sadness gets into your eyes... Your pale hands welcome the sorrow.”)

This Tu Tuong Park near Truong Tien Bridge boasts a number of wonderful old camphor trees. Tens of camphor trees with their trunks bigger than an embrace and as tall as 20 meters, are grown regularly in the park which is not very large but looks spacious with the green color of trees. The stone bench under a camphor tree near the Nguyen Dinh Chieu walking street witnessed our innumerable memories at Hue University. 

As poor students, stone benches and the canopy of camphor trees were our pleasures. At the time, the Nguyen Dinh Chieu walking street was not as beautiful as now. Near the river was a piece of land where grass could not grow because it was the place where we came to sit together singing endlessly John Lennon.

Hard exams, economic burdens that parents carried for their children, teardrops shed when parting the lover because “your family is so poor”... “Let it be” was not our style of living at the time; but we in our 20s preferred sharing, relieving, simplifying the problems by singing the Beatles, the music that we were crazy about at the time. 

Nearly 20 years later, once I was jogging on Nguyen Dinh Chieu Walking Street when I stopped and sat down on a stone bench of memories. What a coincidence! In front of me was the camphor tree with the name card “Camphor tree 19.” The “comforting camphor tree” was still there through storms as if it had been waiting for us to come back to our age of nineteen, to lie down on the grass and look at its foliage. 

The camphor tree No 19 should be classified as female so that it is like a mother raising her children, a lover in childhood or a fiancé at old age. 

Prof. Do Xuan Cam wrote many articles about trees in Hue. I remember he longed for the city of Hue which is changing but still keeps its green color. “I wish to see camphor trees in new areas including kindergartens, schools, hospitals, clinics, etc.”

Hue is preserving in itself the green color pervading every corner and park. Generations who used to sing Let It Be more than 20 years ago are now dreaming the same dream as Do Xuan Cam’s about “streets, sidewalks and parks full of camphor trees.”

Not normal camphor trees, but “the camphor trees No 19” with their own rich souls which have fates as men do according to Hue people’s conception: “Trees are human.”

Story: Bui Xuan Hoa

Photos: Dang Tuyen