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HANOI VIETNAM (PHOTOS)

August 16, 2011

Freeing Myself  (A Poem)

One day the wind lifts me high
so I look down and see an ant
imprisoned in a multi-folder email box,
in a mobile phone ringing from time to time.

One day the wind lifts me high
so I look down and see a bird imprisoned in the praises of his flock,
in the limits of a sense of beauty pre-arranged.

One day the wind lifts me high;
the wind hands me a pair of wings
and tells me to free myself from wings
and fly above my thoughts.

By

Nguyen Phan Que Mai

Nguyen Phan Que Mai was born in 1973 in a small village in northern Vietnam, and grew up in the Mekong Delta, in southern Vietnam. She studied in Australia under a development scholarship from the Australian Government.  Nguyen currently lives in Hanoi and works with UN organizations to promote communications for sustainable development. She is the author of two poetry collections and the translator of six books of poetry., For her poetry she has received many honors, including an award from the youth newspaper Story about My Life in a writing competition (2007), an award from the Vietnamese Writers Association for outstanding contribution to the advancement of Vietnamese literature overseas (2010), the Poetry of the Year Award from the Hanoi Writers Association (2010), first prize in a poetry competition about Hanoi from the Vietnam Writers Association, Literature Newspaper, and Hanoi Television (2010), and an award from the Vietnam Writers Association, Literature Newspaper. and Hanoi Television for the translation of the poem “In Hanoi, Again,” by J. Fossenbell (2010).

HANOI

Given the political and historical importance of Hanoi and its burgeoning population of over three million, it’s a surprisingly low-key city with a more intimate appeal than brash, young Ho Chi Minh City. At its centre lies a tree-fringed lake and shaded avenues of classy French villas dressed up in jaded stucco, but the rest of Hanoi is bursting at the seams and nowhere is this more evident than in the teeming traffic and the vibrant, intoxicating tangle of streets known as the Old Quarter, the city’s commercial heart since the fifteenth century.

A handful of Hanoi’s more than six hundred temples and pagodas hail from the original, eleventh-century city, most notably the Temple of Literature, which encompasses both Vietnam’s foremost Confucian sanctuary and its first university. Many visitors, however, are drawn to Hanoi by more recent events, seeking explanations among the exhibits of the Military History Museum and in Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum for the extraordinary Vietnamese tenacity displayed during the wars of the twentieth century.

It seems like everyone  zips around on motorbikes rather than the deeply untrendy bicycle. The authorities are trying – with mixed success – to temper the anarchy with laws to curb traffic and regulate unsympathetic building projects in the Old Quarter, coupled with an ambitious twenty-year development plan that aims to ease congestion by creating satellite towns. Nevertheless, the city centre has not completely lost its old-world charm nor its distinctive character.

A STREET ON THE OUTSKIRTS OF HANOI

MOTOR BIKES ARE EVERY WHERE

STUDENTS GOING TO SCHOOL

MORNING SHOPPING

ON THE WAY TO THE MARKET

A COW STRAPPED TO THE BACK OF A MOTOR CYCLE OUTSIDE OF HANOI

ON THE ROAD

CHAOTIC TRAFFIC IN HANOI

FOOD VENDOR ABOUT TO SET UP SHOP

FRESHLY PREPARED

BICYCLE SHOP IN HANOI

FURNITURE STORE IN HANOI

LIGHTING STORE HANOI

SILK ARTISTS AT THE HONG NGOC HUMANITY CENTER - A TRAINING CENTER FOR THE DISABLED AND HANDICAPPED

HOAN KIEM LAKE, HANOI -A pleasant park in the center of town, within easy walking distance from anywhere in the Old Quarter. It's the locals' favorite leisure spot, and a great place to watch people practicing tai chi in the morning or to sit and read in the afternoon. Hoan Kiem means "returned sword", and the name comes from a legend in which King Le Loi was given a magical sword by the gods, which he used to drive out the invading Chinese. Later, while boating on the lake, he encountered a giant turtle, which grabbed the sword and carried it down to its depths, returning it to the gods from whom it had come.

RESTAURANT AT HOAN KIEM LAKE  HANOI                                                                                                        A RESTAURANT AT HOAN KIEM LAKE    HANOI

FLOWER SCULPTURE AT HOAN KIEM LAKE - HANOI

A RAINY EVENING IN THE OLD QUARTER HANOI

A SHOP IN THEOLD QUARTER OF HANOI

Thang Long Water Puppet Theater, across the street from the shores of the Hoan Kiem Lake. A visit to the water puppet theater is a real highlight of a trip to Hanoi. Live musicians accompany folk legends from Vietnamese history, told with wooden men, women and dragons, dancing and splashing on the face of the water. The narratives are sung in Vietnamese,

TRADITIONAL VIETNAMESE MUSICIANS

Water puppet performances started back in the days when Hanoi had periodic floods during the monsoon season. The preamble to the show states that the farmers started this as entertainment during those times and thus, most of the themes reflect life as peasants – agriculture, fishing, and the odd folk tales thrown in.

Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. The city down south may have his name, but only Hanoi has the man himself, entombed in distinctly Lenin-esque fashion – against his wishes, but that’s how it goes. No talking, revealing clothing (shorts should be knee length and no exposed shoulders), or other signs of disrespect allowed while viewing; photos are allowed only from outside, in the grand Ba Dinh Square. Purses are allowed into the tomb, The mausoleum is closed for a couple months around the end of the year, when the body is taken abroad for maintenance.

HO CHI MINH MAUSOLEUM

PEOPLE ENTERING HO CHI MINH'S MAUSOLEUM

CHANGING OF THE GUARD AT HO CHI MINH'S MAUSOLEUM

GUARD AT THE HO CHI MINH MAUSOLEUM

HO CHI MINHMUSEUM - Ho Chi Minh Museum provides a comprehensive overview of the man’s life and work and his vision of peace and happiness. It’s informative, but understandably overlooks some of the more risqué episodes in his life.

Central room with the enormous statue of Ho Chi Minh His hand is raised in the symbolic gesture of learning with the sun behind him rising through the clouds.

Ho Chi Minh’s Vestige In The Presidential Palace Area. The exit from the mausoleum takes you right into the grounds of the, uh, vestige, where Ho Chi Minh lived and worked from 1954 until his death in 1969. The nicely landscaped complex includes two of Ho Chi Minh’s houses, kept shiny and “as he left them” by the authorities, as well as a garage with two of Ho’s “used cars” and a carp-filled pond.

PRESIDENTIAL PALACE - French Governor-General of Indochina house - Located to the north of Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum, this wonderful building was built between 1900 and 1906 to house the French Governor-General of Indochina. When Vietnam achieved independence in 1954, Ho Chi Minh refused to live in the grand structure for symbolic reasons, although he still received state guests there, and he eventually built a traditional Vietnamese stilt house.

HO CHI MINH'S HOUSE

HO CHI MINH'S STUDY

HO CHI MINH'S DINING ROOM

HO CHI MINH'S BEAUTIFUL CARP FILLED POND

HO CHI MINH'S CAR ( ONE OF TWO)

HO CHI MINH'S CAR (SECOND OF TWO)

ONE PILLAR PAGODA

The One Pillar Pagoda is located inside Thang Long, the ancient capital of Vietnam, now is known as Hanoi. The One Pillar Pagoda is considered as an architectural gem unique to Vietnam.
According to the court document, the Emperor Ly Thai Tong was childless and one night he dreamt that he met bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara who sat on a lotus blossom and gave him a son. Ly Thai Tong then married with a peasant girl who had met before, and then he has a son with her. To expressed a great attitude to the goddess, in 1049, the emperor built the One Pillar Pagoda based on a suggestion of a monk who named Thien Tue. The One Pillar Pagoda was constructed by erecting a stone pillar in the middle of lotus pond which was alike the one he saw in his dream. The One pillar pagoda was built of wood and its architecture was designed to resemble a lotus blossom which is a Buddhist symbol of purity. During Ly dynasty, one pillar pagoda was a place for annual royal ceremony on the occasion of Vesak, the birthday of Gautama Buddha. In 1954, One Pillar Pagoda was burned by the French Union forces after the First Indochina war while withdrawing from Vietnam. It then was reconstructed based on the old oneOne-Pillar Pagoda, (Tucked away between the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and Museum).

ONE PILLAR PAGODA

ONE PILLAR PAGODA (DETAIL)

ONE PILLAR PAGODA

ONE PILLAR PAGODA - The altar in the small shrine A gilded figure of Quan Am sits in the dim interior upon lotus blossoms. The lotus throne in Buddhist iconography is reserved for those who have obtained "perfect comprehension."

OFFERINGS BEING MADE AT THE ONE PILLAR PAGODA

HOA LO PRISON (THE HANOI HILTON)

Hoa Lo Prison (The Hanoi Hilton). This prison was built by the French at the turn of the 20th century, in classical French prison design. This is where the French imprisoned and executed many of the Vietnamese freedom fighters. Now a museum (2/3 of the prison was torn down to make way for the Hanoi Towers), the museum exhibits the brutal French colonial regime and the struggle of the Vietnamese people against imperialism in chilling detail. The prison was also known as the “Hanoi Hilton” during the Vietnam War as it held American POW’s shot down. Little emphasis is given to this period however, and the exhibits shown can be frustratingly skewed in propaganda, choosing to show solely propaganda photos of prisoners being treated well and playing basketball, playing chess, and other staged events. They also claim to have John McCain’s flight suit from when his plane was shot down.

The prison displays focus on the sufferings of Vietnamese revolutionaries who were confined (and sometimes executed) here, when the French were the masters of Vietnam in the early part of the 20th century.

Hoa Lo Prison is worth a visit, if only to experience the colonial experience as the Vietnamese see fit to tell it, and guess at the stories untold by the silent walls and shackles on prominent display.

