“How do you say ‘little sister’ in your dialect?” I asked Sương and Cu Bàng, my new little Pako friends from A Lưới.
“A em,” they answered in chorus.
“A em?” How come these two sounds feel so close to my heart? I was truck with emotion and memory. And at that time, the first person came to my mind was my mother. Yes, it was her who many times told me that the ethnic group people whom she lived with on Trường Sơn Range (or Annamite Range) called her “a em”.
When talking about the American War and the time she lived and worked as a nurse on Trường Sơn Range, my mother never forgot to add how warm-hearted and lovely the ethic group people (Pako, Vân Kiều, Tà Ôi) there were. And after so many years, her daughter, by accident, had a chance to visit the place where she had spent a part of her youth there.
I, actually, wished to visit A Lưới on Trường Sơn Range some time ago but I did not make it because there were other exotic and interesting places attracted me more. However, one late afternoon, a special friend of mine took me on a blind trip and the road he took happened to be the one that led to A Lưới. Of course, we did not make it to A Lưới which was about 75km from where we were but A Lưới came back to my mind and urged me to go and see it myself. That day, I went home and wrote down A Lưới in my top priority travel list. 10 months later, on the occasion of Unification Day and Labour Day, I had a few days off so I decided to visit A Lưới for the first time without knowing that my mother used to live there. Some people even laughed when I told them I went to A Lưới for a visit because they might not think A Lưới was a place for tourists or holidays. There was one person who did and she even wanted to join me. It was my coworker Loan.
And one fire-pouring hot Saturday morning found me, Loan and her 5-year-old daughter Sơ-ri (Cherry) at Huế’s Southern bus station. We could not get on the 9am bus as it was packed with people so we decided to wait for the 11 am bus. It turned out that the latter was even worse. It was jammed with passengers and goods. It was dirty and smelly. I could not think such a rustic bus like it was still in operation. It looked more like a machine found from a ruin of a war. We were so excited for the trip that we could not afford missing it. So there we were in a “pig-carrier”, as Loan put it, to A Lưới where we found the beauty of nature, love among people, simplicity and friendship.
If you visit A Lưới, don’t miss A Nôr Waterfalls, early morning market and Hamburger Hill.