My 25th Birthday in Hue, Vietnam

So tomorrow I turn 30. Whatever. People tell me this is a huge deal but for the most part I tend to negate any thought processes of the day whatsoever. I find myself spending my 30th in Asia. The exact same way I did five years ago on my 25th birthday…… Oh the 0’s and the 5’s. Somebody just take them away please!

Today was up and about and downstairs for  breakfast where there was a string of happy birthdays. I don’t know why, but I hate it. I hate having a fuss made about me and I don’t know how to deal with it graciously. Instead I deny that it is my birthday and get on with the day’s proceedings. They firstly consisted of a motorbike tour.

My driver spoke very little English and I was a little disappointed because some of the others had some real characters driving them around. Harriet’s driver would bounce her up and down on the bike when they were stationary, and Kat’s tried to hit on  her despite being married already.

My polite, lovely and sensible motorbike driver

So they drove us through all of the back streets of Hue and through all of the rice fields watching the locals pick the rice and work on the harvest. There were also locals washing clothes in the river and fishing. The first stop was to see how the rice is processed to what we see it  as in the supermarket.

Driving beside the rice paddy fields

When we arrived there were a whole bunch of kids on bikes and they were hanging around being really cheeky. They were being pains in the arses really and the old lady and the tour guide yelled at them and told them to leave. They didn’t though. So we watched her sift off all of the husks from around the rice grain, and then we watched her ground it up to make rice flour. It was really cool.

Local Vietnamese woman demonstrating the processing of the rice to rice flour

On the way back to the motorcycles, I met Lieu, a 75 year old local woman famous around the regions for her palm readings. I wanted to just sit and chat to her but she convinced me in the end to read my palm. What she told me was quite interesting, although I would hazard a guess to say that they were more based on her personal experiences and with what she saw of me than what my palm said.

She told me that I was 25 (good guess) and that I have a very beautiful mother (looking at me, quite an educated guess… but then maybe not in my disheveled ways….) and that I have trouble for a father (what can I say? Another very good guess). She told me that I would live until I was 85 (most likely a guess, have no idea, won’t find out for 60 more years). She said that I would marry when I was 28 (I now know to be a false estimate… I will be lucky to be married by 38 at this rate) and have 3 children (hahahahaha), two boys and one girl. The first child would be born at 29 (hahahahahahaha yep, pretty sure that didn’t happen without me noticing) and the next one’s would come ten years later. I will marry an American (she later tells me that she married an American) and that he will love me very much but he will be working so often that I will turn to the drink (cause I am totally addicted to the drink) and other men (who knew I was capable of having an affair?). Apparently I will have boyfriends when I am married (cause I have a whole bunch now when I am single…). A nice young one to go with my workaholic husband(???). Sweet. I laughed my arse off when I left, asked to have my picture taken with her when I left and she agreed. I wonder if it was written in my palm that I was only interested in having a picture with her?

Getting my fortune told with Lieu

So anyway, after that heartwarming little conversation, I hopped back on the bike and headed towards Thuy’s house. Thuy was deformed from birth and only has one hand. With her stumpy arm and her other hand, she makes the most amazing conical hats. She showed us how to make one when  we got there. Her hats are special too because they have shadows of a pair of lovers, the towers and the bridge in Hue as well as her name. She does this by inserting a layer of newspaper in between the straw that she ironed out and placed around the ribs of the hat. It was pretty cool really. Kat bought a hat and  has been wearing it all day.

Pressing the straw to make the conical hats

From here it was off to the place where they make the incense sticks. They mix together a  large proportion of sawdust, glue, sandalwood powder and fragrances and then make a big ball of goop. They roll he goop over the bamboo sticks and then in some more sawdust so that they don’t stick  and then they lay them out in the sun to dry. There were incense sticks everywhere lined up along the road. It was unbelievable. One woman can crack out about five thousand of those things a day.

My friend rolling and incense stick

Afterwards we headed to the pagoda to check out what was going on there. We saw the large tower built at the front of the grounds and the car that the monk drove all the way to Saigon to set himself on fire in protest of the poor treatment of the Buddhists. After seeing this we got on the motorbikes and got dropped back at the supermarket down the road from the hotel to do some shopping for food and to have some lunch. It disgraced me that for the first time since leaving home, I ate KFC westerner food shit fried chips. I am in Vietnam, I should be enjoying traditional food, however the others all wanted fast food so I tagged along. I just don’t get it. I never did, I don’t know if I ever will.

After about an hour wait at the hotel, we took the bus to the train station where we waited for another two hours because our train was delayed. Not bad, sleep in tomorrow morning. So when we finally got on I found my cabin and threw my stuff  on the top bunk. I got up and sorted my stuff out and then started to read. Then all the questions came about birthdays. Why do I hate celebrating mine and is it OK for the others to make a fuss. I said whatever and next thing that you know there is a group of people filing into my room and sitting on the bottom bunks and they started to sing happy birthday. I covered my face with my book mostly so that they couldn’t see that I was on the verge of tears. They just kept getting louder and louder and I wanted them  to stop. So when they were finally done, I was graced with presents. I got a 4-pack of Tassie Devil yoghurt, a calendar with all of the pictures from the man’s restaurant that we were at last night and a purse made out of black silk. Kat also organised a card for me that everybody signed. It was kind of cool, and I behaved graciously, I was thankful that they went to the effort. I honestly would have been happier forgetting all about the day really because I don’t know how to be gracious in the face of people making a fuss of me.

And so we forgot quickly with the coming around of the cabin trivia. There were some really challenging questions and Flo, Alex and I cheated by using our guide books and the book that Flo is reading about Turkey. We came a tied first place and I think that they want to have a showdown tomorrow sometime. Again, I am not really fussed. But it would be interesting to see what happens when people are not  allowed to cheat. We will most likely lose terribly.

It is pretty quiet on the sleeper train at the moment, Natalie the guide, is reading and I am typing here in my fleece jacket because the air conditioning is freezing in these cabins. I am pretty tired so I will most likely just go to sleep soon. Not much else to do on the sleeper trains, and plenty of time to kill.

And so in the grand tradition of birthdays I shall hide somewhere and not tell anyone. Last year I sat at my friends house in London and ate a wheel of brie while watching the Ken Ham vs Bill Nye debate on Creationism vs Evolution. An amazing day for me! The original plan for the 30th was to be on a 16-day trek somewhere in Nepal so I would really not have to deal with it. But, if anything exciting does happen, I will be sure to let you know all about it.

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