Wednesday, May 27, 2015

A Bit of History

Yesterday I hired a guide and it was a really good move!  He took me to this little alleyway street food place for lunch and it was the best thing I've had to eat for a very long time!  30,000 vnd, which included ice tea.  So I guess that's about $1.50.

The eating was after a fairly greuling tour of the so-called "Hanoi Hilton" which was actually a horrible French prison built back in the late 1800s.  There's only a little bit left, but it was enough.  The French were undoubtely some of the worst colonists ever, and that's a tough competition to win.  My guide told me they killed something like 2 million Vietnamese by starvation - exporting nearly all of the rice, back before the war.
The photo below shows how the prisoners were kept - shacked by one ankle all day long.  Except for the really uppity ones.  They were kept in isolation and shacked by both ankles.  

I don't know about you, but I'd never encountered an actual guillotine before!  Holy shit.  It's one thing to read Tale of Two Cities - quite another to see one in person.  There's a photo there of three faces with baskets around first I didn't know what I was seeing.  Then I read the caption and realized these were just heads - severed from political activists and put out on display to discourage the locals from rebelling.  Didn't work.

The museum focused much more on the French than the Americans, but there were photos of the captured pilots.  Supposedly they were treated relatively humanely.   At least compared to the Vietnamese prisoners of the French.    

After the Hanoi Hilton we walked over to the Women's Museum and I got another dose of Vietnamese reality.  Basically the women are the backbone of the country.  The do most of the hard physical labor it seems, so that the menfolk have time for alcoholism and gambling.  
So this is what a communist mother goddess looks like, apparently.  

There was one video that had interviews of all these different street vendors - all women - who have to come into Hanoi and work from 3:30am to 7pm trying to sell shit on the streets to make enough to bring home.  They only get to see their families once every few weeks.  It's really hard and cruel and made me think twice about ever haggling with them - store keepers yes!  But not these women who carry two baskets hanging from a pole across their shoulders.

I think my favorite was all the propaganda posters depticting women.  They couldn't have kicked our asses (nd the French) without the women totally making it happen.
And there was something about this photo I found very compelling.  You rarely see these women smiling - at least not in the war photos.  Or maybe I'm just a sucker for a pretty girl holdig a machine gun?
The woman's museum also featured many many displays of tribal costumes and lots of jewelry.  Very impressive but there were 6 or 7 floors - and the stairways were NOT airconditioned, so by the end I was sadly losing interest in that really cool stuff that goes on when people aren't trying to kill the Vietnamese.
And finally, sitting on the tiny plastic stools,  lunch....


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