After Big Sur and the drive to LA, I spent another day at my moms house and then flew to NY. I met up with my wife back from Panama and we prepared ourselves for 17 hours of travel back to Sharjah where we would get 48 hours to do laundry and adjust our time lagged bodies before we took of to go another 1/4 of the way around the coconut to Vietnam. If that was a run-on sentence it is because it was a run-on week.
I am old enough to have sworn I would become a Toronto Blue Jays fan before I ever went to Vietnam.
Time tends to heal most wounds, Vietnam is an example of that. The country is now a Socialist Republic with a strong capitalist strain running through it like veins of gold in crystal. Before I go any further, I must tell you that not once did anyone show me any disrespect let alone hatred for being an American. I did get asked if I were a vet more than once, but politely. Many American vets have returned to Vietnam for their own reasons in recent years, more power to them.
This post will deal with our LZ, Hanoi. Hanoi is a bustling, busy, congested city. It has a strong cultural history with many sites to see. Some of them are just cultural, and some are political, read war sites. I will take you along with me on some of each. I think that I will rely more on photos with long captions than I normally do. I took 2000 photos in Vietnam and I spent the last six hours choosing just the Hanoi shots for this post. I only tell you that because I want you to appreciate how much I appreciate the fact that you read this blog, and I want it to be as well done as I am capable of.
With that said, lets start.
My wife, I just liked this photo for a starter.
Remember what I said about Hanoi being a hectic place? This is just a normal traffic scene in the city. Everyone rides motor scooters. They outnumber cars by about 1000 to 1.No exageration. They really have no traffic laws to follow, other than do not run into each other. They go every which way at anytime. Take a look at this photo and think about crossing that street on foot. Actually, it can be done. you just walk out into the fray, do not stop, do not run, and the scooters will weave their way around you. They do have one interesting traffic law in the Socialist Republic. In an accident between two vehicles, the most expensive vehicle is at fault, no matter the circumstances. Another interesting traffic law is this. If you run over a female animal, say a hen, you must not only pay for the hen, you must pay for all the eggs that hen would probably lay in its life. Seems fair.
In Vietnam, you can do anything on a sidewalk, except walk.
Street capitalism is all over the sidewalks. This is great except that in order to proceed down the street, you must step ut into the hordes of motor scooters.
People not only use motor scooters for personal transport, they carry everything to market on them. This person is transporting the national flower, the lotus. By the way, not only is the lotus a beautiful flower, it has seeds that the Vietnamese use in salads which are very tasty.
The is the Ho Chi Minh mausoleum. His preserved body lies at rest here for people to pass by and view, and something like a half million do every year. The line to get in is quite long, maybe a half mile. it is covered against rain and sun, so it is not unpleasant. The line keeps moving at a stately but steady pace. You cannot carry anything in with you such as a purse or backpack and certainly not a camera .There are many guards dressed in immaculate white military uniforms marshaling the line. Even before yoou get into the inner santum where Ho's body lies, a person cannot have his/her hands in their pockets, or behind their back, or arms crossed. You must have your hands at your sides at all times, the guards make sure of this. They stopped my wife twice, she likes to strollwith her hands behind her back. No,no,no. This long line moves very well, and soon you are looking at "Uncle Ho" laying in a glass box. He looks good. I have looked worse. Of course no photos allowed, and also no vendors selling post cards of the scene. Ho did not wish this for himself. He wanted to be cremated. However, Vietnam venerates Ho like no other country venerates a political leader that I know of. I could go on and on about Ho Chi Minh, but this is a travel blog, so you will need to Google him. A great man who defeated both France and the USA and united his country.
Near the mausoleum is the simple home that Ho led his country from. It is made from teak, has a bedroom, library and an office. That is it.
Look closely and you will see what I call Ho's chill chair. It is underneath his house and I can picture him resting in the chair while smoking a cig. Yes, Ho was a chain smoker. He lived to a ripe old age. I think this just may be why you can smoke almost anywhere in Vietnam! Also notice the guard.
In the park near the mausoleum, I found this guy. He looks just like Ho did in the glass box!
Our next stop was the oldest university in Vietnam. It is called the temple of Literature. This is the main gate. Inside are gardens and a library. The university goes back to 1070, although it has been rebuilt many times, it retains the original look and feel.. All the writing on the walls is in Chinese script. Although the Vietnames spoke their own language, they had no written language. This changed in the Italian/Portuguese/French colonial times when the colonialists developed a written version of Vietnamese and did so in western letters. That is why in Vietnam a westerner can read the signs. Once you get the accent marks down, and there are many, I think Vietnamese would not be such a tough language to learn.
This is the scholars gate. A small percentage of the students at the University scored high enogh to be allowed to pass through this gate. It is also an iconic structure and you see the shapes of this gate represented in many forms in furniture, art and more all over Vietnam.
