Saturday, November 29, 2008

Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and Museum, 11/29

We had an excellent Thanksgiving dinner at Al Fresco's; turkey and all the trimmings. Jared's parents and sister, three extra students from Union, ten language partners, Ngoc, and Long were able to join us. We were thankful that the term has gone so well, and are looking forward to being reunited with loved ones very soon.

Saturday the 29th we had our last local excursion. It's fitting that it was a trip to the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and Museum. Uncle Ho just returned from his annual refurbishment. They used to send him to Russia each year, but now have the capability to freshen him up here. Waiting in line, we walked by a fountain with the side of the museum in the background. They don't allow any cameras in the Mausoleum, so we gave them all to Long to transport to the opposite side for us. Going through the Mausoleum is a real experience. They have guards about every ten feet who don't let you talk, put your hands in your pockets, or even cross your arms. Everyone walks (marches) two-by-two through the viewing area. Uncle Ho is in a glass case, reclining like in a bed. The lights are turned down so it is impossible to tell if it really is him. I have no doubts that it is, but he sure does look like one of the characters in a wax museum.

Although HCM is a must see if you are in Hanoi, it's refreshing to get to the other side and reclaim your belongings. It's interesting to note that Uncle Ho didn't want any part of this formality. His wishes were to be cremated and his ashes spread so he didn't take up valuable farm land!

Once outside the Mausoleum we gathered for a group picture. One of the reasons they chose to put the Mausoleum here was because it was the spot where Ho Chi Minh gave his independence speech on September 2, 1945.

The Mausoleum itself is kept at 65 degrees Farenheidt to preserve his body. There is an elevator shaft directly below his Sarcaufagus that will allow it to be lowered 70 feet into a bomb shelter if the Mausoleum is ever threatened.

This whole area is closed to vehicular traffice, so you can walk around without constantly watching for a motor bike, car, or bus that is intent on running you over. Included on the grounds is the Presidential Palace. Ho Chi Minh never lived here, but the building was used then, and still is today, as the office building for the executive branch of the government. It was originally the French Governor General's residence.
Ho Chi Minh generally led a simple life, although he enjoyed such luxuries as American cigarettes and bird's nest soup. He came to Hanoi permantently in 1954, after Dien Bien Phu and the French disengagement. He spend the years 1954-58 in a converted carriage house, while another house was being built. His office and living accommodations were Spartan.
Walking from the carriage house to his permanent home, we passed by an example of how Hanoi adapted to the American bombing. It is a personal bomb shelter constructed from a section of concrete sewer pipe with a cover over the top. These were constructed every few meters throughout Hanoi. When the air raid sirens went off, people headed for the first available shelter, first come/first served. I'm sure more than one Vietnamese could fit in a pinch.

This stilt house was Ho Chi Minh's permanent home from 1958 until he died in 1969. It was modeled after the hill tribe homes. Upstairs was an office and bedroom. Underneath was used for meetings. There was a separate building that acted as a kitchen/dining room/sitting area. Uncle Ho was not one to be unprepared, so he had a large bomb shelter built into a slope behind the house. You can see how many people are in line to go through the house. White uniformed guards are posted throughout the tomb and living area. This sentry at first seemed intrigued by the young boy dressed up, complete with bow tie, but soon gave him the guard's wave to usher him back into line!

On the way to the museum, we paused at the One Pillar Pagoda, which was built in 1049 by the emperor in honor of his daughter. It is supposed to resemble a lotus blossom. The French showed sour grapes when they destroyed it in 1945 before they withdrew from Hanoi. It was rebuilt afterwards according to the original plans.

The museum is fairly new, and from a curators point of view, is much more modern than the other museums we have seen, with the possible exception of the Museum of Ethnology.

What would the Ho Chi Minh museum be without a statue of the man himself, with Uncle Walter at his feet giving greetings to the visitors.

The museum is definitely eclectic and even avant garde, but it also has a great deal of good information on Ho's life and times. Here Cat is looking through on of the many tablet displays with information and documents.

Other exhibits you have to wonder what they have to do with Ho Chi Minh!