What you see of the present-day Hoa Lo Prison is actually only the small southern section of the entire prison complex back in the day; most of the prison was demolished in the mid-1990s to make way for the Hanoi Towers, a shiny office and hotel complex so steeped in capitalism it would have horrified Ho Chi Minh.

The present-day complex can be entered through the gate on Hoa Lo Street, known by Vietnamese inmates as “the Monster’s Mouth”. This door is emblazoned with the words Maison Centrale, or “central house”, a common French euphemism for city prisons. (The prison in Conakry, Guinea is still known as Maison Centrale to this day.)

STAIR CASE TO THE SECOND FLOOR CELLS

ENTRANCE TO THE HANOI HILTON

A large iron gate that looms over the room. The gate used to stand at the "mouth of the monster" (the front door through which visitors troop through to enter Hoa Lo Prison); today, this massive steel hulk is the main attraction in a room that introduces visitors to the cruelty and horror experienced by prisoners in Hoa Lo.

SHACKLED PRISONERS IN STOCKADE "E", HAO LAO PRISON -The "E" stockade is a long room with life-size models of Vietnamese prisoners shackled in two rows, with the latrine on one end of the room. As one can imagine from the picture, life as a political prisoner in Hoa Lo was no picnic. Prisoners were confined in horrifying conditions, fed rotting food twice daily, and were allowed only fifteen minutes' respite from their chains every day. Academic Peter Zinoman, writing in his book The Colonial Bastille: a History of Imprisonment in Vietnam, 1862-1940, SHACKLED PRISONERS IN STOCKADE "E" HAO LAO PRISON

PRISONER IN SOLITARY CONFINEMENT -The cachot, or dungeon, where dangerous or suicidal prisoners were kept in solitary confinement. In each narrow cell, a prisoner was shackled to the concrete floor, and the area was kept under tight guard.

IN THE OUTSIDE AREA IS THE SEWER USED IN AN ESCAPE IN 1951 -Once you exit the solitary area, you will walk down a long outdoor corridor where several memorials to Vietnamese prisoners stand, including a sewer through which five Vietnamese death-row inmates escaped on Christmas Eve in 1951. Hoa Lo was never "escape proof" despite its fearsome reputation - several successful jailbreaks were recorded throughout the prison's long history. Prisoners once managed to to walk right out of the prison door; in the confused transition between French and Japanese authority at the close of World War II, some prisoners simply changed out of their prison clothes and casually made their escape.

PORTABLE GUILLOTINE -A guillotine stands against one wall to underscore the gruesome executions that took place here; a vintage photograph of three guillotined heads is posted next to it. This particular guillotine was portable - its personal best was known to have taken place at Yen Bai Prison, where eleven members of a nationalist group died by its blade.MEMORIAL WALL HOA LO PRISON - the largest outdoor area in Hoa Lo Prison: a memorial monument to the honored dead of the Vietnamese revolutionary movement. To Americans, this monument may present a jarring disconnect - after all, weren't we raised to believe the "Hanoi Hilton" was a symbol of oppression? But Hoa Lo Prison casts a different shadow on Vietnamese history - under the French, the prison was a crucible for revolution, and those who died in its unspeakable conditions are regarded today by the Vietnamese as martyrs. The American POW experience in Hoa Lo, which we will see next, merits but a small footnote in the history of the prison, and the history of Vietnam at large.PILOT EXHIBIT AREA SHOWS

JOHN McCAIN'S FLIGHT SUIT - The American POW experience in the "Hanoi Hilton" is entirely played out in the "blue room", also known as the pilot exhibit. The two galleries in the pilot exhibit show a highly sanitized view of POW life in Hoa Lo Prison.One gallery chronicles the harm visited upon Vietnam by American planes, and attempts to justify the imprisonment of the hundreds of American POWs, pilots who were shot down over North Vietnam and imprisoned in Vietnamese jails like Hoa Lo. John McCain plays a prominent part in this exhibit, as his captured flight suit stands at one end of the gallery and his personal effects are scattered throughout the exhibit.The second gallery purports to show average POW life in Hoa Lo, with pictures of clean-shaven and healthy American soldiers creating a rather glowing image of prison life. The images in this gallery are diametrically opposite of the accounts given by returning POWs like McCain and Robinson Risner; we see the Vietnamese government view of life in Hoa Lo, but nothing at all of the POWs' point of view.

PHOTOS SHOWING AMERICAN POW"S - THIS gallery purports to show average POW life in Hoa Lo, with pictures of clean-shaven and healthy American soldiers creating a rather glowing image of prison life.

PHOTOS BY:

LEONARD EPSTEIN

JANELLE BURGESS

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Karon Johnson permalink
    August 18, 2011 11:52 am

    Fantastico,

    What a wonderful travel log. You really can write. Thank you I really enjoyed it.

    Have finally decided I have to get up to speed with the social network. Otherwise

    I will become just another aging dinosaur. Not a good thought.

    All is well here. My love to you both. LVXO Karon

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