Through my eyes

living my life without regrets

Sunday, April 05, 2015

31. Ha Noi, Vietnam

Ha Noi, Thailand

Foggy Morning in Vietnam
Up and out of bed at 5.30 am. The bus leaves at 6.15 am for the 3 hour ride to Hanoi. It is still dark out when I get out of bed and a dense fog hangs over the harbor. The temperature is a modest 60 degrees F. In my haste to get out of the room and get breakfast, I inadvertently drop the room key card and custom (immigration card) papers someplace. I only notice this when I want to exit the ship and don't have the proper paperwork. Now it really became hectic, I needed a new room key card, had to convince the customs police on board I lost my papers, etc.  Phew, what a start. But all's well that ends well. I was the last guy on the bus and we left at 6.20 am instead.

I don't like bus rides because the seats are not made for my tall body. Three+ hours is literally a bit of a torture, my legs don't fit and the headrest presses into my neck instead of supporting my head. But I mentioned this once before already, it is just that I need to vent I think, I hate bus rides. Especially in buses made for smaller Asian people.
Coal Dust Pollution

On the way to Ha Noi we passed many open pit coal mines. The pollution from the mines, in the villages we passed, is clearly visible. Coal is exported to China but most of it is used domestically as the power source for electricity generating plants. The first nuclear powered electric plant is being built now to be on line in about 2 years. So far Vietnam has no idea where they will store the spent fuel rods, the politburo is still “thinking” about the
Coal Ready for Transportation
right location for this radioactive trash.

China ruled Vietnam for over 1000 years and left quite a few beliefs and ways of living before they were finally driven out of Vietnam. One of these ways was the education system. The Chinese had a school system based on Confucianism. A boy at the age of 6 was given a test to see how smart he was. This test was given, once a year, to every child in the nation. Only the very, very best were chosen and then educated free of charge by the best teachers in the Empire. Those boys were trained to become future Doctors, Ministers or Politicians. Naturally every family wanted their son to be one of the smart ones. The family went to a temple to pray before the actual exams to make sure the gods would help
Temple of Van Mieu-Quoc Tu Gian
their son. The tests were very difficult and only with help from the gods, could they be passed.

Entering the Complex

Amazing Banyan Tree
Our first visit in Ha Noi was to the Temple of Van Mieu-Quoc Tu Gian, within which is the Temple of Literature, Vietnam’s first national university. It is dedicated to Confucius, sages and scholars. Quite a few students, who studied here in the past, passed the infamous entrance exam and became well known Doctors, etc. A section in this Temple has a display of monuments to these famous people. There are 82
500 Year Old Stone Turtles in Front
of Stele Listing Names of
Previous Scholars
remaining, tablet-like stele listing their names and accomplishments and standing behind 500 year old stone turtles. Even today, people come with their child to ask the gods for help. There is no such “exam” any longer but what family does not want to have a smart offspring? Asking God for help, even today, seems like a great idea to everybody. While this was a temple, it was different from the temples I have visited so far.

Donations to the temple are cheerily accepted. The collection box was full of bank notes.

Picture of the Original "Hanoi Hilton" (Hoa Lo Prison)

The Hanoi Hilton “is not a hotel; quite the opposite. This place is a reminder of the brutality humans are capable of. One would think people would learn from history but after visiting here I can assure you nothing has been learned.

Prisoners Locked in Place

Brutally mistreating prison inmates, no matter the race, belief or outlook on life, is deplorable. But you know all of this; you see the latest ISIS brutalities almost daily on TV or on the Internet. Well, the Hanoi Hilton, originally
Carving Showing Prison Brutality
built by the French to mistreat Vietnam’s political prisoners, is just one example of many places in the world. A sad place! It is a museum today, set up to show some of the horrors that happened here. Giving the premises a museum look, cleaning it up, categorizing actions, only showing what the administration deems appropriate, is censorship. The Hanoi Hilton has been severely censored. Three quarters of the facility was ripped down and a skyscraper apartment building erected in its place.

Cell Door in the Dungeon Area
The left over part is now just a museum, a money maker focused on the mistreatments of Vietnamese people by the French. There is hardly a mention of the real conditions American Pilots faced when they were incarcerated here during the last war.

