Hanoi: "Ho Chi Minh"

July 28, 2003

My most frequent question for other travelers is "What are the highlights?" I will answer that question regarding my brief visit to Hanoi, the end point of my journey from south to north in the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.

One of my favorite stops on the all-day city tour was The Temple of Literature, Vietnam's oldest university, founded in 1076. This sanctuary from the noise and commotion of the city consists of five courtyards surrounded by buildings of traditional Vietnamese architecture. The most precious artifacts are the eighty-two stelae, large stone tablets, each one sitting on a stone tortoise. The tortoise represents longevity. The inscriptions on the stelae describe the accomplishments of the teachers. Throughout Asia, teaching is a highly respected profession.

In one of the buildings, our group was entertained by a group of musicians playing traditional instruments. This was my introduction to the one-string lyre and the bamboo xylophone. We were invited to join the orchestra to play and dance. We were also invited to purchase the new CD.

Ho Chi Minh's Mausoleum is the most revered monument in Hanoi. Ho lies embalmed in a glass crypt inside a huge block of a building that anchors an enormous open square large enough to hold 10,000 people. Entrance to the Mausoleum is free of charge to the hundreds and hundreds of visitors and pilgrims who arrive by the busload every day.

Ho had requested that he be cremated and that his ashes spread around the country. His successors thought otherwise. After his death in 1969, Ho was shipped to Moscow. Russians who worked on Lenin, Stalin and Mao now maintain Uncle Ho.

Ho lies peacefully asleep, yet he looks like he might awaken at any moment. Utmost respect is maintained. No photos. No talking. Serious looking guards maintain decorum. As I walk slowly past the crypt, with my hands clasped behind my back, one guard politely and firmly insists that I place my hands at my side. I comply at once.

The final highlight of the day was the Ethnological Museum, a beautiful display of the lifestyle, clothing and art of the dozens of minority groups who still live in the mountains of Central and Northwestern Vietnam. Collectively they are known as The Montagnards. I resist the gift shop here as I had already bought a pair of colorful, hand-stitched pillowcases in HCMC. Now I know the tribe that made them. I must visit them when I return. b

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