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From Zumba to Water Puppets

October 28.  As is often the case, one of the highlights of the day was not even on the itinerary.  Carol and I arise early and head off towards the lake.  En route, we encounter in close proximity, but seemingly oblivious to one another, badminton, tai chi, Zumba dancers, soccer games, ballroom dancers and more.  It’s an incredible scene and Carol and I marvel and smile for about 45 minutes straight.

After breakfast with Chet and Nancy at the hotel, Hoan takes us an orientation tour of this French accented city with pride tree line Boulevard’s in colonial architecture. We pass Hoan Kiem lake in the heart of the city, where legend has it that in the 1400s a deity arose from the lake and reclaimed the magic sword of them for Emperor Le Thai To, which he had used to drive the Chinese from Vietnam. We also see the marvelous Temple of Literature, founded in 1070 and dedicated to Confucius – it later became Vietnam’s first university and today remains an active place of worship. A group of recent college graduates were there to celebrate.

We visit Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum, a massive granite tomb complex inspired by Lenin’s mausoleum in Moscow. Hoan gives us an excellent, concise history of Vietnams occupancy by other countries in the past 2000 years.

Interestingly, Ho Chi Minh wish to be cremated, but the nation so mourned him that they chose to construct this edifice to house his remains. Inside, Ho Chi Minh rests in a glass sarcophagus visible to onlookers (but not to us, because it’s being repaire). We also see the bright-mustard French colonial presidential palace, and the 1000 year old one pillar pagoda, built on a single stone pillar to resemble a lotus blossom.  (You probably notice that I take few photos of buildings and monuments, because I find them pretty boring to photograph, though sometimes interesting to visit.)

We stop at the terrific Fine Arts Museum, where Hoans commentary on everything from the art work to Buddhism greatly enhances our enjoyment of the work.

After stopping for (an air conditioned) lunch, we we proceed to visit the Hanoi Hilton (or Maison Centrale).  The infamous Hoa Lo Prison was built by the French in the early 20th Century and was given the name Hanoi Hilton by American prisoners of War held here during the Vietnam War.
The signs in the prison talk about how horribly the French treated the Vietnamese who were held there and how well the Vietnamese treated the American prisoners.  There’s a photo of John McCain in a hospital bed being tended to.

Following this, we take a one hour cycle ride (we are cycled in buggies) through the narrow streets of the Ancient Quarter (more commonly called the “36 Streets District”), where goods of all types are bought and sold, along side houses and temples. There are so many shops, in fact, that each has its own separate Street – Shoe Street, Paper Street— to help direct customers to their desired product.  The trip was quite harrowing, so I’m including photos to try to capture that and some of what we saw.

After the biking, we stop for a drink, then, in the late afternoon, we visit Vietnam’s most famous performance art form, the Water Puppet Theatre for a one hour show.  During the performance the puppeteers stand submerged in the water behind a screen and direct the puppets through the use of long sticks.  Traditional musical instruments are used to accompany the story, and the four of us found the music at least as entertaining as the puppets.
After the show, we returned back to the hotel to relax and clean up.  Walked to dinner on the lake.  Lots of activity, involving young kids and parades, and more dancing, on this Saturday night.  Dinner is just okay, but it’s a lively Saturday night experience.

We return to the hotel to pack, blog and sleep.

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