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Saying Hello to Uncle Ho

If Vietnam were a buddy cop movie, Hanoi would be the uptight, slightly staid and always-by-the-book man, while Saigon would be played by Eddie Murphy.

I went there – Hanoi – to see a dead man. Ho Chi Minh shuffled off our mortal coil in 1969, leaving a will requesting his cremation. They didn’t listen.

He lays in a monolithic mausoleum in a huge open square, where I stood with hundreds of others. Slowly we shuffled forward like a North Korean breadline. Broad shouldered young military men in pristine white uniforms watched us closely, gruffly gesturing at those wearing hats to remove them.

We shambled like a sad conga up a winding staircase until we reached the room in which he lay. It was high-ceilinged, with long deep red drapes covering the walls.

We didn’t, were not allowed to stop. You move along 3 sides of the room, staring at the fourth, where Ho lays in a raised glass coffin, flanked by four guards. 

There is a rumour that somewhere in the hazy past the real body was lost (a terrifying admission for a private to make to his superior, I’m sure), and that he was replaced with a dummy. If so, they went somewhere superior to Madame Tussards. The details of a lived in face are all there.

The mood was sombre and I felt like a voyeur at a funeral. But he looked well for someone 43 years dead.

Image

Remember, the storm is a good opportunity for the pine and the cypress to show their strength and their stability.

Ho Chi Minh

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