Saturday, August 13, 2011

Cultural Anthropology in Hanoi

So spoke too soon about the train. I spent last night in a sleeper compartment above some part of the train that made a crashing sound like metal hitting metal at high speed, about every 30 seconds. Never a dull moment.

I arrived into Hanoi at 5am. 5am is rarely agood time to arrive in any city, but is especially undesirable when arriving in the middle of a downpour, the tavel agency where I was supposed to stash my bag was closed as were all nearby coffee shops. Eventually, the agency opened and I headed out to explore.

My first stop was Kinh Do Cafe for coffee. This little hole in the wall was a daily stop for Catherine Deneuve when she was here filming Indochine. Amazing coffee and croissants.

After that, it was time for the Ho Chi Minh mausoleum. I was excited to visit it, because it completes my set of pickled commie leaders- Mao, Lenin and HCM. At first, I had no interest in these pickled fellows, but Dad dragged me along to visit Mao when we were in Beijing for the Olympics. In response to my protests, he told me to think of it as cultural anthropology. Plus, it was on the way to lunch. In the end, I am very glad that I went. The amount of ceremony and bureaucracy involved in visiting these places is pretty impressive.

HCM is only on view from 8-10am. the line can get quite long, so I arrived at 8 on the dot. From September until December, HCM is sent to Moscow for maintenance. (And you thought your job was bad...) I had to spent the 90+ degree day in pants and a baggy t-shirt because the people running the mausoleum consider shorts and tanks tops to be indecent. Who am I to ignore lessons on decency from the folks who pickled a guy who desperately wanted to be cremated and then  turned him into a tourist exhibit?

Now, with the trifecta complete, I can rank my favorites.

1. Mao
The highlight: Seeing vendors selling plastic flowers for visitors to leave at the entrance of the mausoleum and then scooping the flowers back up and reselling them to the next group. Capitalism literally being thrown on Mao's grave. Excellent.

The security guards were the scariest here. I was pretty sure that if I even thought about Madame Tussauds, they could send me to Mongolia.

2. Lenin
The setting of Red Square is really impressive. So he's missing an ear and a couple fingers- he is still looking real good for his age.

3. HCM
Still totally worth a visit, even if the side of his head looks like it is starting to melt. Plus, in the same complex is his old house on stilts, a propoganda museum (ok they call it a history museum), the presidential place, and a pagoda.

In the afternoon, I went to the first university in Vietnam. It is now a museum that focuses on literature. There is a sign from the old university in front, requesting that you dismount from your horse before entering.  Nice of them to keep the sign up, just in case.

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