Hanoi to Hué – Ho Chi Minh and the Super Bowl

I looked it up. There has not yet been a single written article to focus its attention on both Ho Chi Minh, (locally) beloved, controversial uniter of the nation of Vietnam, and the Super Bowl, intergalactic championship game of American Football. Until right now.

We burst forth on the day after Super Bowl Sunday (that’s because we are now existing in your future) from our Hanoi lodging early in the morning to catch some Super Bowl action. We had previously identified a place called Jaspas which offered a breakfast bar (I’m listening…), a number of screens showing the big game (Let’s do that), and all-you-can-drink beer and bloody Mary’s (Sold!). Apart from the sign advertising this event, we didn’t really know what to expect.

IMG_3885The poster advertising the big game. Like you, I *also* was surprised to learn that Peyton Manning was playing.

I’ve always wondered what it would be like to watch the Super Bowl in Europe (where it starts after midnight) or Asia (where it starts early in the morning). Now I know. It’s a lot of fun; the gallon of beer didn’t hurt.

Having said that, I’m gonna admit something that my sons will laugh at but to which all my age contemporaries will nod in agreement. I can still drink as much as ever, but I just can’t do anything else afterwards. I remember a few years ago when I drank a few beers after work and then went home and ran five miles. After the mid-morning Super Bowl debauchery, I had to go back to our room and take a nap. Put a few beers in me and I’m only good for two things: telling stories and drinking more beer. And napping, I suppose, would be a third thing. I did all the first two during the game and the third after.

The game…everyone saw the game. Like you, I’m stunned at the final (meaningful) play call. Two of my favorite quotes by football people come to mind:

“If if‘s and but‘s were candies and nuts, we’d all have a Merry Christmas.”
– Don Meredith

“You are the team that your record says you are.”
– Bill Parcells

IMG_4126My first Tiger beer of the day, enjoyed at 0643. I washed it down with a great deal more beer.

The crowd at 0600 was all football fans, mostly with U.S. passports, along with a smattering of European fans and curiosity seekers. As the morning wore on, more casual fans started to appear, including a few locals at various levels of US football fandom. We met one hardcore guy who I talked with for a while because we are both fans of Jerome Bettis. This gentleman appeared as follows:

– Southeast Asian male, typical height and build. Approximately 40 years of age.
– Timberland-style yellow steel-toed work boots. Those aren’t too common in southeast Asia; this is the land of flip flops and Crocs.
– Washington Redskins satin “70’s DJ”-style jacket.
– Jerome Bettis Steelers jersey, black.
– Visible tattoos around the sides and back of his neck. I imagine the covered bits were also well-inked.
– Hook, rather than a hand, at the end of his right arm.

He was there with his wife and two sons to watch the game. I complimented him on his jersey. We shook lefty.

Jaspa’s Restaurant and Bar lives on the fifth floor of a nice, business-oriented hotel in downtown Hanoi. This place undoubtedly hosts many local and international business travelers, who occasionally stop in to the on-premises restaurant for a bite before their workday begins. As these folks started to arrive, they seemed quite surprised to find an American Football game being broadcast on 8 televisions throughout the room. They were even more surprised that at 0900, 120 drunk men were cheering loudly every minute or two.

Tip o’ the cap to Katie Perry and her lion puppet entrance.

Following the game, we headed for shelter and I took a nap. We puttered around after, and I wrote a blog post (these things take me a shocking amount of time to write; Becci less so). But we really didn’t do a whole lot else noteworthy that day. We watched, we rested, we created, we ate, we slept.

The following day held the promise and dread of a night train to Huế. Our train was scheduled to leave in the early evening, so we had a day to spend in Hanoi before moving in. But what to do?

One thing we hadn’t yet done was visit the large Ho Chi Minh memorial grounds located in the city. As I have mentioned in other posts, Ho Chi Minh is an omnipresent and mostly beloved figure in Vietnamese culture. I am not sure if he is truly beloved, or if the belovedness is forced and / or the result of heavy indoctrination. But he is truly omnipresent here; his face, for example, appears on every piece of currency circulated in Vietnam. He’s basically the analog of George Washington in America.

