Saturday, March 26, 2011

Ha Long, Hanoi

On leaving the Halong Bay we went through lots of villages – all dark and bleak. Coal dust covers everything. They use coal powder pressed into briquettes for cooking, mixed with clay and pressed into briquettes for heating, and mixed with sand and gravel to make building blocks. We stopped at the Bah Trap pagoda, “Tour du Pinceau” in French for some reason that escapes me. We got to Hanoi just in time to put our baggage in our rooms and set off for an early dinner, followed by a stroll through the old quarter, the 36 streets, where each street used to have a specialty, like silk or leather, but now it seems like it's all electronics, tourist souvenirs, and baggage. I wish I could remember the size of Emma's backpack that has been through its lifetime of travel; it can retire if a good replacement were found.
Early the next morning, we set off in pousse-pousse to go to the National History museum, where we got a concise visual reminder of the different periods and dynasties in Vietnamese history. Hanoi became the capital in 1010 and the king set up a mandarin elite, like the Chinese. So, it was a merit society in which the best elements from all over the kingdom were eligible to take the annual exam to enter the administration. To that end, he also created the Literary Pagoda, where the exams were held and the names of the doctors (our PhDs) were inscribed on steles. Before lunch, we stopped at the Tour du Nord, built to protect the city from the dragon from the north (China).
After an unexciting lunch, we went to the Ethnology Museum, which was very interesting. The ethnic groups are broken down by language groups; the Vietnamese make up 80% of the population and the other 20% are minorities of ancient migrant groups that originated in Indonesia (the Cham, for example) or southern China (Mao, Yao, for example) or Thailand. Further distinction comes from where they live: high mountains (H'mong), mid-mountains (Taÿ), valleys (Muong). The Vietnamese stick to the plains and deltas. Of course, this is over-simplified, but it gives a rough idea of how society is set up. We had just enough time to see the “Pagode au Pilier Unique” with a stop on the way at Ho Chi Minh's mausoleum This monument to Ho was built in contradiction to his most explicit wishes. In good  or Confucian tradition, he'll be venerated, then adored. We're getting a good education on this process, the same as in China, when the king died, a tomb, a model of the palace, was built for the king's spirit to live. And people pray to king and make offerings.

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