The display with the 1958 Ford Edsel sticking out of the wall was roped off, but you could still see the Edsel. I remember from 2006 that this was supposed to symbolize American commercial failure, which the Vietnamese use to symbolize the American military failure.

I'm not sure what the sculpture to the left symbolizes. It looks to me like the icon you see on web page design tools to link to another web site.

The still-life Julia is looking at has the following description: "The symbols of nature in its beauty contrasted with the image of industrial plants in this hall represent Uncle Ho's expectation that young people shoulder responsibility for the protection and preservation of the environment, and prevention of aggressive and distructive wars." You can see the scale even better with the little guy standing in front of it.

I still don't see what the table and fruit have to do with the theme, but I guess that is why I am an engineer, not an artist!

The students hade to take a "time out" to process what they had seen.

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Sunday, November 16, 2008

Perfume Pagoda, 11/16

On Wednesday of this week our Vietnamese Life and Culture class was different than usual. We traveled to Dr. Tran Huong's traditional medicine clinic.
Michael was her test patient. He said he had some back pain and had had a cough for about a week.
She started out by finding the source of his problems.
Then she used acupuncture and electric stimulation to raise his endorfin levels,

followed by cupping and massage to bring his endorfins to the surface. Michael seemed none the worse for wear at the end, But I keep forgetting to ask him if her treatment did him any permanent good.

In the last picture Dr. Huong is talking with Kate about her fear of needles, and explaining there are other ways to apply traditional treatments. It was a most interesting presentation.

On Saturday morning we drove to My Duc where we boarded steel boats for the row to the base of Huong Tich Mountain (Mountain of the Fragrant Traces). In this picture, Michael looks like he is doing just fine.

Soon after we started out we passed a supply boat with a monk on his cell phone. From this picture you can start to get an idea of how high the water was. The picture to the right shows it even more directly. It shows the top of a burial monument just sticking out of the water.

The river on the way in is beautiful, even if it is high.

Pulling in to the drop off point again shows the height of the water. The structures to the left are usually food vendors.

Our boats took us over the normal quay, past the booth that normally checks tickets,

and dropped us literally at the base of the steps leading up the mountain.

What they call the Perfume Pagoda is at the top of the mountain. During the second and third lunar months of the year (roughly March and April), many Vietnamese make a pilgrimage here. Up to 80% of the Vietnamese population claims to be Buddhist, but only a small portion of those are what we would term practicing Buddhists. The rest believe in a combination of Buddhist, Confucian, and Taoist philosophies and beliefs that govern their behavior and relationships. One of those beliefs is that if they travel to the Perfume Pagoda, pray, and make offerings during the pilgrimage season it will bring them good luck for the rest of the year.

There are two ways to get to the pagoda. One is via a 4 km path that winds up the mountain, the other is by gondola, which we opted for, mainly to save us some time.

The ride up is spectacular in its own right. You get a much better view than you would on the trail. There are numerous shrines and pagodas on the mountain. The picture to the left shows one that is viewed from the arial tramway.

For those of you who are skiers, this is a Doplymeyer lift, and the top looks familiar, except where is the snow?

Once you get to the top it is a short hike to the grotto that houses the pagoda. Here Ngoc and Julia pause by the railing.

There is a steep set of steps down into the grotto. I didn't notice it when I took the picture, but the sign on the left side of this picture says "No Short Clothes Please" in Vietnamese and English. There was no need for the clothes police, as everyone was dressed appropriately.

The steps end in the grotto, and you enter the actual pagoda behind the big formation in the center that the flags point to.

Just to the left of the entrance is a large bell that is used for calls to worship.

Inside there are three separate alters, and plenty of space to sit down and contemplate the significance of this shrine.

Back outside our students and the language partners posed for a group shot.

Before long it was time to head back down on the gondola and make our way to the flooded quay. Getting on the boats looked like a traffic jam in Hanoi! That is Sarah's mother Jen in the boat next to her.

The ride back was no less spectacular than coming in.

Just before we got back, a young embassador waived goodbye to us. Actually he was waving "hello," but it makes a good last picture.

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