November Trip to Vietnam during the Flood of 2007

November Trip to Vietnam during the Flood of 2007

This was truly the first time for me to see the real beauty of Huế and warmth of its people.

I arrived and landed at Huế airport and took notice to the grey and rainy quality of the city.  I have always read about the climate, but never actually experienced it. Immediately, I had the sense that the city had not changed for many years.  It seemed as if I had returned to an era long ago. Time seemed to have stood still in this flooded area of Huế…

 I returned to my comfortable hotel room overlooking the Hương Giang (Perfume) River.  I stood and took in the view.  All I saw was a romantic and beautiful tiered river.  It appeared to not have changed over the years.  The river was just as I had pictured from reading many poems and books.  Also, I had seen the “Perfume” river in paintings and heard in many songs.

I have visited many areas of Vietnam and met different people.  But I was not prepared for the people from Huế.  Everyone seemed to have engaging personalities and they always invited me to join their conversations.  This was true of my driver, strangers on the streets, and the service personnel.  

After I listened to the Hue accent which was very sweet,  I came to a “biased” conclusion that Vietnamese, in general, is the sweetest language.  (Ngọt ngào nhất, trìu mến nhất, and gợi cảm nhất).  It doesn’t matter if they are from the southern, central, or northern region of Vietnam.  The Huế accent is made sweeter by the "ỏng à ỏng ẹo" from the Huế women in their long “áo-dài” dresses.  Somehow, the Hue girls’ beautiful, gentle, and innocent voices in their fitted “áo-dài” dress and gestures as they flirtatiously walk along the Huế streets.  However, Hanoi women’s accent is just as sweet when they say “áo tứ thân, khăn mỏ qụa”.  These gestures and accent of Hanoi women are similar to that of the carefree southern women “cô gái Nam Kỳ” when it reminds me of “cái áo bà ba, tiếng cuời giòn.”

Then I came to another biased conclusion.  The Vietnamese women have the most intelligent, articulate, seductive, and graceful language -“Khôn khéo, lảng mạng, đảm đang, and the sweetest (when she’s not mad!) words in the world.  Certainly, they have the voice, accent, and wardrobe to go with their personalities.

My first contact with the local residents; A Hậu, Saly and Trân brought me an immediate warm and friendly feeling that kept our conversations flowing.  There was an understated pride in being “dân Huế”.  It is a tradition and remembrance of a glorious Imperial past.  It was coincidental that we also dined at a restaurant with a poetic, meaningful and appropriate name -- "Không Gian xưa".

This time I traveled with Chị Hoa and Linh.  These women have been my closest friends since we first met.  They were born in the central region of Vietnam.  The women are beautiful, graceful and descendants of aristocracy.  These women are known to be ready to take care of things as needed.  To me, both women immediately blended in with the Hue people.  It seemed as if they had been living there forever. 

In general, Chị Hoa can be playful at times.  But she always managed to have major tasks finished.  This time was no exception.   Her quick actions and decisions helped overcome major obstacles to our mission.  This was in spite of the flooding, lack of electricity and other hinderances.  Linh looked comfortable in her surroundings  (như cá trở về nước.) She was comfortable with the Huế environment, people and surroundings.

I love the northern accent of Hanoi and the southern accent of Saigon.  But this was the first time I actually experienced the central accent of Huế. And I loved it just the same.  I was in a room listening to four women with four different accents communicating with each other.  Although I did not understand everything, I did not bother to even try.  I was too busy listening and being mesmerized to the melody and rhythm of the Vietnamese language. They must have been having interesting conversation because there was so much passion and emotion.  I don't even know if they understood each other.  Periodically, Dr. Hậu had to interrupt and interpret in his own calm, slow and deliberate way.

The rain and floods have turned Huế into the Venice of Việtnam.  There are no longer roads.  Instead, there are only visible waterways.  For example, tables, chairs, and floors have disappeared.  Now there are images of remote islands where hotels once stood.  The only way to travel was by venturing into the thigh-high waters on foot or by rowboat.

After trying to set out on foot, we finally flagged down a rowboat, realizing that walking against the current was impossible.  Besides being too time-consuming, we were running the risk of catching all kinds of hazards - submerged rocks and glasses, holes in the road, and potential diseases caused by bacteria and germs. Other surprises may also be found from the sewage runoffs and garbage dumped by Hue’s inhabitants using the waterways as garbage trucks.

The helmsmen were nice and helpful.  Otherwise, we would still be walking in the water. These men also helped us in cleaning BLOOM restaurant. They moved the furniture away from the water, and anything else that we requested. Although the men were paid for “helping” but somehow, I sensed that they agreed to do it because they were able and wanted to help.  This is a way of life during a disaster such as a flood –the sense of humanity “Cái tình người” was there.

