I took the train from Hanoi to Huế, which turned out to be about a 14 hour ride. Since most of it took place at night there isn’t much to say about the scenery except when we would stop on a siding to let another train pass you could hear a million frogs croaking in the rice paddies just off the tracks. I was unable to sleep due to cold tablets and so had to witness the train crew disport themselves in the manner of a Washington State University sorority party in the mid-1970s.
This morning I met Sister Ephraim patrolling the front entrance to The Church of The Redeemer on Nguyen Hue Street. She is shy of five feet and wears a steel gray and white habit. Her arms were crossed as she paced and she had focused her attention on a drunk couple who, for some reason, had taken up temporary residence just outside the church. Whatever they were doing caused her to clap loudly and address them so sharply that I was instantly transported back to elementary school, which was the last time I heard anything quite like it. She asked if I was a priest and then quickly extracted my information (not a priest, tourist, name, from Washington State, lawyer) and told me I’d better get inside as mass was starting. The church has a school attached and was full of kids, organized by grade levels in the front pews. The Vietnamese language is musical and the singing was very pretty. The congregation leaves the church together through one exit and then drive away on scooters and in cars in a kind of loose processional. Honking of horns is suspended for at least a few blocks.
I used my map to walk back to the hotel although a parishioner kindly offered me a ride. The pedi-cab and scooter drivers in Huế are relentless; if you stop on the street for a minute to look at your map they pounce. They ask what you are looking for and use directions as a way to put you into their debt. Today I was manipulated into having tea with a driver who said he was 59 and talked like he had been the last faithful retainer abandoned on the US Embassy roof after the fall of Saigon. He leaned in close to whisper that the Vietnamese government didn’t like him, and he was working up to a request for money when he went too far. He looked at my map, saw the church circled and, leaning in again, said he didn’t dare go near that place because the police had a ring around it and kept track of who went in and out. He obviously didn’t know I’d just been there and I used this bullshit as a way to get out of his clutches.
I’m in the “Romance Hotel.” It’s fine for my purposes and nothing like its name implies but I did feel sheepish telling Sister Ephraim the name of the place when she asked where I was staying. I’m going to hang here for a few more days.