Wasn’t excited by the city bus tours so spent an entire day riding behind a motorcycle taxi guy to visit the One Pillar Pagoda, Temple of Literature and the Martyrs Monument erected to those who died fighting for Viet Nam’s independence. The Ho Chi Minh Museum, and History Museum was full of propaganda but contained interesting artefacts from Vietnam’s hundreds of years of feudal and modern wars against the Chinese, the Khmers, the French and finally the Americans. Could have spent a half a day in the excellent new Museum of Ethnology.
Visited the Fine Arts Museum and loved the compelling feudal statuary with robes flowing…the folds of the bottom hems rhythmically rising into the air. A statue commemorating the victory over the French at Diem Bien Phu in 1954 is not unlike our statue in Washington DC of the men pushing the flag aloft during World War II except that this memorial was of three people including a woman and a child. There were pictures of demonstrations of Buddhist monks who demonstrated against the South Vietnamese Thieu administration…and pictures of the conflagration of the two monks who set themselves afire in the middle of a Saigon street in front of a pagoda…
The Women’s Museum was arresting..and illuminating. Inside the front door you are met by a 15 foot high Vietnamese mother in overlit blinding gold leaf. It is designed to depict the mother of past, present and future…very feminine and elegant…representing the combination of traditional and modern beauty…strong…her right hand wide open and palm down signifying all that is difficult in her life and a child on her shoulder representing the responsibility and happiness of the mother toward the family and her people…the child with arms raised in the air representing the future generation and a prosperous future. A huge piece of glass stood behind the statue…etched with mountains showing the strength of the father and a stream of water flowing down from the mountains showing the source of the mother’s strength…have to admit I had to swallow a catch in my throat…
After this wonderful introduction to the museum, however, you then walk upstairs to the first floor where you see grizzly pictures of women’s contributions to the war effort against the Americans where they fought equally in all capacities alongside the men…heart rending pictures… one of a nurse who saved a child’s life by nursing it when it’s mother was killed by a US bomb. (I thought to myself, yes, this is what the Communist Party want us American tourists to see.)
Another picture was of an agonized mother hugging her son who had spent 10 years in the South Vietnamese Con Dao Prison. She had just heard he was sentenced to death by the enemy in 1975 after the fall of Saigon because of his rebel activities. There were pictures of Vietnamese film star Tra Giang and “Hanoi Jane” Fonda taken together during the American actress’ visit in 1972…pictures of women lying torqued on the floor with this caption: “The barbarous tortures women had to suffer when imprisoned by US aggressors and their lackeys.”
Another picture showed a militia woman escorting William Robinson, an American Prisoner of War and another of a female artillery unit firing on American warships in 1968-9. More pictures of female guerrilla groups…their faces hard. I felt sick to my stomach as I stumbled out of the building and entered the street full of light and the living Most people in Viet Nam were born after the war…not giving the past a thought as they were now concentrating on making the market economy work in their country. Somehow I am not surprised that the people here seem “harder” than the people in Thailand.
The Ho Chi Minh Museum was the most facinating…post modern design where you start in the “Past” and walk clockwise through the “Future” to view displays with a message…peace, happiness, freedom…the 1958 Ford Edsel bursting through the wall apparently symbolising the US commercial and military failure knocks your socks off. I skipped viewing Uncle Ho’s shriveled body at the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum next door.
That evening I treated myself at a lovely outdoor garden restaurant where my waiter (who was a university student by day) described the effects of an American bomb that fell on a Hanoi city street… and where the memory of the people killed are still celebrated each September. “I am afraid of war,” he said, but what put the goose bumps on me was his curled lip. Then, I thought he was going to cry as he said “why can’t they sit down and discuss?” But then, apparently feeling bold by my eagerness to hear what he had to say, he said “Mr. Bush lies…Hussein is a good man”…at which point I lost my composure. Don’t know which made me sicker…his statement or the white haired man in his 80′s fondling the legs of the 15 year old Vietnamese hooker sitting at his table. I asked the waiter how he knew this. “But I read in the paper…” I even don’t believe everything I read in the paper here or at home…I replied in muted desperation. Bush may be lying but Hussein certainly isn’t a good man either.