Thursday, May 23, 2019

Last Day in Vietnam: Ho Chi Minh's Mausoleum and the Hanoi Hilton

Our last day in Vietnam had arrived.

I did my best to make it count with another baller hotel breakfast. Put a little dragonfruit and pineapple into the rotation this time.

The staff kept nagging us to order something special from the kitchen. I had assumed that they were trying to upsell us, so when they finally said it was also free I humored them with an order of beef pho, or pho bo. I think it had more flavor than the chicken variety.

There were signs for pho bo and pho ga all over the place.

Today's adventure was a walking tour with a couple of student guides. Our first stop was to the mausoleum of Ho Chi Minh. You could tell we were in the vicinity of something politically important because the amount of propaganda in the area went way up.

There was a realll long line to see Uncle Ho.

There were a whole lot of rules, and a whole lot of policeman enforcing them. I think I took my hat off but I got yelled at for having my sunglasses on. Uncle Ho sure is a stickler for a guy who died in 1969.

I think this was my first time ever seeing a body lying in state. Ho was in a glass case laying down with a pillow under his head and a blanket up to his waist, like he was just taking your average 50 year nap. No big deal. They didn't allow pictures inside, which was real sad. I read that they ship Ho Chi Minh's deliciously marinated corpse to Russia for a couple months each year so that he can get an embalming tune up. We did take a little peek at the exterior of Lenin's mausoleum in Moscow but didn't make it inside.

Outside the mausoleum was an odd paved area that wasn't for cars. I wonder if it was a space for military parades or something like that. Now it was being used as a tour group rallying point.

Next we visited the Presidential Palace. Since Ho was a commie he refused to live in the grand house and had a little house on stilts built nearby. Specifically, Ho said he wouldn’t live in the palace until Vietnam had beaten its three enemies: the French, hunger, and lack of education.

Our guide informed me that the color yellow represents power.

Ho Chi Minh's stilt house.

Lydia kept poopooing all of the sweet Uncle Ho merchandise on offer at the multiple gift shops. She's no fun.

It was pretty dang hot so I bought us a couple of coconuts to drink.

Annoyingly we did not have time to visit the Ho Chi Minh Museum. I guess knowledge of his multiple lady friends is suppressed by the government. They prefer the story that he was married to the revolution or some such nonsense.

We next popped over to the Temple of Literature. There were a ton of students of all ages there... I believe praying for good grades. The temple was built in 1070 and hosts the Imperial Academy, Vietnam's first national university.

The Khue Van pavilion is currently the symbol of Hanoi.

"I'm sorry Lydia I didn't bring any snacks for you, ok?!"

These stelae on top of turtles bear the names of the students who passed the imperial exam.

Our guides were impressed that I knew that these fruits are known as Buddha's hands.

Everyone thought I was real smart and classy, not realizing I only know that because it's one of the Shock Top citrus pack flavors.

These guys were taking some serious boy band level pictures.

We were running out of Vietnam time at this point and still had one more little stop that we wanted to make. So we said goodbye to our trusty guides and continued onward.

Our last bit of Vietnamese tourism was a stop at the Hỏa Lò Prison, given the nickname Hanoi Hilton by American POWs during the Vietnam War. As you can see from the sign the prison was originally built by the French in the late 1800s, when Vietnam was still part of French Indochina. The French kept political prisoners here.

While I thought the French parts were interesting, I was here to see some Vietnam War stuff. Get on with it!

I was surprised to see the jibber jabber in the museum about how well the US POWs were treated when the place was actually a torture camp.

"Military medical doctors giving treatment to American pilot John McCain, who was shot down in Truc Bach Lake, Hanoi, October 26th, 1967

During the wartime in Vietnam when people faced numerous difficulties and shortages in their daily life, US prisoners of war including pilots were humanely treated by the Vietnamese Government which gave them the best possibly living conditions. Captured American pilots in Hoa Lo Prison were giving sufficient personal belongings including smallest thing to meet their daily needs. In addition to treatment of their injuries, they were given periodical health check-ups and healthcare.

In the prison, captured pilots were created favourable conditions for entertainment, cultural and sports activities, chess playing, listening to Voice of Vietnam radio (English broadcasts), watching films and enjoying music. Parties were organized for them during New Years festivals and holidays, what were impossible for the Vietnamese at that time.

Religious activities played an important role for captured US pilots. On Christmas Eve, those pilots who followed Christianity were allowed to dress like tourists mingling among other Catholics to attend masses in Da Minh Church. For those who were Protestants, the Prison Management invited parsons to organize masses for them in their religious rites."

I thought the fact they really concentrated on the healthcare aspect was noteworthy. John McCain's Wikipedia says upon capture his shoulder was crushed and he was bayoneted.

"Although McCain was seriously wounded and injured, his captors refused to treat him. They beat and interrogated him to get information, and he was given medical care only when the North Vietnamese discovered that his father was an admiral."

"Beginning in August 1968, McCain was subjected to a program of severe torture. He was bound and beaten every two hours; this punishment occurred at the same time that he was suffering from heat and dysentery. Further injuries brought McCain to "the point of suicide", but his preparations were interrupted by guards. Eventually, McCain made an anti-U.S. propaganda "confession". He had always felt that his statement was dishonorable, but as he later wrote, "I had learned what we all learned over there: every man has his breaking point. I had reached mine." Many U.S. POWs were tortured and maltreated in order to extract "confessions" and propaganda statements; virtually all of them eventually yielded something to their captors. McCain received two to three beatings weekly because of his continued refusal to sign additional statements."

McCain would ultimately be a prisoner in North Vietnam for 5 and a half years.

"Struggle Against Enemy's Terrorism"

The French sure did love their guillotines.

"From August 5th, 1964, when the US started the war of destruction against North Vietnam to 7 am on December 30th 1972, then the US had to declare an end to all bombing raid activities from the 20th Parallel northwards, the North Vietnamese army and people shot down 4,181 US crafts, killed and captured hundreds of experienced American pilots."

Well I was glad to have experienced a bit of the vivid imagination of the local government at the Hanoi Hilton.

Ho Chi Minh holding a baby.

Ho Chi Minh on my fat stacks.

At the airport I was happy to see that us Sky Bosses are finally getting some long overdue respect.

Time for some loungin!

Fun fact: salted duck eggs do not taste good.

There was a lot of weird food to peruse, but these summer rolls were killer. I ate an impolite number of them.

I spotted this friggin delectable Royce Japanese chocolate. I'm becoming something of an international chocolate connoisseur. Honestly that happens pretty much automatically when you're fat and you travel a lot.

I figured Lydia had earned the privilege.

It was nice to see that Cambodia and I were on the same page: it was time to see Angkor Wat!

We were impressed when the driver from the Mulberry Boutique Hotel handed us both reusable metal water bottles to cut down on plastic waste.

We got a little welcome drink and a snack while we were checked in and our bags were whisked away to our room.

Our room was two stories. Lydia likes these fancy places. You could see the pool from the bed.

There were aquatic flowers placed all over. I could get used to this treatment.

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