Vietnam: Emblems of war persist, but enmity is long gone
Because "war museum" and "mausoleum" can sound alike, especially if a pedicab driver speaks no English and his passenger no Vietnamese, a recent visitor to Hanoi found himself in a long line waiting to view the embalmed corpse of Ho Chi Minh, "He Who Enlightens."
The change in plans was acceptable. Although he had not been one of those Americans who chanted "Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh" during war protests in the turbulent 1960s - still less "Hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?" - the visitor had opposed the war and respected Ho's impulses more than he did Lyndon Johnson's. So, instead of heading for 28 Dien Bien Phu street and the Military History Museum, his original goal, the visitor stayed at the mausoleum in Ba Dinh Square.
It is a huge, gray temple, air conditioned against the fierce heat, and Ho's body is under glass and guarded by four soldiers in white uniforms. He died in 1969 and is said to have wanted not a mausoleum but cremation and burial of his ashes at three sites around Vietnam, north, central and south.
In the Presidential Palace Area near the mausoleum are more vestiges, as a tourist pamphlet put it, of Ho. The sparse dining room in the House of 1954, where he lived and worked from that year until 1958, has a table set for one. The workroom has portraits of Marx and Lenin, a small bust of Lenin, a collection of books and a clear desk.
The House on Stilts, where Ho lived and worked from 1958 until 1969, is also uncluttered. A metal air raid helmet sits behind three telephones, none of them red. A fish pond, orchards and a pergola complete the site except for the imposing Presidential Palace, formerly the seat of France's governor of Indochina. Acclaimed in the same pamphlet for his "simplicity, modesty, gentleness and dedication for the nation and the people," Ho seems never to have used the palace...
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