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While Lenin Read a Book of Marx

October 14, 2008

On Communism; Plus Hanoi Part 2

As a product of the end of the 20th century and a liberal arts school in the Pacific Northwest, I’ve never really seen communism as the hideous, threatening monstrosity that loomed over my parents and grandparents.  I mean, sure, I got that eerie tingle whenever someone mentioned the Cuban Missile Crisis, but overall, it just doesn’t really bother me.  In fact, when my conservative great-uncle referred to the members of our social justice-oriented Catholic church in Portland as a “bunch of commies,” I took it as a compliment.

But living in Hong Kong, a “Special Administrative Region” of China, and visiting Vietnam gives me a proximity to communism that facilitates a slightly different perspective of applied Marxist theory.  (Trivia question, courtesy of history buff Kathy T: can you name the 5 current communist countries in the world?)

For example: the New York Times just published an article revealing that the Chinese version of Skype is (and was, until now, secretly) monitored by a “huge surveillance system” that tracks key words used within the text function of the program.  Considering that I use Skype chat on an almost daily basis, I was alarmed.  Granted, I’m not generally discussing Falun Gong or Deng Xiaoping, and granted, the scope of the early Patriot Act may have condoned similar liberties while I was living in America, but still…it feels slightly more scary to imagine the Chinese police reading my instant messages.  At least if Michael Chertoff called me into his office, I’d be talking with him in his first language.

Another hot day in Hanoi

Another hot day in Hanoi

Let me leave this topic for now, though, and continue to report on the Vietnam trip.  Our third day in Hanoi consisted of a visit to Ho Chi Minh’s Masoleum, where the former President of Vietnam lies embalmed for everyone to see.  Honestly, I wasn’t that sad to find it was closed while we were there.  Gaping at a dead body, revered leader or otherwise, isn’t exactly my idea of a good time.  (In case you were wondering, the reason we couldn’t go in is because the Vietnamese government transports the body every year to Russia for a couple months, where it undergoes “procedures” to maintain its lifelike appearance.  For the record, Ho wanted to be cremated.)

Across the street from the mausoleum are the Presidential Palace, grounds, and the house in which Ho lived from 1958 until his death in 1969.  Famously, Ho refused to live in the Presidential Palace when he moved permanently to Hanoi, deeming it too grand; instead, he built a very modest home modeled after the traditional Vietnamese house on stilts.  This worked out well for Simon, because he loves climbing up and down steps.  After viewing the house, you walk over to see the still-producing garden that Ho planted, which is now tended to by a crew of volunteers, all sporting the ubiquitous conical hat of Vietnam.  By this point, the heat (and hordes of people determined to get a picture with Simon) were getting to us, so we moved quickly on to our next tourist stop: the One Pillar Pagoda.  It’s pretty much as advertised.

Vodpod videos no longer available.    The final stop for the morning was the Temple of Literature.  Now, you know it’s my kind of town when they actually have a religious structure dedicated to literature!  Actually, the name (orperhaps the translation) is slightly misleading; the Temple of Literature is more of a secular shrine to education and knowledge in general.  It contains a temple that honors Confucius, and it is also the former grounds of an elite school built in the 11th century to train gifted scholars in the ways of Confucianism.  Our guide told us a bit disjointedly about the significance of the place—she kept getting interrupted by the increasingly naughty antics of Simon, who felt he’d had enough sightseeing for the day—and so we may have missed some key points.  The turtles on which Simon is sitting in the photos support stone tablets listing the names of students who passed the rigorous civil service examinations, and since the tortoise represents longevity in Vietnamese culture, the idea is that the scholars’ achievements will live on.  You can definitely tell that Simon was deeply touched by this sentiment.

The last photo in the following gallery shows us bravely trying to make our way out to dinner later that night during rush hour.  Many motorbikes, tired of waiting in traffic (you can see the jam to the left) opted for driving on the sidewalk.  Yeah, don’t mind us, the pedestrians!

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Overall, we loved Hanoi.  The only glitch was our planned trip to Halong Bay, which was cancelled because of a typhoon–but not before we had driven 3 hours to the place where we were supposed to meet our boat.

I’m still holding out hope that the camera will turn up, which still has all the photos from Cambodia, but if not, I’ll post an entry with some pictures from Dave’s co-workers, who were there the same week as us.

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