Thursday, March 02, 2006

Hanging Out with Uncle Ho in Hanoi

When I die I want to be preserved and put on display in a mausoleum, just like Ho Chi Minh (even if his dying wish was to be cremated - all the great communist leaders get to be embalmed and put on display, it's part of the job description).

Visiting Uncle Ho's body in Hanoi has to rank up there with the weirdest things I have seen on this trip...and in my life. Arriving at the mausoleum, I saw that the line to view Uncle Ho's body was huge. He has been dead for over 30 years and all these people are still willing to wait over 30 minutes to check out his body for a few seconds?

At first I was impressed at how orderly and calm the Vietnamese were, lined up perfectly. This didn't last long. At the line-up to drop your camera off (no photos of Uncle Ho allowed) all choas broke out and they pushed past me, shoving and clawing their way to the counter. At first I was offended, but quickly figured out that I would also have to force my way or be left behind. So I body checked and blocked a fair number of Vietnamese, many of them men, to drop off my camera. Some of these little guys are tough and they didn't seem to care if they trampled over a woman. Clearly the principles of communism are at work - the Vietnamese shove, elbow and block everyone equally.

As the line approached the mausoleum - an imposing grey structure, very communist-looking - guards dressed in white uniforms marched along carrying wreaths. Once inside, we entered a high-ceilinged, large dim room with a glass-covered coffin in the center that holds Uncle Ho's body. Four guards stood around the body and on the marble walls were the large communist hammer, sickle and star. Ho Chi Minh himself looked awfully waxy in a basic navy suit, lying with his hands crossed at his waist. The freakiest thing of all was his beard, perfectly preserved as it appears in all of his photos. So freaky! After 30 strange seconds of staring at the body, I was ushered out. Leaving the mausoleum I couldn't shake the feeling of how strange the whole experience was.

Hanoi itself was an interesting city, especially the Old Quarter where I stayed. It is a maze-like area of streets where clusters of stores in one area all sell the same goods. There is a stringed instrument street, a army shoulder bag street, a mattress street, a chinese paper lantern street. Many of the streets are named after what they sell. It was odd. I was staying near what can only be described as packing tape street. A whole block of tiny stores that sell only packing tape - rows of it, in different styles and colours, all stacked together. I can't imagine that the Vietnamese need that much packing tape, but apparently they do. So bizarre.

Hanoi was also the venue of great tragedy for me. Rushing on my last morning, I broke the zipper on my bag so that it would not zip shut. Now to you, the person sitting at home reading this, you will think that this is no big deal - So what? Your bag broke. Big deal. However, let me remind you that this is the one posession that I own on the road. It is like my home. It would be like having the roof blown off of your house. Fortunately the bag got fixed, but in Bangkok I will need to part with it. So I am trying to spend some quality time with my bag before I say goodbye. Strangely I am sad to see it go. It has followed me on all my trips for the last six years and I am quite sentimental about this backpack. I can't believe how attached to it I have grown. Perhaps when I get home I will build a mausoleum for it and put it on display.

2 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Della,

Maybe your bag would be happy if you were to leave it on "Bag Street". Might give you good Karma. You know the saying "If you love it set it free....(then hunt it down and kill it if it doesn't come back). Keep smiling.

James

11:38 AM  
Anonymous H-Dawg said...

Hey D-Roll, I am now officially caught up on your Blog. Awesome story-telling as usual. I would have to agree with you: down with the monkeys...and the boob grabbing men. I tried to go on Babelfish to get you the Japanese translation for "I want a cake"...it didn't work. Sorry.

Take Care,
Hardy

9:16 AM  

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