The next stop on our tour of entombed Communist leaders led us to Ho Chi Minh. Seeing “Uncle Ho” lying in a permanent state of waxy build up made me think about how different our reaction to the Communist propaganda has been: in Russia it had an old-school charm, in China it was amusing – all these people with their little red books. But in Vietnam it’s rather unsettling.
Tina pointed out that in Russia and China, the propaganda was about farmers and factory workers – the common man. Whereas in Vietnam, the propaganda was about fighting for the country – fighting America. It became personal. Not in a “how dare they think that about us” way, but more of “I’m really sorry we had something to do with this” kinda way.
Visiting the tomb was really similar to Lenin’s. They march you down an incline and through the dark room with the body. One guard pushed me because I was walking too slowly. You only get about a minute to view the body since you can’t stop. But since he is just lying there, you would think that is plenty of time. However, you are so engrossed, or just grossed out, that you spend all that time trying to decide if it’s real or not – so you never get to really “look” at him. You get focused on the details, not the experience.
* * *
After Ho, we wandering around the Temple of Literature then stopped for lunch at KOTO, a pretty hip place with a social cause. KOTO stands for ‘know one, teach one’ and uses its proceeds to help former street kids get on the right track. We then walked back to the Old Quarter to book a tour for Halong Bay. The tour was three days, and not wanting to spend another day in Hanoi, we looked into getting night train tickets for when we got back from Halong Bay.
We had the hotel get tickets through a “black-market” source when we learning that some trains were sold out. After paying for the tickets, we explained that we were heading out the next morning for the bay and would be returning a few hours before the train left Hanoi so we wanted our tickets before we left. The guy at the hotel said we could get them later that night. But after dinner (at a pricey and rather mediocre restaurant) he said we could get them the next morning.
After packing and checking out the next day, we still didn’t have our tickets – and the guy wasn’t there to explain himself. One of the hotel staff called him and handed me the phone. I asked where our tickets were and he said he was outside the office waiting for it to open. I explained our ride was coming shortly and we either needed the tickets our or money. He said we could have our money back.
That, however, would have put us in a possibly worse situation. We could get our money back, and show up in a few days and find the train was sold out. Or we could just get them when we got back. It was even more complicated for Shirin who had less time in Vietnam so she had to leave that night to keep on schedule. And if she couldn’t get her ticket, she needed to book a flight before we left for the bay.
I hesitated answering him and he suddenly said the place was open and hung up. About five minutes later he ran into the hotel still wearing his helmet and handed me our vouchers – not actual tickets – that we were to turn in at the station for real tickets. They were handwritten and looked like photocopies. He said we needed to trust him. We did have a legitimate receipt, and he had been really helpful with other things so we took a chance. A moment later the bus to Halong Bay picked us up. We left hoping things would work out. Thankfully they did.