The students had to learn at the academy for three to seven years. They had minor tests each month and four major tests each year. If they completed enough of their them, their study results were then approved by the Ministry of Rites to qualify for the national exam (Hoi). The candidates need to pass the national exam to sit for the royal exam (Dinh) held at court. At this exam, the monarch himself posed the questions, responded to the candidates’ answer and then ranked those who passed the royal exam into different grades. The imperial academy was the biggest educational centre in the country. Contributing to train thousands of scholars for the nation, it was worthy of being called the first national university of Vietnam.
My wife the libraian about to enter the oldest library in Vietnam. There are few books here, because they are all stored for protection against the elements.
The centerpiece of this library is one of the very few alters dedicated to Confucius in the entire world.
Next we visited an arts and crafts school, factory and of course gift shop. This place was established to provide meaningful and gainful employment to people born with birth defects from the American usage of agent orange. 4 and 5 genertions of children are still being born with horrible disfigurements due to American usage of this chemical WMD. It is horrible. It is shameful. The least an Amreican tourist can do is buy some silk or lacquer artwork done by these victims to help them out a bit.
I found it hard not to laugh at this donation box. I mean it is intended to help alleviate the continuing effect of war crimes perpetrated by my country, but take a close look at it. I had to pull aside a manager at the establishment to point out the misspelling and explain how it totally defeats the message.
Our next stop was at a lake in the middle of Hanoi which still has the remains of a B52 shot down. I will let the text in the next photo describe the scene.
Enlarge this if you need to read it. It is poignant, direct, and chilling. One thing I know from history is that for years the US carpet bombed Hanoi and lost only a few B52s to the Soviet supplied SAMs. But suddenly, about the time this B52 was shot down, the US lost nearly 1/3 of their entire B52 fleet because the Vietnamese learned to shut off the guidance systems on the SAMs and just launch of bunch of them in the general direction of the planes. It worked, and that along with Watergate was the motivation for Nixon to finally bring and end to the US involvement n Vietnam.
A drink available in the better bars in Hanoi is called the B52. I had a few.
Our next stop was the "Hanoi Hilton". Originally this was a French prison built to detain Vietnamese opposing the colonial, imperialist is their word, rule of the French. It is a nasty prison.
This display depicts how the Vitnamese were detained by the French day in and day out. Generally, this tourist attraction is designed to tell visitors that the French were nasty, but when the prison was used to detain Amrican airmen, they were treated quite well. No, I did not fall for that and one of the few times I said anything political at all I told our guide that these photos of American airmen feasting and playing basketball were a bunch of propaganda. I am not sure if he believed me.
The most famous american airman held at the Hanoi Hilton was of course John McCain. This photo is of his capture after his plane was shot down. There are pictures of him receiving humane medical attention and eating food fit for, well, for a future Presidential candidate.
His flight suit is on display. The story we heard is that when he visited the prison later, he asked for it back, but the Vietnamese kept it "as a souvenir"
This is McCain on his visit to the prison. I do not know if after being held there for as many years as he was how he could go back even as an honored tourist.
The museum part of the Hanoi Hilton displays many photographs of the havoc brought onto this country by the bombing raids. Think about it folks...this little country suffered a 9/11 attack day after day for many years. This photograph is of the neighborhood where our hotel stands now. The hotel is called the Hanoi Happy. The people here look forward, not backward.
Next we walked through the "old quarter". Because I have sort of a gut, I was often called "Happy Buddha". Vietnamese do not get fat! I took on the nickname in pride. I saw this bar window and I said "yup, me".
The old quarter was endless blocks of junk made in China. However, there were many stores selling things with which to honor the ancestors. This is a big deal in Vietnam. The graveyards are colorful. One thing they do is burn things so that the ancestors will receive the stuff in heaven. They used to burn real money, until there were just too many ancestors to honor.(The population of VN has DOUBLED in the last 15 years) So now they burn wads of counterfeit dollars, euros, Yen, whatever. They sell them all over the old quarter.
After a wonderful dinner of typically exquisite Vietnamese food, we went to the Thang Long Water Puppet Theater. This artform is at least 1000 years old. It was started by rice farmers in the paddies. The puppets are carved from water resistant fig tree timber. There is still an entire village in Northern VM dedicated to carving these puppets because they do get water logged in six months or so. The show is a wonderful set of scenes with typical charcaters and their animals including a duel between water buffalo that is a real hoot. There are also flying dragons. The performance takes place in a waist deep pond of water. The puppets are controlled by highly trained puppeteers behind a curtain. They do an excellent job. Visiting Hanoi would not be complete without seeing the water puppets!
Now my faithful readers are very aware that I love to take photographs of the culturally significant bathroom signs. So I will not let you down.
I love the fact that he is smoking!
The hat is not right!
This will do it for Hanoi. Lots more to come on VN. Keep reading, tell a friend and make a comment. I value you taking the time to read this, and I truly value just a comment along the lines of “keep it coming” or even “don’t you have anything better to do than travel?” The answer to that is NO!