Ba Dinh Square with Ho Chi Minh's Mausoleum

After a good lunch at the Wild Lotus Restaurant, we entered what seemed like a protected, almost holy section of Ha Noi, the political compound. The Ba Dinh Square; where streets were blocked off, and uniformed guards were controlling people's movements.
Ho Chi Minh's Mausoleum

Many sections were not to be visited, were verboten. The center of this whole area was Ho Chi Minh’s (HCM) mausoleum. A utilitarian looking building, like
Communist Flags
a small, squared off pyramid sat within a park like area. Lots of Red flags (yellow hammer and sickle and star) waved right and left of the official entrance to the tomb.

One of the Honour Guards
at the Mausoleum

Honor guards in white uniforms stood on top of the stairs, next to the entrance. Another few uniformed guards with all kinds of medals pinned to their chests loitered about looking bored.

Bored Looking Guard
The building was closed. It is only open in the morning. Inside, I am told, lays HCM well preserved. Like Lenin, HCM was pickled in Russia. In fact every few years HCM needs to go back to Russia for a touch up and to check on his preserved condition. It is a fact that HCM did not want this kind of attention, he asked to be cremated. His fellow politburo comrades however voted to keep him “alive “looking; hence the circus and attention given to HCM now.

Right across from the mausoleum is the building that houses the 500 members of the Politburo's Congress who run Vietnam today. But due to a lot of infighting and political positioning among themselves, there is no time to work on the real issues of the land. Every member just shows up and does nothing. Everybody is afraid to stand up and address problems or upset the corrupt apple cart, because if one does, one gets killed. A bit of poison is known to do the best job. The locals call this building the “Puppet Theater”.
Ho Chi Minh's Simple House

Behind the mausoleum, I visited the house HCM lived in while alive. First there is a rather fine house the nation wanted him to live in, like the U.S. president lives in the White House. This house, the Yellow House, was a bit too grand for HCM. He built a very simple, one bedroom cottage-like house nearby and worked from there. I saw this simple affair of a house and liked it better, too. The large house is now the Presidential Palace although the President is a mere figure-head who
The "Yellow House" Where Ho Chi Minh Refused to Live
and Now is the Presidential Palace
functions only to give out medals or show him-self at functions or to give speeches at schools. He is an empty suit.

The real power sits across the street from his Palace at the headquarters of the Communist Party. That is where the decisions are made after the members’ political positions are somewhat secured. Vietnam is run by a few rich people who make the majority of the people pay taxes and with a lot of ridiculous laws, keep the masses under control and poor. If you are within the circle of the politburo you live well. Even the extended family members of each member of the politburo live well. This area we visited, the area around HCM’s grave, gives one a visual representation of the power brokers behind today's Vietnam. A bit scary to walk through this bit of Ha Noi, it reminds me of the times I walked through East Berlin before the wall came down.

The One Pillar Pagoda With Its Pillar and
Staircase in the Pond

A nice spot, and a surprise, was the one pillar pagoda. A smart looking, small building that serves as a temple. The architectural idea behind the building intrigued me. Clever!

We had to drive back to the ship anchored at Ha Long Bay so we left Ha Noi around 3 pm. Vietnam was celebrating the beginning of Tet. This day is like New Year's Eve in the West; here it is called “Tet”; The Chinese New Year. Tet is an official 4 day festival but people take off 10 days to allow for travel on the other 6 days. Everybody goes back to their place of birth, to their family.
Brilliant Lights to Guide Us
Back to Our Ship
It is the festival where the ancestors are honored. There is a ritual for each day. New Year's Eve, the day before day 1 of Tet is all about eating, drinking and being festive. Day 1 is the family reunion day. Day 2 is the family parents’ day where one’s parents and grand parents are visited and honored. Day 3 is dedicated to the parents-in-law or the extended family. Day 4 belongs to teachers or close friends. Gifts are exchanged, food is eaten, and visits are made. It is a hectic and happy time with lots of music, drinking and food.
Colours of the Lights Are Constantly Changing

We thought it a good idea to be on the ship before the real drinking and driving starts. The rice wine consumed is 49 % alcohol. Already on the way back we heard very loud, booming “Rap” music; if one can call that noise music, but it sure was loud. It was audible from blocks away. There will be no sleep for the villagers tonight; the music will awake the dead.  Happy (Chinese) New Year!
Other Ships Were Outlined in Lights
We are anchored off shore, away from the festivities. Yea!

It Means Happy New Year (I Think)


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