Friday, October 07, 2011

Up close with Uncle Ho

A friend just got back from Vietnam with pasalubong of Uncle Ho trinkets. And I remembered this, from a 2004 travel piece I did for the paper:


YOU CAN'T VIEW Ho Chi Minh's body if you're in a sleeveless shirt. Ditto if you're wearing shades. You can't take a camera or cell phone with you or talk while filing past the glass crypt. And no arms akimbo either... Visiting the imposing Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum in Hanoi, we were made aware of the niceties required to view the body of the late great warrior.

Entering the sanctum where his remains lay was a spookily fascinating experience. The light was a dim red, the honor guard in their immaculate white garb stood unmoving on all four sides of the bier, and Uncle Ho in his glass crypt looked eerily ethereal. His embalmer (or is it wax caretaker?) did a good job.

That's when a guard by our side brusquely grabbed our arms and brought them down. We had them crossed on our chest (it was freezing inside), and we were being disrespectful. Even in death, Uncle Ho is a stern leader.

Afterward, we went out blinking in the sunshine and were led to a row of shops on the mausoleum grounds. They were selling Uncle Ho busts and figurines, Red Army shirts, hammer-and-sickle pendants, Che Guevarra prints. Capitalism has caught up big-time with Uncle Ho and his country. If we don't watch out, we may be eating dust soon.




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