BLOOM Restaurant sustained few damages from the flood.  Even though the restaurant was already elevated above the street level, water and sand had risen to the ground floor of the restaurant.  There were only a few broken tiles besides the sand and water damage.  

BLOOM Restaurant facility is beautiful with nice designs and renovations.  The store front to showcase our pastries is a little narrow but it still gave an open and comfortable feeling as we walked in the restaurant.  I certainly felt that the ambience and atmosphere is inviting, friendly, and attractive as I toured the dining rooms on the second floor.

As we reached the top floor, I loved what I saw - the selected location for the bar to be constructed. As I exited the bar area, I was greeted with an expansive view of the Huong Giang (Perfume) River!   Looking on the side of the top floor’s window, I can see Huế.  This is a perfect destination for romance, reading, thinking, having conversations with friends, and of course enjoying the wine and refreshing drinks of the seasons as one watches and experiences the turning of each season. I would definitely love to be there for the sunset and the sunrise. I can just imagine it now!!!  Alright A Binh and Mr D2 , please hurry to finish the bar first! 

BLOOM, as the very name suggests, is not just for children.  BLOOM can also be a “destination” for a guest's misfortune, a place where a traveler can find love, or a chance to share their love. BLOOM is not only a place where food, drink, company, and atmosphere come together for a great experience.  But BLOOM is also a place where love is received, given and shared. BLOOM will not only be a place for food to feed the mind and body, but most importantly, Bloom will have food for the soul…

The flooded regions were devastating to the economy and its local residents’ lives and livelihood.  We read about the flooding and saw it on television.  But one had to be there to experience the impact of this natural disaster. The beautiful, peaceful and romantic Huong Giang River quickly changed into a force that washes away a person’s savings and hard work in a matter of days.  And it took many lives. The rebuilding may take a long time. 

In speaking with the local residents, many accept this disaster as an annual event.  The flood happens almost every year.  It has become part of their lives and they continue to build and rebuild.  As one resident said, "when the water comes to the first floor, we move to the second floor." As a visitor, from the outside looking in, I kept asking how can one keep starting over and over? For me, I would be thinking of answers or solutions, and how could I do this every year.  After a while, I would be tired and feel hopeless and probably still have not made much progress.

...In all of my experiences, I have been inspired that BLOOM Restaurant is one way for us to give back to what we have received.  It is a way to share our knowledge and lessons from past mistakes.  This would be more beneficial and valuable than just money in the long run.  With Hoa Sua’s partnership with ACWP and BLOOM Restaurant, this is only the beginning of the giving-back concept.  BLOOM Restaurant is a vocational training restaurant.   It is a way to show care in the truest sense of the word. It's difficult to change ourselves and especially others.  But we have to start somewhere and work towards a common cause for the youths’ future.

…These young people represent Vietnam’s future and its leaders. They need to be given the tools, knowledge, and intellectual catalysts.  They need our nurturing to love and care from the heart.  Hopefully then, they will be prepared to make sound decisions, do the right things, and do them correctly.  Their future will be the result of the way they think, what they love to do, and do what they love!

 Here’s to the kids who saved us and gave our lives more meaning!!

 February 6, 2008

This time going back to Huế and BLOOM Restaurant was in the full atmosphere of Tết.  People are so happy and full of hope for the future. We talked to our BLOOM customers about what we are trying to accomplish.  Also, we introduced our ACWP students, the trainees and asked for their support. Now the picture is complete. It’s the customers from various parts of the world, the young men and women from the recent past.  They seemed so disadvantaged.  Now combined with the atmosphere and the beautiful setting of Bloom, we have realized BLOOM, Because Love (Does) Overcome(s )One's Disadvantage. Love is an Advantage.

We (A Xuân, his friend A Đức and I) got to know our customers from Australia , Germany , Norway , etc. We talked to a family from France whose son and daughter have just moved to Hanoi to teach English.  We talked about our concepts with them.  Immediately, they recognized that we are similar to that of KOTO and Hoa Sua. I said , “Yes, we are the Hoa Sua of Hue.” Everyone said they will tell their friends.

I spent time on the BLOOM roof top and at the wine bar.  It was exactly as what I had imagined - a perfect place for conversations, romance, or even solitude.  It’s whatever your heart desires.

Speaking of Huế, this trip had a bonus for me, we had A Trưng, C Hoa's friend on the trip, I learned more about how beautiful a Vietnamese woman can be, whether Huế Saigòn, or Hànội. I saw the interactions between him and the women and more importantly between the men and their wives – A Trưng and C Toàn; A Xuân & C Hoa; and A Đức & C Nghĩa. The Vietnamese women are still the best.

by Dai Pham, ACWP Volunteer, Taiwan