Conceptually, Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum is very much like the Lenin mausoleum in Red Square. You stand in line for ages, and eventually you’ll get to file reverentially past a recumbent waxwork, in 30 seconds flat. Except that the Lenin mausoleum looks like a mere Portakabin compared to Uncle Ho’s vast edifice. I guess this means that – when it comes – Fidel Castro’s will be the size of a football stadium. Gotta keep up, boys!
Actually, I shouldn’t be too sneery. Filing past the body of the spiritual father of modern day Vietnam was a surprisingly moving experience. I definitely felt some sort of ocular pricking sensation, as I thought to myself, “Well, Ho old boy – you did it, didn’t you? You saw off Uncle Sam! Respect!”
This serves me right for never researching stuff in advance (I like the thrill of surprises too much, you see – nothing to do with congenital intellectual laziness at all, honest). As I later found out, Uncle Ho actually popped his clogs in 1969 – well before the routing of Uncle Sam in the mid-1970s. So the ocular pricking was a tad misplaced after all. Ah well, plenty more chances for that sort of thing later in the trip.
As for Hanoi’s Ho Chi Minh museum: never before have I visited a museum that was quite so stark, staring bonkers, albeit in a wholly endearing way. They had clearly given some Vietnamese Stephen Bayley type complete conceptual and artistic freedom to do whatever he wanted, and the result was…bizarre. Instead of a boring old chronological biography of the great man’s life and times, various attempts had been made at “symbolic representations” of the preoccupations of his era. There was a lot of badly reproduced Dada/Surrealism – giant fish, that sort of thing – on account of Ho’s early years in Paris. Unfortunately, it all looked like a poorly executed GCSE art project. There was a giant bowl of artificial fruit, resting on a wonky table, to represent “the spirit of the youth of Vietnam”, or some such. No, me neither. Great fun, anyway.
In the evening, we sit on tiny plastic kindergarten chairs on the pavement (these are ubiquitous, throughout the entire country), and witness our only street brawl of the trip. Predictably, it involves a drunken Englishman watching the football on TV (English soccer is big in Vietnam). No police arrive, and the brawl soon sorts itself out. We never really see many police. The country is so peaceful, and so crime-free, that they don’t seem to be needed much.