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Vietnam - Hanoi

This is Lenin Park, one of the last monuments to one of the most misguided and misunderstood philosiphers of our time. It's a nice park, and my favorite in Hanoi. There are quite a number of parks in Hanoi, and I'd rate Hanoi as a pretty green city.
This is one of the very weird displays in the HCM Museum. According to the signs it's supposed to show his enlightenment by combining a cave he spent some time in, with a map of the human brain.
This is the strangest exhibit in the museum. I never did figure out what it means, but the plastic apple on the table is about the size of my head.
This is the HCM mausoleum where Uncle Ho himself resides. This was built against his specific wishes. It was also built while people were starving in the country, which I suspect would have really pissed him off. You can't take photos inside, and I probably wouldn't have anyway. It was a bit creepy; not because I have any problems with death, but just because it was so counter to his wishes it seems a bit disrespectful to me.
This is the conference room where HCM and his associates planned most of the shellacking they gave the American Military. Ho lived in this small open air house that's about a stones throw from the old imperial palace. I think it started out as a gardener's shack or something. He didn't like the ostentatiousness of the palace, or at least didn't want to appear to like it. Not only that, I suspect the palace resembled the inside of an oven in the summer. It was a nice little place, the kind of place I'd live in if I had to pick a spot on that campus, but it was very hard to get an angle where I could photograph it well. The woodwork is all very simple, but nicely done. The house sits up on stilts, with this conference room on the ground floor and a very simple bedroom and study above that he lived in.
This is the bike gang in our first few days together, just in front of the conference room from the last photo. The two upper floors you can see above their heads is the entire residence. You can see the two rooms, and that's all there was for the living working space for the president of a soverign country. I'm inclined to think we should make all presidents live that way. The honor guards behind them do the stand still like a statue trick, which has always seemed a little silly to me. This shot gets everyone from the tour except myself and the bus driver.
Yes guys, this is in fact a communist country. The old hammer and cycle was pretty visible during Tet. The interesting thing about this photo though is the lighting level. Most of Hanoi looks either like this or darker at night. Most Vietnamese cities are even darker. Notice the moto-bikes parked on the sidewalks. You see that all over the place, and in fact that's the only place where you really can park them. There will be a guy sitting somewhere off behind them to park them and keep an eye on them. It typically costs around 3000 VND (.25 USD).
This is the fireworks display for Tet. This was a pretty good fireworks show, but it was foggy so we couldn't see much. Tet in Hanoi was like a very restrained New Years Eve celebration in the U.S. There were no drunks or wackos in attendance. Most parents brought their children out for one of a number of magic or acrobatic shows and the fireworks.
This was a heavy traffic day for Hanoi during preparations for Tet. The branches you see them selling are mostly Peach Blossom branches. Just about everyone has to have one during Tet to bring good luck for the following year. I even ended up with one in my hotel room, courtesy of the nice receptionist. I also saw thousands of people with very small orange trees that were all bearing fruit about the size of a golf ball. I'd been riding the Strange Machine about four days when I encountered this traffic outside my hotel. It's not as bad as it looks, since everyone here is just crawling along.
This is the Temple of Literature. It's the oldest standing institute of learning. It was a university where students went to learn Confucian ideals. Confucianism and Buddhism were very strong shapers of Vietnamese culture for a long time. This was built during one of the periods when Confucianism had the upper hand. In a nutshell, Confucianism is a very structured hierarchical belief system where everyone has a place, and everyone pretty much stays in their place. It doesn't allow for much of any social mobility, and it is entirely based on everyone giving complete loyalty to their ruler.
Most religions seem to end up with some kind of magic number. In Confucianism, the number is five although I can't quite remember what the five levels are. If you look at this beam structure, you'll see the five levels, and the hierarchical nature. There are several other architectural features of the building that feature the magic number of five.
The orange tree just in front of me is about double the size of the ones that you saw over all the place for Tet. Note the ubiquitous Joss Sticks, which are reputed to bring good luck. A lot of people keep a small shrine in their homes, and burn a few Joss Sticks from time to time, and especially during the important holidays. The 20th century has made an interesting variant on the shrine. There's a big market in small self contained shrines made of plastic and wood. They're decorated with what looks a lot like Xmas tree lights, and believers use these to pray and make offerings of food to the gods for luck. You'll see lots of those in people's houses or businesses.
This is the One Pillar Pagoda. It's construction is quite unusual. I'm not sure if there ever were any others, but there certainly aren't any left. This one was fairly recently restored since the French Army naturally felt inclined to blow it up on their way out of the city in 1954. Of course, this isn't the best piece of artwork the French Army ever destroyed, but it is fairly typical behavior for armies to deliberately destroy cultural relics either on the way into a country, or on the way out, or both.
Wandering at random in Hanoi lead me to lots of places where I don't think they see all that many tourists. School kids are always friendly everywhere I went. I took this photo during the first week, while I was still wandering around on foot. These kids had a great time looking at my camera, my guidebook and the other stuff I carry around.

