Give Ho a “Crap”

Uncle Ho's Home

Uncle Ho's Home

I’ve been a communist crony for over a week now. After day four in Hanoi, I realized that the loudspeaker message barking in my ear from 7 a.m. to 8 a.m. also occurred from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. “It’s the news,” the hotelier told me. “Weather, reminders to wear your helmet, stuff like that.” Pieces of Marx’s Communist Manifesto, excerpts of Trotsky’s terrible tales and old-time quotes from Stalin. Stuff like that. “Yeah, sure,” as the Vietnamese like to say. And though I had just cruised through the thousands of karsts in Halong Bay, inland from where US tankers were supposedly sunk to initiate our engagement in the “American War,” it finally donned on me that I was living under Ho’s head.

So I thought I ought to go see the man himself. My partner in crime, Deborah—a mother of two from Oregon who I met in Chiang Mai—and I jumped on xe om and putted over to the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. We had seen the foreboding building from afar a few days earlier. Its grey granite, uninspired design matched the weather outside. We should have known it would be a test of wills and giggles to make it though Ho’s resting place.

First stop: “Take off your sunglasses.” Barely off our scooters and we already had our first instruction. Deborah and I had grown accustomed to this, as many of our Vietnamese tour guides told us, “You will be happy in Halong Bay. Now you get off the bus. Give me a ‘crap’ (clap).” I did as any good citizen of the state would do, and took off my sunnies. We were allowed into the complex. Only to hear a woman shouting into a megaphone: “Stop! Come here!” Our heads swiveled simultaneously. The woman stood about 4’9” and shouted at us from 5 feet away. “Come here!” she commanded again into the squawk box.

"Stop. Come here."

Communism Calls: "Stop. Come here."

We issued the first of many giggles and relinquished our bags to the people waiting behind the counter. “Do you have any knives?” they asked. “Isn’t he already dead?” I questioned Deborah. Purse and weapon free, Deborah and I walked over to the wooden maze that led the way to the father of modern communism.

But there was a second stop. “Wait,” a man in a suit called out. We halted as instructed. We were getting good at following orders. A queue gathered behind us and the pause gave me enough time to snap some photos of our surroundings—signs, orders, everywhere: “Pause.” “Security Control.” “Area no phone use.” “Leave this by guiding.” Thank god Deborah and I could read. Once a herd formed, we walked forward, through the x-ray machine, where we had to place our cameras in a snazzy red bag (also imprinted with directions) which we then had to hand over to other commie cronies at another check point. With all of our dangerous possessions disguarded, we might—just might—be able to see Uncle Ho.

Personnel staged every three feet instructed us how to walk: “Two by two.” How to hold our hands—out of pockets and at one’s side. Once we rounded the corner of the imposing building, we waited again. Five minutes and nine giggles later, four guards in immaculate olive uniforms marched in unison down the steps; spaced themselves out along the red plastic “carpet” that led the way. It was time to see Ho. Two guards fell in line with us, also two by two, making certain we didn’t don hats, hands in pockets, chewing gum or a lighthearted feeling about the whole charade. The only other westerner in our group walked in front of us, and he was reprimanded twice for not having his hands at his sides.

The air in the building felt cold and stale. The dim lights illuminated soldiers with bayonets or guns positioned at evenly spaced intervals. The walls showed only marble, no pictures, slogans or carvings. Deborah and I tried to suppress laughs as we faced yet another guard…everyone was so…serious. We appeared to be the only citizens who couldn’t take orders without guffawing.

And then, around a corner, in an empty room save the plastic encasement, lay Ho. Positioned lower than the catwalk that surrounded it, the body was surrounded by four more guards, all with guns, in addition to the soldiers who flanked the walls of the walking platform. The train of Ho onlookers moved quickly around the three sides, from one doorway to another, all under the careful eyes of the guards and the subtle gold and red lighting.

As Deborah said, “Ho looks great for being dead for forty years. His lips were glossy.” His skin pulled taut across his face, his chin hairs, wiry as they were when he ousted the French. But most eerie were his hands. Laid on black silk that covered the lower portion of Ho, his digits seemed to glow. Levitate almost. As if they were still at work. Soft red lights played on his otherwise yellow-y skin. I felt like giving him a “crap.”

As soon as we moved out of Ho’s room, Deborah and I took a deep breath, oh-my-god-ed. Giggled. What was it about communism that made us laugh? As we walked out of the building, the man who had been asked to take his hands out of his pockets turned to giggling Deborah and said, “You’re sick.” I think he was Russian.

Leaving the mausoleum, we were again directed by signs. “This way.” “No entry.” More guards. Tourists moved like schools of fish in the same direction, and Deborah and I sardined our way around. “This way,” a woman pointed us as we negotiated the oncoming traffic. This country is not for dissenters like us.

But it is for capitalists. To appease my need for irony, outside, just behind Ho’s well-lighted body, stalls sold all kinds of Ho paraphernalia. We tried on some army helmets.

Communist Caps for Capitolist Change

I HAD to buy a few Ho t-shirts. Some Ho pictures. See, I support communism.

At the tail end of our day, just after the water puppet theater and the 4 p.m. “news” broadcast, Deborah and I opted to swing the pendulum as far away from communism as we could. We found ourselves at the Metropole Hotel, Hanoi’s finest French affair. Lounging in wicker chairs under plaid monogrammed blankets, we stuffed ourselves until it hurt at the Chocolate Buffet: éclairs, ice cream, truffles, meringues, flambé, bread puddings…plus an Irish coffee and a glass of red wine.

(Title by Deborah)

Communist Chocolate for Capitolist Pigs (Title by Deborah)

Sure, there was enough chocolate for everyone in Hanoi to each have a piece. But Deborah and I wanted it all. And damn it, our democratic, capitalistic, greedy-grubby passports said we could.

New commie photos will be posted soon; give me a week’s time and you can check out the photo-by-photo-till-they-took-the-photo-machine-away account of our jaunt to Ho.

Also, check out the latest article at: http://www.bootsnall.com/articles/09-01/hygiene-hints-road-asia.html


3 Responses to “Give Ho a “Crap””

  1. 1 Romy
    January 19, 2009 at 10:00 am

    The article and your communist somedy were both classic. Keep ’em coming!

  2. 2 Romy
    January 19, 2009 at 10:01 am

    I meant ‘comedy’ not ‘somedy’.

  3. January 27, 2009 at 9:13 am

    Hiya from TZ. Love the hat, by the way. So glad to read that you are enjoying yourself and are still writing with that great sense of humor. Just got back to TZ from the US to start a new year of work with GSC, I took Jenaya’s job here when she got a great new job down the road at a secondary school.
    Can’t wait to read more. Happy Trails.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: