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Feb 16-19: Vietnam:Hanoi

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Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum – huge open space in front of the mausoleum – very tight regulations – line up in 2 lines, no talking, hats off, no shorts, need sleeve shirt, move slowly, guards every corner – only open for a couple of hours a day, huge lines (we got there right at closing), you shuffle through a darkly lit halway into the viewing chamber (no cameras allowd) and lo and behold – there lies the embalmed body of Ho Chi Minh – quite surreal experience.  They usually take him out once a year to Russia to get re-embalmed. 

Hanoi, Vietnam   The Paradox:  liberal capitalism with socialistic politics

We arrived here a little breathless and unplanned after our all night bus ride and visa issues in Thailand. So when we took a taxi from the airport into downtown Hanoi, we had no idea where we were going or where we were staying, other than that we wanted to be in the Old Quarter. Upon arriving in the Old Quarter, we could see that walking around looking for a hotel, with five of us trundling our backpacks along was going to be impossible. The streets are incredibly narrow, and FULL, (and I mean FULL, from one side of the street to other!) with motorcycles – all of them beeping their horns! I hope our pictures can show this, although pictures can never capture the cacophony!  We decided to have the taxi drop us off at a hotel we’d read about in our guidebook. When we pulled up to the hotel, someone ran out, asked if we had a booking, and hearing we didn’t, told us they were full. But, what do you know, they had another hotel that had space! We realized later we were being had by the oldest trick in the book, but this other hotel worked out great – soft beds, warm comforters, clean …and $15US per room! We’ve seen sights in Hanoi, but my favorite sightseeing is just watching the city go by. It’s amazing it all works! The streets are literally full of cars and motorbikes all day long. Shops spill out onto the “sidewalk” and shopkeepers and their friends or family (?) sit out on the sidewalk on these little plastic stools that would fit about ONE of my buns (no comments please!) At night, there are wide swatches of sidewalk set aside as “bia hoi” stalls, where men mostly sit and drink warm beer in ice-filled glasses, all perched on these little plastic stools.

It feels strange to think that technically we’re in a “Communist” or at least socialist country. Capitalism is alive and well here, as evidenced by all the stuff that’s offered for sale! But there are still a fair number of billboards with a hammer and sickle, and the Vietnamese star. Ho Chi Minh is still revered and referred to as “Uncle Ho.” We went to see his mausoleum, which could almost be called a “pilgrimage” to Vietnamese, at least here in the north. It was quite an experience in Social Studies!…

We also went to see Hoa Lo Prison, which is where John McCain was held and was known as the “Hanoi Hilton” during the war. The Vietnam War war here is called the “American War,” which makes sense if you think about it. Not much of the prison is left standing. It’s been razed to build a skyscraper called the Hanoi Towers. However, they did preserve the main gate and a section of cell blocks which has been made into a museum. There really wasn’t a lot about the American prisoners here. Most of the museum was about the Vietnamese who were incarcerated here during the French colonization of Vietnam. The prison was originally built by the French to incarcerate hundreds of Vietnamese revolutionaries who were fighting for freedom from the French. There was only one room dedicated to the American soldiers who were held here during the war, and it definitely had a certain slant to it, as it was depicted as a really quite pleasant place to be!

Governors residence of IndoChina

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Ho Chi Minh REsidence – he like the simplicity of life – not in the big mansion above – Frank Loyd Wright would have liked the wood work

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French leftover – church – not kept up very well, but there is a thriving Catholic Community here

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Temple of Literature:  This was basically a university for the study of philosphy, law, and literature dating back to 1070. They studied Confucious  teachings for feudal society in the orderly flow and ethical behavior of gentlemen – with respect to education self, organizing family, governing state, and ruling all nations.   And he wrote this back in 50 BC. A fabulous place to think of all the “learning going on”.

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These are called stelea – basically like a PH Diploma – it has there name, what they studied, etc on it once they passed their exams and the final exam given by the king. There were 13 thousand students that passed.  The turtle is an important symbol with the Vietnamese people.

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The Phoenix is also an important symbol and is represented in the temples.

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Museum of Enthology – explains all the different people groups, language, culture, dress, occupations – outside they had these huge models set up that showed how they lived.  This was the meeting hall.

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HaLo Prison – aka – “Hanoi Hilton” as named by the US prisoners of war – the prison camp that the US airmen were housed in – including Senator John McCain.  This prison was built by the French and where they kept Vietnamese prisoners that were fighting against the French.  Most of the prison exhibits described the fight for Vietnamese independence from the French and the atrocities that they committed.  My camera gave out so we did not get many pictures including the guillitine.  What you see is only a portion of the prison that was saved for historical purposes, but the other half there now sits a hotel – ironically named Hanoi HIlton Towers.  Vietnam has a long history trying to get their independance – from the Chinese and the French – Ho Chi Minh was first trying to unify Vietnam by getting rid of the French – he actually wrote to 2 US presidents for help but got no reply – had communistic leanings – when independance was  declared he was the ruling party in the north, but there was a catholic president in the south who did not want to become communist – there lies the fighting and US involvement.  Vietnam has always in their history had a north – south type of split.

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Didn’t mean for this to come right after the prison pictures – Just Sayings –

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This sign is showing those individuals that have not used a “western” toilet how to do it.  The kids are liking Vietnam because they have western toilets (not squat pots or sometimes referred to as starting blocks), and they all have toilet paper rather than the perverbial hose with water.

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Sights of Hanoi in the old quarter – each street is named for the wares that are being sold on that street – totaly a crazy place with no traffic rules – we finally got the hang of how to cross a street -don’t stop, they will go around you – bicylces, cars, motorbikes – 2.5 million motorbikes in Hanoi with only a population of 4 million – following pictures are just street life – the most fascinating aspect of Hanoi (capital of Vietnam)

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The favorite pasttime – sitting around on little stools eating, but mostly drinking cheap beer in plactic glasses with ice. –

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