Wednesday, June 23, 2010

ENOUGH! (actual)

June 1: I titled the scheduled-entry at the end of my stay in Hanoi as a joke, but it turned out to be quite accurate. We arrived in Hanoi much earlier than originally planned because of the switch from 13-hour train to 1-hour flight. Our hotel was accommodating, as has been the case throughout Vietnam, but the room was not ready. They held our bags and we set off to see Hoa Lo Prison, aka The Hanoi Hilton.

Hoa Lo prison was built by the French during the colonial period and was originally used to punish Vietnamese insurrectionists. Because of this, most of the displays are about how tough living conditions were for them, how they were tortured by the French, and their valiant struggle to survive and overcome. There are several rooms with nothing but names on the walls of former inmates and the years in which they were imprisoned. I'm telling you, those Communists love their martyrs. Also on display is Senator John McCain's flight suit and other personal effects, but there isn't too much about the American War here. Most of the prison has been demolished and replaced by a modern office building, but part of the deal was to preserve the remainder as a museum. And much of what they preserved tells a pretty grim tale.

The next day, we got up early and took a cab over to see Ho Chi Minh, Uncle Ho himself. Contrary to his wishes, Ho's body was embalmed (he wanted to be cremated) and is now on display 6 days a week in a huge marble museum. You can only get in to see him between 8 and 11:30am, and since it was Sunday, we tried to get there early. The line, when we arrived, was at least a mile long. I'm not a good judge of distance, so it easily could have been two miles as it snaked around and down several city blocks. This is where we got our first taste of how rude Hanoians would be. Just after we got in line, a woman jumped the rope in front of me and proceeded to then usher her entire family into line with her. I asked her, in English, if she would like to invite the rest of the city to cut in front of us, but she didn't understand. When her son translated for her, she turned around and smiled/laughed at me (according to tattoo-girl) but I didn't see it. I probably would have punched her in the ovaries if I had. The next bit had to do with the baggage-check station, where backpacks and purses had to be dropped off for pickup after viewing the body. There is no order to this process however, so people would push and shove their way to the dropoff window. I managed to elbow several people trying to elbow me out of the way. One woman was trying to check-in a plastic shopping bag full of fruit. When it was obvious that she wasn't going to get her body in front of me, she tried reaching it over my shoulder, hitting me in the head several times. I gave her a very loud verbal chastise, but to do any more would have given the others room to push in front of me. Total, absolute, goddamn chaos. Back in the main line, people continue to try to circumvent the line, pushing forward. The only conclusion to be reached is that Hanoians are the rudest fucking people on the planet. This conclusion is shared by everyone I've ever met who knows anything about Vietnam. Talking to local shopkeepers (not to mention tattoo-girl's family) here at home before the trip, we were warned that the North sucks and we'd hate it. We were beginning to agree.

After that fun, after about an hour and a half of standing outside in the heat (although slightly less hot due to a slight drizzle, but still humid, duh), we were allowed into the mausoleum to see Uncle Ho. The air conditioning is cranked WAY up in here since it is, after all, a refrigerator for a guy who has been dead for 40 years. Soldiers with AK-47s keep the line moving, so the total time in here is less than a minute. Ho is laying down inside a glass enclosure with dim lighting. There are slightly yellowish spotlights on his hands, feet, and face. The effect of the lighting on his waxy, embalmed skin, combined with the drab clothing and dim lighting really makes him look like a hologram. Kinda cool but a major anticlimax after doing battle and standing in line.

We then went over to the Temple of Literature, which is where doctoral students would take their final exams long ago before being allowed to serve the emperor, government, etc. Now it is just a collection of large (6-foot tall) stone tablets upon which the names of those who passed their exams are enscribed. There is a similar museum in Xi'an, China, except that the Chinese tablets are more protected than the Vietnamese ones. It is apparently common practice for Vietnamese students to come here and touch each of the stone tablets for good luck. Unfortunately, touching these things DESTROYS them. The oil and dirt from hands erodes the stone much faster than would happen naturally so, once again, a precious piece of Vietnamese history is disappearing. There were hundreds of schoolchildren of all ages running around, screaming, touching everything they could get their grubby little hands on, so we looked around pretty quickly and left in disgust.


At 1:24 PM, Blogger Zelda said...

and here I always thought commies were so organized.

At 3:42 PM, Blogger Jammie J. said...

My in-laws told me that at the airport in Jerusalem, if you didn't shove and push, you didn't get through security. I looked at those two quiet, considerate people (quite possibly what Webster folks were looking at when they wrote the definition of those two words) and said, "So what did you do?" They replied, "Shoved and pushed, or we wouldn't be here now!"

If you met them, you'd understand how shocking that would be...

At 1:36 PM, Blogger zhu said...

I hope Bridges hires you to write his biography


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