Hanoi wasn’t as people made out. It was not a massive culture shock. It was just like any other city to me. I seemed to have been going through a slight phase of depression while here. I was seeking something exciting, something interesting, but with a bad patch of weather and little more than museums to look at, I didn’t really feel satisfied. It was hard to get my bearings, and in search of some interesting markets, I failed. In search of dog meat (which everyone says is abundant here), I failed. In search of duck embryo (not that I wanted to eat it, but wanted to see it), I failed. In search of happiness… I wasn’t going to find it here.
However what I did find was a dead president. Ho Chi Minh was a highly respected politcal leader of Vietnam, and is hailed as a demigod to this day through the North in particular. Despite this profoud respect for him, his last wish to have been cremated and have his ashes spread evenly thoughout the North, South and Central Vietnam was ignored and he was embalmed and perserved so that future generations could pay their respects.
So, we lined up for 30 minutes in a highly strict and secured order. In lines of two, with no cameras, no phones and no bags allowed. Guards at the front of the mausoleum had rifles with bayonets on them. You couldn’t stop to look at the dead “Uncle Ho”. You just had to keep walking through, not causing any disturbance. I haven’t seen any dead bodies before, and my first thoughts when walking out was “is that for real?!?”. He looked very waxy, and I’m still not 100% it was really him. He looked perfect, there was no signs of decomposing at all. Apparently for two weeks each year he gets sent to Russia for ‘maintenance’. I’d love to see how that operation takes place. All in all it was quite a bizarre experience.