Hanoi city tour
We boarded the bus this morning and our guide for the day gave us the Party Line speech. All of a sudden, it was clear we were in a communist country. Our first stop was the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and all things Uncle Ho. We were expected to dress conservatively, keep an even double line as we slowly moved forward, listening to nationalistic music. That lasted about an hour. According to our new acquaintances, Valentina and Dina, two fabulous irreverent Russian women who live in Switzerland, it’s a cheap imitation of Red Square. Once we entered the structure, it was no talking, no hands in pockets, no arms crossed (and it was freezing in there). Then, there he was lying there, surrounded by guards. To further confuse things he is often taken to Moscow and put on display there. So we really don’t know if his remains were there or it was a mask and dummy.
The grounds and the crowds
The bleak procession
As we exited the very Soviet, bunker-like building (ranked 6th most ugly building in the world by CNN), we entered the complex where he lived for a few years. It was a series of French Colonial buildings taken over after the defeat of the French. I’ll skip my commentary and just tell you that brochure blurb informed us that he started out living in the big house, then moved to smaller and simpler quarters in order to live more like the people. We saw his 3 cars, French and Russian.
Eventually, like everywhere in the world, we were herded into the gift shop area. One chocolate ice cream later, we were on our way to a nearby village to learn about pottery making. I have always liked watching potters at work, fantasies of Patrick Swazy not withstanding.
Refining a cup
Vietnamese pottery is highly prized and still collected in Japan and throughout Asia.
We had lunch in a hotel restaurant, and though it was a traditional Hanoi meal, it would have been fun to eat street food. After lunch, we walked down a food alley – maybe return another time to eat.
We spent the early afternoon at the Temple of Literature (Van Mieu-Quoc Tu Giam), Vietnam’s first university. As we are beginning to see, all landscaped gardens are filled with bonsi.
Turned out it was graduation day, so lots of lovely girls on caps and gowns, over traditional dresses and heels. I took tons of pictures, grateful that I did not have to sit through the ceremony.
Girls with monk
Girls without monk
Done with heels
At the back of the property, we learned a bit of traditional Vietnamese prayer and visited the temple dedicated to Confucius. Here’s what the online Hanoi Local Guide site had to say:
“In the past, Van Mieu was held in great reverence not only as a major centre of Confucian thought and study, but also for its status as the apogee of learning in Vietnam and the only route to becoming a mandarin….
Today, the quiet queues of worshippers and acolytes have given way to tourist coaches that disgorge noisy tourists in their hundreds several times a day. Nevertheless, we recommend a visit, but arrange it to coincide with off-peak periods so that our visitors can experience the remarkable qualities of a place steeped the echoes of thousands of long dead scholars steeped in the pursuit of enlightenment.”
The last part of our day was the Water Puppet Performance. Beautiful, enjoyable and thankfully relatively short. We were happy to get back to the hotel, clean up and enjoy the luxuries of a beautiful room, big bathtub, perfect mattresses and clean white sheets. Before turning in, we went out to find some of that great street food. Somehow, we fell short. We were given an English menu and thought we were ordering spring rolls and a soup dish. Turned out we were good with the spring rolls, but got fried stuff instead of soup. We kept saying Pho, but evidently, not clearly enough. Next time we’ll take pictures of food with us…