Vietnam: Say It Ain’t So, Uncle Ho

Two sentries guard the entrance to the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, Ba Dinh Square, Hanoi, Vietnam. Photo by Flickr/joolsgriff
Two sentries guard the entrance to the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, Ba Dinh Square, Hanoi, Vietnam. Photo by Flickr/joolsgriff

A guard wearing a snow white uniform and a menacing scowl motioned his night-stick at me. Having fallen one step behind, I dutifully adjusted my stride. A man in front of me made the mistake of putting his hands in his pockets. The same security officer prodded him back into submission with a quick jab. I scanned the waiting line and saw sullen faces.

The rules regarding behavior to view Ho Chi Minh’s body blared over the loud speakers during the one-hour queue snaking through Hanoi’s Ba Dinh Square; no hands in pockets, no talking and absolutely no photos.

Local devotees and foreign visitors formed two regimented lines, but not everyone heeded the guidelines. I cringed every time my husband slipped out his camera and sneaked a shot of the drab, granite building, flanked by Communist Party and Vietnamese flags. I imagined being hauled off to the Hanoi Hilton Prison if caught violating protocol.

At the entrance to the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, considered by CNN to be the world’s sixth ugliest building, the military honor guard enforced the regulations with firmer jabs from well-worn batons. Stiff faced, we filed past the glass sarcophagus where the embalmed corpse of Vietnam’s President and head of the Vietnamese Communist Party from 1945 until his death in 1969, lay in perpetuity, like Lenin and Mao.

Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. Flickr/Eugene

The nation’s citizens idolize their beloved and immortalized leader, known affectionately as Ba Ho, favorite uncle. They must have forgotten or forgiven or perhaps never known about his brutal side, when he ordered thousands of North Vietnamese massacred for resisting his land redistribution plan. If confronted with these facts, present day worshipers might shout, ‘Say it ain’t so, Uncle Ho.’

Every year, Ho gets a two-month vacation, when he flies off to Russia for his annual re-embalming, like a car’s yearly inspection. He looked ready for a tune-up, as spotlights illuminated his grey tinged face, faded-white goatee and pasty, ashen hands. With silhouetted shadows around the body, the glass tomb resembled a set in Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum.

The daily line to the mausoleum complex forms at 7 a.m. and extends for blocks. Free to all Vietnamese, followers wait patiently to ‘be’ with the ‘Father of their Country.’

On September 2, 1945, Ho Chi Minh created the Democratic Republic of Vietnam in this very square. He borrowed the passage, ‘all men are created equal’ from Thomas Jefferson, for Vietnam’s Declaration of Independence from France.

As a young man, Ho Chi Minh left his native land, and traveled the world for many years, cultivating his lifelong commitment to communism and Marxism. While living for a time in Harlem, he developed his disdain for American capitalism. If he could hear the hawking of French baguettes on every Vietnamese street corner, the sale of knock-off Rolexes and Gucci bags and the surge of private enterprise, he would roll over in his glass showcase and cry out, “Say it ain’t so.”

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