Saturday, May 10, 2008

Day Two in Vietnam: 14 May

AM: Visit to the “most important attractions of Ha Noi city: (Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, One pillar pagoda, The temple of Literrature [sic].
PM: Visit Ethnology Museum & Cyclo tour into the old quarter of Hanoi.

Good Morning Vietnam! It is Wednesday, ostensibly the second day of our travels in Vietnam, but the chronology got a little muddled yesterday.

Today we visited the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. No shorts, no
sleeveless shirts allowed. Long lines of very small schoolchildren (girls in their best pink dresses) each one clutching the garment of the one in front--fussed over, like so many chicks, by their guardians, who occasionally pour cold water down their beaks. Some groups are wearing color-coded hats. Ken talks and jokes with them in Vietnamese. The long line snakes under a thoughtfully provided canopy which shields us from the worst of th e sun. No Cameras Allowed. Keep a Dignified Demeanor. No Jokes. No wearing underwear. (!)We proceed quietly and dignifiedly up the stone steps into the cool of the Mausoleum and into a large, dark. cube of a room. No Hands in Pockets. In the center, in a large glass coffin (much like a Communist Cinderella), lies the body of Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam's great Leader-Hero, bathed in golden light, improbably well preserved, waxen face, white goatee. Uncle Ho rests uneasily here. His wishes were for a simple cremation, with his ashes divided into three parts, one for each part of Viet Nam: the North, the Central Area, the South. It was not to be. Icons must serve their larger purpose.

Four guards stand, implacable, in a well surrounding the body. Two lines file past; the young children gazing with puzzlement, with curiosity, at the body.

As we emerge into the sun, we pass the four guards who will relieve the other group. (Drat! We miss the changing of the guards by seconds!) I try to think of some sort of comparandum to what we have just seen: perhaps if we had been of an age to remember the funeral of JFK, our own martyr-hero? [Would we have felt the same awe and respect? Princess Diana? The death of Pope John-Paul?] But we do not mummify our rulers and put them on display. Relics...saints...improbable stories of incorruptible flesh and the odor of sanctity..but they were never packed up and sent off for two months to Moscow for maintenance...Maybe we need more heroes.

After the mausoleum we pour out into the plaza where Ho Chi Minh declared independence in 1954: time for a group photo (I'm on the far left, in the hat). Then we visit the humble house on stilts where H.C.M. spent the last days of his life (1958-1969). The area is idyllic: botanical gardens with huge ancient trees, birds, chirping, butterflies...I want my own house on stilts.

Here is the refreshment stand with variable pricing [Price of bottled water for Westerners: 10,000 Dong (about 60 cents). Price for Vietnamese: 5,000 Dong]
Now we are off to the Temple of Literature, founded in 1070 by Emperor Ly Thanh Tong and dedicated to Confucius. Vietnam's first university was established here in 1076 and from 1484 to 1778 lists of students who passed their royal exams are recorded here. The lists of names are inscribed on stelae, and it is considered very good luck for students to rub the head of the turtles (symbol of longevity) upon which the stelae are supported. Comparisons are odious, says John Donne, but where is our Temple of Literature? (One of our students is disappointed by the false advertising, expecting a sort of manuscript museum, with actual literature)


FranIAm said...

Temple of Literature.

Oh boy.

Short on time but long on happiness to read this.

Padre Mickey said...

[Price of bottled water for Westerners: 10,000 Dong (about 60 cents). Price for Vietnamese: 5,000 Dong] We have similar pricing discrepancies here; we call the higher price "Gringo tax."

Keep the posts coming and have a wonderful time!