While I was on my own I would occasionally go to a "nice" restaurant recommended by the guidebook or people at the hotel, but most of the time I just ate what the locals ate. Here is the traveling restaurant I ate at one day after I had just procured a LapLink cable. The meal was some kind of egg and rice noodle concotion with mint leaves and bamboo shoots. It cost 5,000 VND (.33 USD). It was quite good, and highly recommended. The basket on the right has a charcoal brazier that's used for cooking. Charcoal is used extensively for cooking in Vietnam.

The funny thing is that doing this for a few weeks completely ruined my perspective on money. When I ate at an upper class restaurant, I'd end up saying to myself "50,000 Dong, you guys are killing me". Of course, since that's 3.33 USD it isn't exactly breaking the bank<g>

The LapLink cable was a typical example of my Hanoi shopping experiences. I spent a week or two with it on the backburner trying various places to obtain it. I finally got wind of a street full of computer stores, and one of those had exactly what I needed. Said street was 1 1/2 blocks from my hotel, and I'd ridden my bike within 100 meters of the same shop at least 50 times, and right in front of it at least a dozen times.

There are a lot of people in Vietnam that carry stuff around on these pole over the shoulder gizmos for a living. It's a pretty hard way to make a living, but it's what they have and they do it. You would be amazed at the variety of things you see going down the road in one of these baskets. I always made it a point to try to buy my fruit and stuff from these people just because they are working so hard.

This is about 10 km outside Hanoi, following the Hang Song (Red River) south. This shows a Christian (most likely Catholic) church. The Catholics came along with the French and were instrumental in the overthrow of the old government, and quite active in controlling and setting policy for the Colonial system. This was true everywhere the Europeans went, not just in Vietnam. Personally, I think they have a lot to answer for. One interesting thing is that the communists tried hard to wipe the Catholic faith out between 1975 and now without much effect. Like most faiths, trying to wipe it out just drives it underground, and when they officialy lightened up the churches were filled up almost instantly.

I never got any good examples of it on film, but one peculiar thing that people do is paint just the front of their houses and leave the sides unpainted. So lots of times you'll crank through a town and a lot of the houses look really new and nice from the front, but the sides look old and run down.

These are some rice paddies on the other side of the road from the buildings shown just above. As you follow the road south, you run into alternating rice paddies and vegetable farming regions. The buildings you see in the back are a small town sort of thing, and the towns got smaller and smaller as I went along. After I'd gone about 30 km from the city I turned across the farms and rode through some of those tiny little towns, and even stopped in one for a soda. You can bet that I was out of Tourist Land at that point.
I rode across this bridge, and I think it's the longest bridge I rode over in Vietnam, extending a few km. I was on a bicycle lane along the bottom side closest to the camera. Once across, I ran into another suburb of and just kept on going. Naturally, I had left the area my map covered before I got to this bridge and had no idea where I was, but figured "how hard can it be to find Hanoi?". I guess the answer must be "not too hard" because I made it back before it even got dark.