Old Snobs, Riding Elephants
Old means different things to different people. At age 16, 27 seems old. At age 27, 67 seems old. At age 67, it’s 97 that’s really wicked old. And I assume by the time you’re 97 you’re too old to bother with old. It’s the same with buildings. In USA anything over 20 years is old. 100 years? Ancient. Meanwhile over in Granddaddy Europe a 100 year building is barely out of diapers. It’s all relative. But here in Asia old should be Old. After all, the Vietnamese people have existed for something like 45 million years. Or 4,000. Some big number of years. So naturally they should have some 45 million year old buildings, or at least 4,000. Really anything over 500 will do.
Unfortunately Hue’s old was not up to my standards of Old. It’s only baby old. Teenage old at best. I was hard-pressed to find anything that dated past 18-boring-boring. 1873? Snooze. 1856? Yawn. Wake me up when you get to the 1400s. I sighed as we admired another ancient structure that turned out to be from 1937. I mean Hoi An is only a few miles away and that’s from the fifteenth century. How can the ancient imperial city of Vietnam be younger than some of the places I’ve seen in Virginia?
But while my inner Old Snob rolled her eyes at the palace from 1847, an annoying little voice reminded me that Hue doesn’t give a what about my definition of Old. It is what it is.
And what it is is pretty cool. Although there’s something mysteriously intoxicating about the way, way Old, history isn’t validated by elapsed years. Hue may not be from BC, but visiting it is a chance to see a real place from a real time that affected real people. It’s also a study in how history refuses to be stagnant. In between the palaces and pagodas from the nineteenth century are buildings ruined by twentieth century bombs, and being restored by twenty-first century scaffolding. The combination was simply intriguing. Throw in some Chinese and French influence, lovely tree-lined streets and an elephant for hire, and I became just another reformed Old Snob.
To put it eloquently, Hue may not have been exactly what I expected but it was really, flipping cool.