In downtown Hanoi, there is a large park containing multiple buildings, all related in some way to Ho Chi Minh, who lived from 1890 to 1969. In case you don’t know, Hồ Chí Minh was a Vietnamese Communist revolutionary leader, and was prime minister and president of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (e.g., North Vietnam). He was a key figure in the foundation of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam in 1945, as well as the People’s Army of Vietnam (PAVN) and the Việt Cộng (NLF or VC) during the Vietnam War.

He led the Việt Minh independence movement from 1941 onward, establishing the Communist-ruled Democratic Republic of Vietnam in 1945 and defeating the French in 1954 at the battle of Điện Biên Phủ. He officially stepped down from power in 1965 due to health problems, but remained a highly visible figurehead and inspiration for those Vietnamese fighting for his cause—a united, communist Vietnam—until his death in 1969. After the war, Saigon, the former capital of the Republic of Vietnam (the one that the U.S. was trying to keep from going communist), was renamed Hồ Chí Minh City. The name Saigon is still very widely used, however.

Ho Chi Minh remains a controversial figure in the U.S., but seems less so here in Vietnam. Forces under his influence slaughtered people and committed other human atrocities during the war to unite North and South Vietnam in the 1960’s and 1970’s. It is clear that there were Vietnamese people at that time who were not in favor of uniting the country under communistic principles, and that those people were often mistreated or slaughtered during this struggle for unification.

In Vietnam, there is no discussion whatsoever of that. The war to unite (or, from the losing side, not unite) North and South Vietnam is described in Vietnam today as the war of U.S. Aggression. There is no discussion of opposition from the South Vietnamese people, only mention of opposition by the colonial forces of the U.S. and Europe.

As Churchill said, “history is written by the victors”. And, to his credit and despite his methods, Ho Chi Minh did unify his country; Ho Chi Minh did force out European and American occupiers (after the U.S. forced out the Japanese occupiers). Think about that: he successfully led his countrymen in the defeat of two major world powers in order to unify the nation and remove the influence of other nations. He is rightly recognized as the father of a unified, sovereign Vietnam.

Anyway, there is a large building complex in Hanoi dedicated to this man. It’s all built around the house where he lived and it’s grounds. Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum is also there, and it is far larger than his home. They have also built the man a museum, albeit a rather strange one. There is even an old Confucian temple on these grounds.

IMG_4098The mausoleum containing Ho Chi Minh’s body, opened in 1976 with the assistance of the Soviet Union. Ho Chi Minh’s remains may be viewed here each morning that he is present, although he is sent away to Russia each November for two months of taxidermy.

IMG_4099One of the guards for Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum (foreground); mausolean (background, left). Each mausoleum guard wore all white, each had a white patent leather holster for his sidearm. We referred to them as iGuards.

I must say that Ho (can I call you Ho?) lived rather modestly for the father of his country. I was excited to learn that there was a garage on these grounds containing his old cars; I expected a fleet of something cool. Instead: three rusty, boring, old, no-name sedans. Not even picture worthy. I have a far better car collection.

Uncle Ho’s home was a modest, one story thing that is probably just a little bigger than Becci and my intentionally-small home in Nashville. He had six or seven small rooms. Although there is a great pond full of koi out front.

IMG_4102A shot of Ho Chi Minh’s home. It was small and modest, although he had a pretty nice pond out front.

IMG_4100Ho Chi Minh’s dining room. Uncle Ho’s home appeared to be pretty humble. Looks like he ate alone…just a man and his thoughts.

IMG_4101A large fish in the pond directly outside Ho Chi Minh’s house.

IMG_4105Buddha in front of a Confucian temple on the Ho Chi Minh memorial grounds.

IMG_4106Incense burning in front of the temple.

IMG_4104The changing of the guard is a fairly elaborate process at Ho Chi Minh’s place. In addition to the iGuards, which I believe based on their fancy uniforms, quantity (small), and proximity to the mausoleum to be at the top of the order, we saw two other styles of guards. These guys here were plentiful and had the simplest unis. They still put on a good show, however.

IMG_4103Now today we are gonna be marching up and down the square. Unless any of you have anything better to do. Does anyone have anything better to do than march UP and DOWN THE SQUARE?

Still having a couple of hours to kill before train time, we agreed to visit the Ho Chi Minh museum. Becci expressed a fear that this might turn out to be “the most boring museum evah!”. I was hopeful; Becci was correct.

The best part mighta been going through security, which at the HCM museum is like airport security, complete with metal detectors, x-raying the bag, etc. Our bag passed the test, and got stowed in a cubby behind the security desk. We payed our entrance fee ($2 a head) and were allowed through.

