Thursday, June 21, 2007


First of all, I have not complained yet about the heat, but it is oppressive. And I think it's even worse today because we are in a big city and the asphalt and the exhaust and the lack of trees make it even worse. I am dripping with sweat ten minutes after I step outside, and I stand in front of fans inside museums. I wonder if this is something I'll adjust to, or if I'll still be this sweaty in five weeks.

Our last day in Siem Reap was fun because we took it pretty easy, and had some nice food and lots of free time to relax and pack up. We saw a silk factory and saw people selling fried crickets on the side of the road (we declined, but I have to admit our driver's bag smelled delicious). That was pretty much it.

We landed in Hanoi last night, and woke up this morning in a city. There are zillions of motorbikes on the road going every which way and following no clear traffic laws, which makes crossing the street terrifying. But undaunted we set off to hit the museums since they are supposedly closed on Fridays and we leave tomorrow night. This meant cabbing out to the less quaint part of town and getting lost wandering around a tourist-unfriendly part of the city. When I saw tourist un-friendly, i mean not well covered by our book and clearly not well-frequented. The people here are absurdly nice, with the exception of the guards by whom we kept getting yelled at. We visited Ho Chih Minh's mausoleum (note: I saw Mao's corpse when I was 11, and am officially declaring my retirement from the activity of dead-communist-leader-viewing), which was creepy but Laura wanted to do it. We then wandered around forever trying to find any place for breakfast, and settled for Vietnamese coffee (very strong with sweetened condensed milk) and peanuts sweetened with coconut juice (surprisingly tasty). We then visited the Ho Chih Minh museum, which was bizarre. The bottom floor had every scrap of paper he had ever written on, but no explanation of the contents of these papers, interspersed with photographs with quotations from Uncle Ho. The propaganda was laid on a bit thick. The second floor had all of these strange abstract representations of aspects of the revolution or Ho's life, including sculptures from parts of Picasso's Guernica to represent the worldwide struggle against fascism, and a huge table with fruit falling off of it, which we were told represented the possibilities of the youth or something. Laura's comment that the curatorial choices were a bit odd sums it up well.

We then went to the Army museum, which was created in the 1950's to house memorabilia from the uprising against the French, but then expanded to include artifacts from the US war. It was very interesting, both from a propaganda perspective (huge disclaimers about how they always supported the people in the south and about how evil that government was), and because outside they had a hut sculpture made out of downed US aircraft parts with a billboard in front commemorating the Vietnamese who had shot them down.

Finally, we hit the Hanoi Hilton, which was definitely my favorite site. From the perspective of the Vietnamese (rightly so), this structure is where the French colonialists tortured and guillotined men and women who were struggling against their rule. It is mentioned as a footnote that for about 9 years, US pilots engaged in criminal activity of bombing their cities were held here. The small portion of the exhibit dedicated to this bit is all about how well these people were treated, with every wash cloth and tooth brush they were given by the government laid out for display, and a large pamphlet explaining that the prisoners could sing songs about their hometown and read 'with no fear of brainwashing!'. We also saw John McCain's full flight suit and parachute he was wearing when he was shot down. It was a trip.

We walked around the central lake, and visited a Chinese buddhist temple on the island in the center of it. Even after reading the guidebook, we still don't understand why it's there.

We then visited the pool because (have I mentioned?) it is ridiculously hot here.

Fun stuff. Dinner soon!


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