Dynargh dhe'n Blogofrob

Saturday 11th September 2004

I got up early this morning and hopped on a motorbike, which weaved its way across town to Ba Dinh Square, a large exapanse, on the side of which the squat grey mausoleum that holds Ho Chi Minh sits. I joined the queue of chattering weekend pilgrims and tourists, which, although long, moved at a steady pace alongside the square. After surrendering my bag at a reception point, and passing through a metal detector, I climbed the marble stairs just inside the mausoleum, thinking how odd it was that I was going to see the body of someone who had died before I was born.

In the main room, where the lights were dimmed, a solemn silence descended. The line moved wordlessly around the slightly raised platform, framing the black gilded glass case. At each corner of the case a soldier stood to attention, rifle by his side - they were dressed in an all white uniform, including pristine caps. Although this almost gave them the appearance of stewards on a cruise ship, a respectful degree of decorum was maintained.

Inside the box lies Uncle Ho, his pale head resting on a pillow, the ends of his beard tickling the top button of his jacket. His lower half is covered by a thin black sheet, his spidery hands lying tranquilly on top.

Outside, I couldn't help think that it was all rather sad. Firstly, because Ho died before the end of the Vietnam War and never got to see the unified independent Vietnam that he had dedicated his life to creating. And secondly because all this - the mausoleum, the soldiers, the muted pomp - was against his express wishes. In his will Ho Chi Minh directed that he was to be cremated and his ashes interred in the north, centre and south of the country, each site marked only by a small shelter - rather than be pumped full of formaldehyde and gawped at by capitalist Westerners like me.

After the mausoleum a path led me past the presidential palace, and the wooden house on stilts where Ho supposedly spent his last years pottering around the garden, and I suppose running the country. The house, with its varnished wood, comfortable furnishings and electricity supply looked very cosy to me. I started to get a little frustrated with the tourists seeing everything with a camcorder or camera stuck to their eyes, hindering my movement in case I got in shot, and in one case asking me to move with shooing motions, so a Japanese man could stand in my place to have his picture taken. I told him to wait, slightly impolitely...very impolitely.

I took a quick turn around the polished Ho Chi Minh museum and headed up to the Museum OF Military History, full of patriots and accounts of victories against the French and Americans, as well as some more ancient battles. The courtyard in front of the museum is scattered with the wreckage of planes and other weapons brought down or captured by the Viet Cong during 'The American War of Destruction'. But by the time I left the place I had grown weary of the endless energy of the Ho Chi Minh hagiography - and also of the endless solicitations of motorcycle taxis, cyclos and pirated guide book sellers.

I found refuge in the Temple of Literature, a spacious and placid Confucian temple and former centre of learning. It contains, amongst other things, around 80 large stone stelae, some almost 500 years old. Dating from the 15th Century, they are inscribed in Chinese with the results of examinations taken at the National Academy (part of the temple) each standing on a sculpted stone tortoise - more impressive to have than any diploma or degree certificate. The temple also allowed me to pass through doorways with names like 'The Gate of Great Success' with impunity. When I'm travelling alone it doesn't seem to take much to entertain myself.

It was hot, I was tired and had walked all day. I took a cyclo back to the Old Quarter. Cyclos differ to rick-shaws in that the bicycle part of the contraption is at the back. Propelled along the streets, sitting back in the comfortable beaded covered seat at the front of the cyclo, I regretted a Moore era Bond movie hadn't been set in Hanoi, as this was exactly the kind of vehicle Roger would travel around in, probably to a Vietnamese rendition of the theme tune.

61 - posted at 14:21:41


Rob, you would tell me if you had been killed by a Thai policeman last week, or by a bomb blast on the N Korean /Chinese border today - wouldnt you. Wouldn't you?
Well, damn your petulence. Damn your eyes.

It's a madhouse here. No really it is.

1: RoboDoc (The Sticks) - 17:01:45 on Sunday 12th September 2004 (permalink)

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