Hanoi Surprise

lake  ho hoan kiemHanoi We arrived here last evening to the acrid smog and smoke of fires in the countryside as rice husks were being burned in piles for kilometers near the airport.  We felt coming into Hanoi like we were on bridges with grades up and down for kilometer after kilometer around water we could  not see and and houses built as if to be prepared for flooding.  This was not Ho Chi Minh City, the Asian plan Paris of the French, but a jumble of streets with twists and turns everywher leaving us dizzy by the time we were dropped off near our hotel.

This morning at dawn was a glorious surprise.  Navigating the ally ways out to a main street past the clam washers and street butchers and fruit sellers, I turned first into an old Catholic Church and walked in to hear the 30 or 40 congregants singing beautifully along with the litany as I snuck out, cap in hand.  I saw a jogger heading down the next large street and followed along behind and within blocks saw the numbers swell to thousands.

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War Remnant Museum

war remnants museum photoHo Chi Minh City At dawn we walked through markets opening and scores of sidewalk vendors making hot coffee and noodles to workers already up and ready for a break.  At the Cathedral we listened to women singing in front of the statue of Mary as the sun broke the humidity, and then made our way past sidewalk badminton players to begin our meetings in government buildings reminiscent of French colonial architecture with landmarks composed of giant, modern skyscrapers like the soon to be completed Hyundai building.

A break  in the schedule was filled with a visit to the newly named War Remnants Museum (formerly War Crimes Museum we heard) which packed three floors worth of horror largely centered on the “war of American aggression” as some of the posters referred to it.  For some of us, like Drummond Pike and myself, who came of age in the protests of the Vietnam Era, he as a student government president at the University of California at Santa Cruz and me as a 19-year old dropout organizing draft counseling centers in New Orleans and Massachusetts and protesting from the UN to the Pentagon, this was a moving and depressing house of horrors, though surprisingly well done and less didactic than these brief notes would lead you to believe.

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