Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Last week in Hanoi

This week was pretty great, though unfortunately it's my last week in Hanoi. They kept us a little too busy for my taste, but most of it was pretty awesome so I don't mind too much. On monday night we went to a lecture/performance of a type of traditional theater called Chèo. It was just our group there, and the performance was on the roof level of a publishing company, of all places. Instead of doing a whole play, there was one man who would tell us a little bit about the performance style, and then we'd see a scene, and then he'd talk more, and we'd see another scene. I liked this better than if we had seen the whole play, because I got more of an understanding of the background of the art form than I've gotten from other performances we've seen.

Tuesday morning, we went on a field trip to the old Citadel of Hanoi. Most of the citadel was taken down by the French and replaced with their own buildings, which became a headquarters for their military. When the French were kicked out, the People's Army took over the area, and it was their headquarters during the American War. We got to go into some of the major meeting rooms and offices and the underground tunnel system that protected them against American bombs, as well as seeing the parts of the original citadel that are still standing today (mostly just the outer wall). Our trip was led by a man named Le Van Lanh (I think), who is a fairly famous scholar here in Vietnam. We had a lecture with him on monday, and he's very smart and funny and just a really good teacher. During our tour of the citadel grounds, our group gained a bunch of hangers-on, and we were often stopped by people coming to shake his hand and greet him, and even without understanding what they were saying you could see just how much respect they have for him. It was amazing to be taught about history on-site with such a respected and knowledgeable teacher.

Wednesday morning: nothing too notable as far as the trip goes, but quite a wonderful personal achievement. I gave away my crutches! The cleaning lady on my floor has a sister with a broken leg, and asked if I'd give her my crutches. So I did! Yay!

Thursday morning: weirdest. fieldtrip. ever. We went to the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and viewed the corpse of the man himself. Sure, that was pretty weird in itself, but the security and ceremony surrounding it is also rather intense. There's a dress code to rival that of the Vatican, you can't bring backpacks into the complex, cameras are okay until you get too close, and then you have to leave them at a drop-off spot and pick them up on the other side. When inside the mausoleum, you can't even have your hands in your pockets. And then, of course, you see the dead guy for about 20 seconds, from about 10 feet away, and you start to wonder what all the fuss is about. It's still kinda cool though. Once you see the body, you can go see the house where Ho Chi Minh lived, and see a bunch of old cars he used and whatnot. Then you move on to the Ho Chi Minh museum, most of which seems more like a collision of modern art and historical artifacts than an actual informative museum. And of course, throughout all of these different sites are scattered many little gift shops that seem all too capitalist to be at the tomb of a great communist leader. Oh well.

Oh, there was another rat in my room! I was washing my hands in the bathroom, and all of a sudden a rat appears out of nowhere and starts running frantically around, trying to find a way out of the bathroom. The best part was when he fell in the toilet. I was incredibly amused, though still a bit freaked out that I was stuck in a room with a rather frantic rat.

Now it's Friday night, and in four hours we'll leave Hanoi. It seems too soon to be moving on- I'm only just starting to really get to know all of the roommates, and there are so many parts of the city I have yet to explore. Tonight we had a great karaoke party to say goodbye to the roommates, and there have been many gifts exchanged and many tears shed. I'm ready to go see other parts of Vietnam, but at the same time I love Hanoi and I love all of our roommates and it will be hard to get on the plane tomorrow without them.

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