Erin sees all the pickled communists
Trip Start Sep 17, 2007
273Trip End Oct 08, 2008
Map your own trip!
Show trip route
Lenin is of course the oldest, and I know the most about him. He was the first in my series of pickled communists, but at that time I didn't have a goal to see them all - just him. Entering his mausoleum in Red Square was one of the most bizarre experiences of my life. All of the pilgrims had stopped coming, and at that point it seemed he was on display for the tourists. The interior of the mausoleum was dark and cold, and there were three of us walking through together. We were all History majors and Russianists, and seeing this man was amazing for all of us. And seriously weird, because who puts a dead body on display? As we entered the graveyard for other famous Communists and Stalin another pair of tourists entered the mausoleum. That was all.
Mao of course you can read about
To be perfectly honest, I don't know much about Ho Chi Minh, either. I've read a little bit, and the people call him "Uncle Ho," but I don't think I could make any sort of informed judgement about him. I can make a judgement about his lying in state. His mausoleum is so obviously modelled on Lenin's that I knew what to expect the whole way through. He's even sent to Russia for maintenance every summer. It felt to me like a Vietnamese version of the Soviet way, as if directions were handed straight down through the Comintern
What really surprised me was the length of the queue. It was so long it ran around blocks. There were tour groups visiting the mausoleum, and Vietnamese, but most of all there were school children. School children on field trips. ??? I was surprised to see parents taking their young children to see Mao, but this was just...I don't even know what. It was not something you would see in the West, not least because we don't pickle people...yet. I don't even think I saw a dead body until I was 13, and then I was terrified I might see him come back to life. What was this experience like for the children? They all seemed very joyful to be out on the field trip. Did they know what was in front of them? Is a sort of "Cult of Ho" being perpetuated for the Vietnamese future? I can only say that little, boistrous children seem out of place at a mausoleum. But Travis and I once again enjoyed being rockstars as we passed all of the kids shouting, "HELLO!"
Oh, and while the Ho mausoleum is similar to Lenin's, it is bigger and very well lit. And Ho is quite well groomed (not that Lenin isn't...it's just something I noted)
After you leave the mausoleum itself you must go through a museum area, and you must pay for it. We checked our bags, and our cameras with them, so while we had money we had nothing to photograph with. There's an absurd checking system - first you check your bag, but apparently not your camera or mobile phone, this you check at a different place and in different bags. These you pick up on the other side of the mausoleum so that you may proceed through the museum area with ease and comfort. But apparently everyone doesn't have to check bags because the woman in front of me was carrying hers the whole way. And it's truly astonishing what Western tourists wear, even when they're told not to. Truly. Astonishing.
Travis and I were running short on time, so we didn't see Ho's collection of cars or his stilt house
After the mausoleum we walked out to the square and looked at it from the front (most of the line is behind it or alongside of it). Then we went down to the Temple of Literature. While there was a Confucian temple inside the complex it was really more of a university-mandarin training facility. There was nothing too thrilling about it, but for less than 50 cents it's a pleasant and enlightening stroll around some ancient grounds.
Then we had gourmet pho at Pho 24. Very excellent. I love pho, and I highly recommend the fillet pho, but if you're feeling brave you can go for the tripe.
Finally we went to the Museum of Ethnology, a fine collection that succeeds in illuminating the minority cultures of Vietnam. There are loads of artifacts and several videos, along with descriptions of each group, where it originated, and where it lives now in Vietnam
For your inner child, the back of the museum consists of a grounds filled with traditional tribal houses. You can climb in them and walk around them, and if you're lucky, the people who are supposed to be working there might tell you about them, although this only happened for us in the H'mong house. There were also some "toys" in this area: a wooden teeter-totter that you stand on rather than sit, and a pole held off the ground with a rope that you must balance on are two examples.
A slightly freaky ride on the back of a moto took us back to our haunts in the Old Quarter. We finished off the day in a Bia Hoi Hanoi. Bia Hoi is draft beer that is made without preservatives and delivered straight to little cafes and imbibed immediately. It's similar to a keg party except cheaper. Under 30 cents for a glass. A good percentage of the shop fronts in the old quarter are given over to these little places. Most of them are called Bia Hoi Hanoi. The name copying thing is rampart here. The original, good travel agency was known as Sinh Cafe. So everyone opened up copycat organizations in the surrounding area. Today, there are probably over a hundred travels agencies called Sinh Cafe in the Old Quarter. We passed quite a few ourselves.