The tiled bridge at Thanh Toan, near Hue, is a well-known tourist destination. The old bridge is not the only attraction, however. Tourists are equally eager to meet an old woman who specialises in fortune telling and is a font of knowledge when it comes to local history.
Take a rest, open your hands, and hear your fortune
7am. The early morning welcomes a series of tour cars driving foreign visitors towards Thanh Toan tiled bridge (Thuy Thanh Commune, Huong Thuy District, Thua Thien - Hue Province). A line of tourists has exited a group of Huong Giang Travel Company cars. After some picture taking, a tour guide asks "Would you like your fortune told?" A blonde-haired girl eagerly jumps at the chance.
The tour guide gently pulls the girl towards an old woman, Mother Dieu, who is well-known as the "Love fortune-teller"
Interest piqued, the group of tourists congregates around the old woman, each of them eager to hear their future. "She has a hidden talent. Every group of tourists that comes here wants their fortunes told," an old man tells me.
I try to get closer to Mother Dieu to hear her opinions on my future love-life, but she shakes her head, raising her hand and telling me in English "No no! I only tell the fortunes of foreigners!" With my limited English, it’s difficult for me to judge how good her English really is, but I assume her gifts for fortune-telling only extend to foreigners.
Those who have been in love as foretold by Mother Dieu are very satisfied. They sit side by side telling each other about what they have heard. I am extremely curious but have no way to approach the prophet, so instead I decide to interrogate the blond girl.
Maria seems very shy and her face turns redder than ever. At last, she tells me joyfully: "She said that next year, I will have a boyfriend. This year, I like someone but because of bad luck, I haven’t met anyone right for me. She added that my boyfriend will be very handsome and manly although he will be four years younger than me."
"Do you believe her?" I ask. The blond-haired girl laughs and nods "Of course! At the moment, although 18, I don’t have a boyfriend while all my friends have partners already. But how did she know that I don’t have a boyfriend?"
All those who have their fortune told by Mother Dieu seem in high spirits. They cheerfully narrate all of the strange things they have heard. They are willing to pay Mother Dieu for her advice and I see US$2 being dropped into her hat. Mother Dieu looks at the pleasant faces of tourists, gives a toothless smile and says "thank you very much".
Free tour guide
Tran Thi Thanh Hang, a freelance tour guide, who often leads tourists to Thanh Toan Bridge, tells me: "Mother Dieu is something of a tourist attraction at Thanh Toan Bridge." She also says that large numbers of tourists inquire about her when they book local tours or take xe om (motorbike taxis) out from Hue. They are curious about an old woman who can allegedly forecast the future and speak such good English.
Quite a few people express their surprise at Mother Dieu’s English, which seems far better than most of the tour guides that bring visitors to the bridge. As a child she was brought up in Thanh Toan, during American War, she worked in the laundry department at some American offices. Everyday, she had to communicate with and assist the American officers who she worked for. At first she was often reprimanded for her rustic manners, but luckily, an American officer hired her as a housekeeper. "It was here that I learnt English. For example, if he wanted me to wash his clothes, he wrote me a note that clearly translated the order from Vietnamese into English. I learnt vocabulary as well as spelling. I learned English little by little, day by day. Gradually, I learned how to use it," Mother Dieu says.
When Hue was liberated, she married a local man and had a daughter. However, because life was so hard, Mother Dieu had to leave her hometown, bringing her child south to earn a living. With a smattering of English, Mother Dieu applied to work in a foreign restaurant, which helped to improve her English communication skills.
Since the day Mother Dieu started working on Thanh Toan Bridge, despite her fortune-telling, no one thinks of her as being particularly superstitious. "I just want tourists to feel satisfied with their lives, living towards the true, the good and the beautiful in Buddhism," Mother Dieu says. She is also eager to explain: "Many people burst into tears after hearing their fortune. They find life more interesting and worth living. At least, they can pursue hopes and maintain happiness."
I am actually curious about her English. Knowing that, she laughs and continues: "I don’t know if my English is grammatically correct, but foreigners seem to understand the main ideas. That’s enough!"
Day by day, with English communication skills and deep knowledge about her hometown Thanh Toan, Mother Dieu, at the age of 75, plays a role as a "free-guide"
Source: Vietnam News
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