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Day 88 – How You Must View Ho Chi Minh’s Body

May 30, 2010

Dateline: Hanoi, Vietnam – Sunday, May 30, 2010

Somehow, today was my first day on a motorbike in Hanoi. As with my other motorbike experiences, I had a blast.

I hit up Uncle Ho first. Because of my misadventure at the mausoleum a few days back, I knew I had to get there early. I arrived promptly at 9 a.m. and parked the motorbike in a lot on the mausoleum complex. That’s when I realized that I should have tried to get there even earlier.

It being a Sunday, the Vietnamese tourists were out in force. I barely saw any Westerners in the throngs. The line was somehow even longer than when I’d been there with Michelle and Ruben.

It took an hour and a half to get to Ho Chi Minh’s body (or wax replica of his body, if you believe conspiracy theorists). That may seem like a long time, but that’s actually not bad considering how many people were in line. It gave me a lot of time to observe the Vietnamese tourists.

First thing I noticed is that many of the kids were dressed up, especially the girls. Three-year-olds were in satin or chiffon dresses. This, despite the stifling heat. I couldn’t tell if it was just because we were all visiting the corpse of Vietnam’s George Washington and Thomas Jefferson combined, but it was remarkable.

Second, Vietnamese people have less of a taboo about cutting in line. Guards tried to keep people orderly, but the locals kept sneaking in whenever they got the chance. When the line had to break because it crossed a drive or walkway, guards would have to yell at people and physically remove them because they’d tried to slip in.

Other people would just march up through the line like there was no one in front of them. No one seemed to pay them much mind. Kids kept walking up the sides of the line because their little bodies could fit in the small gaps. Inevitably, a parent would be a few seconds behind following the lead block of their child–wouldn’t want to separate child from parent, after all. Just let ‘em through!

Vietnamese people also seem to have no problem shoving you aside if they want through. I kept feeling people press their hands into my back with the back of their palms or their open hands. Most of the time there’d be no shove, just light pressure. Even more often, people would swim move past me using their elbows. Small children would stiff-arm their way past my hip as if they were LaDanian Tomlinson before the wheels came off.

It wasn’t just me. It was Viet on Viet, too. If I didn’t keep actively pressing forward, I’d get passed. At one point I was walked behind two older Aussie ladies until I realized they were falling back in the line because they weren’t actively pressing forward. I ditched their shadow and joined the flow of the rest of the line.

This is just a preview of China, I’m sure. I’ve heard queue etiquette there is even less existent.

So, how was Ho Chi Minh? Well, he looks good for his age, considering that his age is “dead.” I can see why some people think he’s wax. He almost looks too good.

A tip on viewing the body. You want to be on the left side as much as possible. The circuit around the body goes counterclockwise and the left is the inside track. The guards will put the kids on the left side in a special line so they can have an unobstructed view. You should try to mimic them to try and achieve the same effect.

There’s an added bonus to being on the inside: no shoving guards. That’s right. If you’re on the outside, you’ll be in reach of the guards who, in an effort to keep the line moving, will literally pull you along. Swim to the middle if you can to avoid men in dress whites grabbing at your arm. Unless you’re into that kind of thing.

The Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum complex also contains the One Pillar Pagoda, the Ho Chi Minh Museum, and a stilt house that once served as his residence. The One Pillar Pagoda is just that: a pagoda on one pillar of concrete. Originally built in 1049 to resemble a lotus blossom, the colonial French destroyed the original in 1954 just as they left Hanoi. The new Vietnamese government rebuilt the pagoda, which was intended to honor Am Bo Tat, the Goddess of Mercy, who reportedly gave Emperor Ly Thai Tong a male heir.

The One Pillar Pagoda looks like a bit like a birdcage on a stand. It’s pretty, I guess. It is not a highlight of this trip.

The Ho Chi Minh Museum is a bit surreal. I skipped all the historical stuff and headed upstairs where there’s a big statue of the man himself, just in case you haven’t seen what he looks like since you’ve been in Vietnam. There are also modern art depictions of various events associated with the man. They are very symbolic. So symbolic that they’re indecipherable.

There seems to be inadequate air circulation in the museum. As you know, this greatly affects my enjoyment of a place. Sadly, this was true for this museum, which could have been fun what with all the strange art. Given the conditions, though, I hustled through and headed out of the complex.

I was hot and just HCM’ed out enough that I skipped the stilt house. Oh well.

From there, I put my motorbike to good use by buying a train ticket to Nanning, China at the train station, visited a café near St. Joseph’s Cathedral, then hit a movie on the south side of town.

Yup. I indulged myself and saw Iron Man 2. A quick review: it didn’t suck. That may not seem like high praise, but I intend it to be. It should have sucked. The trailers suggested that there were going to be too many new characters, too much mindless action, and too many subplots. It felt like the previews to Spiderman 3.

Iron Man 2 worked, though. As a popcorn flick, it moved and kept me interested. It never felt slow or belabored. The dialogue was snappy and Downey nailed Tony Stark once again. Mickey Rourke was menacingly effective, a feat considering that the only thing that still moves on his face are his lips, and those just barely.

Hopefully, the next sequel pares down the cast a bit. If there’s even one more new character this thing will die of bloat.

I read that Ho Chi Minh wanted to be cremated and his ashes scattered over anonymous rice fields in Vietnam. Now he’s better preserved than a jar of pickles encased in amber. Tourists come the world over to gawk and the debate the authenticity of his corpse. What a way to go, no?

Made me think that I should get my death orders straight, so let me take the chance to get this in writing. If you can find my body, cremate me. The scatter me somewhere random. Maybe in a garbage dump or somewhere over the Pacific.

If you feel you have to put me somewhere I’ll be “close,” then sprinkle me in the garden in the family backyard where you’ll grow crops from my remains and eat me during dinner someday. If I’m going to be close, I’d like to be real real real close. Otherwise, cremate and scatter.

If you can’t find my body, don’t spend a ton of money looking for my cell bits. Hell, don’t spend any money on a search. My body don’t care. Leave me there to scare some hikers a few years from now. The thought of that more than outweighs any sentimentality I might feel about me being “found.” In fact, it’ll brighten up my last few moments of consciousness.

Whew. Wasn’t that fun? No?

Then go see Iron Man 2. It probably sucks less.

GALLERY: Click through to today’s gallery to see more modern art, coffee and a café, and more pictures of the birdhouse pagoda.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. sally permalink
    June 4, 2010 1:53 pm

    how is it that we’ve been friends for 21 years and i didn’t know till now that we want our bodies to be disposed of the same way?

    • June 4, 2010 10:52 pm

      Perhaps it’s because our relationship has always revolved around optimistic, sunshiney topics and we’ve been avoiding anything that will bring us down.

      • sally permalink
        June 5, 2010 8:31 pm

        Yes, again, we are the most optimistic people I know.

      • June 6, 2010 3:56 am

        See, even that’s an optimistic statement!

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