(January 1993 I was a member of the COUNCIL ON INTERNATIONAL EDUCATIONAL EXCHANGE AT HANOI UNIVERSITY AND THE UNIVERSITY OF HO CHI MINH CITY. A few Journal notes follow)
Wednesday, Jnuary 6, 1993 This day provided events I had wished to encounter for some years and insomnia the night prior proved no detriment in savoring this fascinating day. We borded our bus and traveled thru town and busy traffic to the square where Ho Chi Minh declared the independence of Vietnam on September 2, 1945. Dominating the area is the grey stone bulk of the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. The entire complex suggests the apotheosis of Ho as the embodiment of the secular Marxist state. Prior to visiting the Mausoleum we gathered in a small building to view a video describing the architecture and symbolism. The Mausoleum is an abstract presentation of traditional Vietnamese architecture, built of marble and precious wood drawn from all parts of Vietnam. Begun in 1973 and finished in 1975 it contains the embalmed body of Ho encased in a glass casket on top of a platform in a cold room guarded by soldiers standing at attention at the four corners of the casket. The Mausoleum is closed for two months each year when Ho’s body is sent to Russia for preservational treatment. Streams of Vietnamese march in file two by two in a steady stream as they enter the monument. Noticeable are the many children marched in double rank file for veneration of Uncle Ho. We were required to leave our cameras on the bus. Lining up two by two we proceeded into the tomb following a wreath with a ribbon emblazoned with our group’s CIEE initials and carried ceremoniously by a soldier to be placed at the entrance prior to our entering the tomb room. I found viewing Ho emotionally moving, especially in respect for his single-minded tenacity in achieving independence for his people through a brilliant combination of political and military strategy and tactics. The evening prior our group thought laying of a wreath was appropriate for American academicians. Three of our group were of the military and there was question if they would have objections. They did not. After emerging from the mausoleum I purchased a set of stamps commemorating the career of Ho and the battle of Dienbienphu.
After taking pictures of the Mausoleum we walked by the structure that had housed the French Governor General, now a government building. We proceeded to Ho’s home nearby, very spartan two-roomed quarters on the second floor with an opening to the outside conference room below. In Ho’s private rooms were an old windup clock and a radio of 1930 vintage. Ho’s home is located near a large pond where Ho would come and clap his hands to attract the goldfish for feeding. I recall a photo of Ho performing this ritual he enjoyed. We did the same with success clapping our hands and feeding the fish. In the immediate vicinity is the symbol of Hanoi, the One Pillar Pagoda constructed 1049 under the L:y Dynasty. It rests on a stone pillar that rises out of the lotus pool. We toured the nearby museum dedicated to the career of Ho and completed for his centenary birthday celebration. Exhibits chart his career with artifacts, displays, documents, letters, etc. Interesting for an American is the fact that from the Vietnamese perspective, even with Ho’s career, American involvement is only one phase. In terms of the history of Vietnam American involvement is a footnote while for us it is an explanation point. On leaving the museum I had made the prior comment to a military historian in our group and she thought the comment apt.