Exploring Hanoi

Trip Start Sep 09, 2011
Trip End Jun 29, 2012

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Where I stayed
May de Ville Hostel
What I did
Temple of Literature
Baguette and Chocolate Cafe

Flag of Vietnam  , Ha Nội,
Wednesday, November 9, 2011

On our last day in Hanoi Bec and I went exploring, heading for the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum that we had failed to see earlier on in Hanoi... once again we showed our rubbish timing, arriving 2 minutes into the 3 hour lunch break. His body is not there, being in Russia for repair, but the Mausoleum was very impressive anyway. There were guards all over the shop with whistles... presumably the guns they carry aren't scary enough, so they need to blow whistles to warn off anyone who steps within the 20 metre barrier radius. Bec and I were feeling mischievous, so walked with our toes slightly inside the line as we retreated away from the tomb... rascally pair.

We instead headed over to the Temple of Literature. It is a very Chinese influenced set of shrines and pagoda type buildings that is considered to be Vietnam's earliest university. I think Bec and I have been a bit spoiled by having seen the temples in China, because it felt a little bit like an ugly stepsister in comparison.

While we were there we saw a lot of young women (and men) who were wearing traditional dress and had their hair and make up done all fancy. We managed to ask one about it and she said that they had finished school so it was sort of like their last day where they came to the Temple of Literature to have their photos taken. It was a far cry from the last day of school I experienced... their version was FAR more civillised. One of the lads taking the pictures was also using an incredibly fancy camera with a hugely expensive lens on it, so clearly not all of Vietnam is as poor as the rest.

Next we went to the Museum of Ethnology, which was really quite interesting. They had a lot of examples of crafts and culture for different indigenous tribes, including paraphernalia of games, cooking, jewellery, weapons etc. The descriptions with some of the objects seemed unashamedly sexist in my eyes though. For example, one of the exhibits of traditional toys said:

"games for girls require great skill and delicacy.. other games prepare girls for the roles they will play as adults. For example they pretend they are at the market, cooking or raising a family."

I felt that they should have following this a stern "Women! Know your limits!" sign. I understand that culturally there is a big difference in perception of women here, but it did not sit well with me.

There was also an exhibition within the museum called 'Pain and Hope' about Aids and HIV in Vietnam. It was incredibly sad and really highlighted the ignorance and stigma that exists here.

According to the Vietnam Administration for AIDS control about 2000 babies are born with HIV in Vietnam every year. Most of these babies are abandoned, and many raised in Catholic Children's homes or hospitals. One of the nun's at the homes said "These children are the victims of adults." What a profound thing to say.

Many of the new cases of HIV are actually women... some from the sex trade, but many unknowingly infected by husbands.

In order to try and combat the growing problem Vietnam now have boxes in certain city streets which contain free new needles and condoms for people to just help themselves too. I can't help but wonder whether they are too public though, and how many people would be willing to be seen collecting such items.

In the grounds of the museum there were some really cool reconstructions of large tribal buildings that you could go inside... but as we were walking around we saw the same large group of young people all dressed up. They had moved location to take more contrived photographs of themselves. When they saw us they all started whispering as if they thought we were following them. I wanted to shout out... " We were here first!!"

We also went to a cafe in the grounds (if I'm honest partly to escape the well-dressed children) called Baguette and Chocolate. It is one of a few branches of a training restaurant set up to help underprivileged young people receive training and make a start in the culinary industry. It had a really good reputation, but we made the mistake of ordering their apple crumble and ice cream. We were so excited about the prospect of having traditional English pud, but sadly we were to be disappointed.

The apple was undercooked, but this could be forgiven, if, IF the crumble was good...  or in fact if the crumble was even existent! There was but a smattering of sugary sweet crumbs, almost like seasoning on the top! This was not crumble! Outraged, we almost filled in the comments card to let them know that they had been seriously ill informed about what constituted apple crumble, but then decided that was a little bit obsessive...

Still, we were genuinely a little bit saddened, and have only really been able to move on with the thought that perhaps we'll have better luck elsewhere.

After our day exploring we zoomed back to the hostel to get ourselves ready for our trip to Sapa in the North of 'nam.
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