The first floor is nothing but enlarged photographs of groups of men in suits and uniforms. It was approximately as entertaining and informative as reading a software licensing agreement. Literally nothing of interest exists on the first floor of the Ho Chi Minh museum, except for the stairs that lead you away to something else. It’s a floor only a mother could love.

The second floor was infinitely better, but still barely coherent. It resembled mostly a modern art installation. I’m not sure what Ho Chi Minh himself would think of it, but I doubt he would get it. I admit that I did not. There are a number of displays, and they are somewhat interesting in their own right, visually. How most of them relate to Ho Chi Minh, I haven’t a clue.

There was one relevant installation that included many of his personal effects, alongside gifts that he had received from foreign dignitaries. These included watches, clocks, dinnerware, crockery, artwork, etc. This was OK, although inexplicably, all of the display cases were about 16-inches tall and were sitting on the floor. I had to crawl around on my hands and knees to see what was in there.

There were also some modern art pieces that attempted to provide analogies related to Ho Chi Minh and his philosophies. I feel that these suggested relationships are a bit strained. But the pieces were fun to look at. Lain York, do these make sense to you?

IMG_4128Uncle Ho statue in his museum.

IMG_4130I can’t really explain this sculpture, found in the Ho Chi Minh museum. I can however, quote from the amazing, surreal placard next to it:

“This symbolic fireworks and architectural detail depict both the festive atmosphere associated with victory over fascism, and mankind’s desire for peace. Other images highlight the building of new societies based on human happiness in people’s democratic countries, that are opposed to the Cold War and to regional wars launched by aggressive forces.

The success of the August 1945 revolution in Vietnam contributed to the shared victory, and the new world situation also created favorable conditions for the struggle by the Vietnamese people.”

IMG_4129This one’s even better, and is entitled “Ho Chi Minh and Young People”. And I quote:

“The symbols of nature in its beauty contrasts the image of industrial plants in this hall represent Uncle Ho’s expectation that young people shoulder the responsibility for the protection and preservation of peace and the environment, and prevention of aggressive and destructive wars.”

IMG_4174These were mostly a bunch of Ho Chi Minh’s personal effects and gifts given to him by foreign leaders, arranged in cases that sat conveniently at foot-height. That turned out to be perfect for the three year-old Vietnamese girl that I met here, but ironically she was more interested in my beard than in any of Ho Chi Minh’s stuff.

IMG_4127Confucius in a Confucian temple. The altars in most of these temples are covered with all sorts of gifts, including food, money, and household products. I thought about chugging one of those beers but decided against. As Becci has said almost every day, “Don’t get us thrown out of Vietnam!”

They threw us out of Uncle Ho’s place at quittin’ time, and we headed for the train station. It was finally time for us to take a night train down south to Huế.

Our night train travel record is 1-1, having failed miserably on the ride from Prague to Poland, but fared nicely on the ride from Chiang Mai to Bangkok (see earlier blog posts for those train-ridin’ tales). We wondered how this was gonna turn out, especially in light of the fact that we both had a top bunk this time around, and Becci’s back is on the fritz.

We got aboard the train about 45 minutes before our scheduled departure; we climbed aboard literally as soon as the doors were opened. Oddly, the folks occupying the two bunks underneath ours were already aboard, and were settled in like they had been there for hours.

They were a nice 60-something couple from the Netherlands, and we considered offering compensation to one of them to switch with Bex, so she wouldn’t have to make the top-bunk climb. Also, it turned out there was no ladder to get up there, just a single, small flip-down pedestal on the wall about three feet up from the floor. We hinted around about Becci’s back and she struggled to figure out how to climb up, but the folks from Holland made it clear that they were quite happy where they were, thank-you-very-much. We never even got to the bribing ’em stage.

But we both survived; nay we thrived! Despite a mostly sleepless night, we rode that train, we dozed here and there, we traversed ladderless bunks multiple times like champs. Huế was achieved.

We stepped out into the sunshine of this new city, and then the real fun began. In Huế we…oh wait. That’s a story for another day.

Love you guys. Out for now.

IMG_4131All aboard the night train.

1 reply »

  1. The Monty Python reference and the title of the blog post are some of the first pieces of original thought I have seen in quite some time~!

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