The Train Station at Hue is either deserted or mobbed. That entirely depends upon the train schedule. As you can see from the below photo, this was way earlier than the train was expected to arrive. We also had to get our tickets, and we had first class reservations since the trip was an overnighter. All stations are lined with vendors vying for your business; it's mostly food and drink for the ride. For all the francophiles out there, "Ga", meaning station, was taken from the French word "Gare". Since it was the French that built the railroad for the Vietnamese, I guess it makes some sense. But other words sneaked their way into the language. Here are a couple just for fun: bia (beer from the French bière); dam (woman from the French "Madame")and bup pe (doll from the French "poupée").
Though the line had barely three people in it, there was one particular individual who was intent in cutting in front of me. My guardian angel, who had been there when we arrived, showed up to say goodbye, I suppose. The photo I took of him is absolutely awful and unfocused, but the only one I have. He very kindly stepped to the window in front of the "shover" and allowed me to get the tickets. I was so grateful that I walked back with him to his little café/grocery across from the station to stock up for the trip. He had fresh croissants, coconut cookies, peanut and sesame brittle which were to become my new obsession, Snicker bars (hey!!), and bananas...I knew that whatever I bought would never go to waste, and of course, it was extremely inexpensive. I hope he sees his picture here. He thanked me profusely for my purchases.
Upon my return, we were told to move to the main "waiting area", and now I know why the station wasn't crowded. Everyone who was leaving Hue was in this room. After we sat, we quickly realized that the air conditioning system was on the blink. This is not a good thing. The windows were on the other side of the hall, and we decided, with all the luggage, to make a move to the other side, in search of air. Though we did not find much relief, we did manage to meet some of the nicest people who were seated in front and to the side of us.
This is when I learned all about the Viet Kieu, the term used for Vietnamese nationals who left the country , or rather escaped, after the American War, mostly from the South and made America their home. There is almost a quarter million of them living in Southern California, and these men proudly told us they were from America, and had come to Hue to visit family. The Viet Kieu contribute billions to the local economy in Vietnam through investments and family support. Until recently, and I don't know if the law has changed, but there was talk in the newspapers about allowing these expatriates to hold dual citizenship to make either visiting or re-locating to Vietnam more attractive.
It started innocently enough with the young woman who was sitting next to me in the stifling waiting room. She was a ceramics designer, and was accompanying the rest of the family, including the war veterans, to Saigon, for an even larger family reunion. As the conversation became wider, the men began to talk about fighting the war against the North, and then so proudly told us, we are Americans, just like you. I beamed.
We would be waiting here for the train for over two hours, as mid-way through our wait, we heard over the loudspeakers that the train was being delayed. I kept thinking of the relief on board of the air-conditioned cars, which is a heavenly blessing in this type of weather.
Suddenly, everyone was talking and exchanging business cards and emails. We ended up sharing our compartment with the traveler from Taiwan, a man who offered me a paper fan when he realized my distress with the heat. I still have it in my office, and it's purple, just like the Forbidden City of Hue.