We soaked in as much of Hanoi as possible. And we ate as much food as possible, too! We did a lot of walking around the Old City, visited a bunch of museums and went to see a Traditional Water Puppet Show– an art form that originated in the rice paddies.
The Ho Chi Minh residence was fascinating. “Uncle Ho” as he is known, is the father of modern-day Vietnam, a revered figure for his leadership in the liberation of the country and government-sponsored cult personality. The vestigial site was where he worked and lived for the years before his death in 1969 was built behind the opulent Presidential Palace; it’s a simple house and living quarters in a quiet, peaceful setting.
I couldn’t help but wonder what he would have thought if he walked out of his house every day to see what we saw upon exiting.
Like China, calling Vietnam a communist country is comical. Communism is an unsustainable system, though, it would appear socialism is alive and well in both countries as you see uniformed civil servants working in various capacities. But the market-oriented reforms of the 80’s and 90’s created a lot of capitalist entrepreneurs. The effect has created tremendous growth.
Politically, what remains are single-party oligarchies which operate in opaque theaters. The voluminous and wide-spread corruption is notorious.
The Army Museum featured lots of old military memorabilia, some history and, of course, a bit of propaganda. There was some cross-over from the History Museum. Having done a fair amount of research, I can’t help but empathize with a people who have had to defend their country from invaders from millennia. Interlopers came from China, Mongolia, France, Cambodia and the US. Aside from the pursuit of the Khmer Rouge after they invaded Vietnam, I don’t think the Vietnamese invaded any other countries.
The Vietnam Women’s Museum focuses on women and ethnicity, women and the national struggle, women and traditional clothing, and women’s cultural traits expressed through handicrafts. One of the exhibits was a film created collaboratively with Connecticut College about the lives of female street vendors we’d seen throughout Hanoi. They live difficult lives coming to the city from country villages to earn money in support of their families back home. They had been somewhat of a mystery and we gained a great appreciation of their struggles.
The National Museum of Vietnamese History is housed in a huge colonial building. One of the displays in the museum featured a neolithic-era mother breast-feeding her child. Something like that would never make it into a museum back in the states.
The irony is inescapable because as they proudly display artifacts highlighting scientific certainty, political realities are sometimes brushed aside.