Vietnam: Say It Ain’t So, Uncle Ho

The Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. Photo by Carol L. Bowman
The Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. Photo by Carol L. Bowman

The only visible communist vestige left in Vietnam is the single political party system and the not so visible harsh tracking of its citizens’ affairs. Nationalism and socialism remain the central themes of the government, but capitalism has exploded and there’s no turning back. Sorry, Uncle Ho. It is so.

In his last Will and Testament, Ho Chi Minh, a name he selected that translates into One Who Enlightens, left instructions for his remains to be cremated.  He ordered his ashes to be sprinkled from Hanoi to Saigon, pinch by pinch, so that all the people would benefit from his greatness. He even believed that his dust would improve the soil to spur on agricultural production. Party officials decided otherwise and built the mausoleum, using materials donated from all over the country. They wanted Ba Ho physically with the people. Now, trapped forever, he seemed to be pleading from his glass prison, “Say it ain’t so.”

Busy street in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Flickr/Adnan Yahya
Busy street in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Flickr/Adnan Yahya

Our visit to Vietnam coincided with a national celebration. Every city sparkled with starry lights and spangled banners. The government was preparing for the anniversary of the Fall of Saigon, April 30, 1975; Reunification Day, when the North and South became one under the tight fist of Ho Chi Minh style Communism. Party leaders expected the celebration to inspire a surge of nationalism. Residents above the 17th parallel showed enthusiasm, but the ‘reunified’ citizens we spoke to in the south reacted coolly. The country’s harmony felt artificial.

For us, Americans who had protested the Vietnam War, these festivities stirred dormant memories. The connection between the two countries cannot be forgotten nor the complexity denied. The U.S. had built the main airstrip for fighter and cargo planes through the center of Da Nang. As we drove on that runway, now a four-lane highway, I thought, ‘Say it ain’t so.’

We arrived in Saigon eager to explore this Vietnamese metropolis that once coexisted with U.S. soldiers. Just outside the hotel, motorbikes created a traffic nightmare, cramming a wide boulevard.  Brooks Brothers, Ralph Lauren and Tiffany’s lined the ground floor of a gleaming glass skyscraper. Pandemonium prevailed and capitalism tainted the Asian ambiance. It resembled 5th Avenue in New York City.  My husband and I shared a disappointing glance. “Say it ain’t so, Uncle Ho.”

Author bio: After a life-long profession of treating the mentally ill at a PA psychiatric hospital for 33 years and also serving as its Director of Admissions, Carol retired to Lake Chapala, Mexico in 2006 with her husband, to pursue more positive passions. Her family thought that she, too, had ‘gone mad.’ She’s been teaching English to Mexican adults for ten years, in a program operated by volunteer expatriates and writing for local on-line and print publications. Using her adventures experienced during visits to over 80 countries to capture a niche in travel writing, Carol also dabbles in ‘memoir.’  A frequent contributor to Lake Chapala English magazine, “El Ojo del Lago,” she’s won several literary awards from that publication, including Best Feature in 2010 and Best Fiction in 2014. She also netted a story regarding her psychiatric field work in the published anthology, “Tales from the Couch.”  

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