Hanoi (II) By Night / Museums

Hanoi yesterday night

HN_20070730_205220.jpg: An attempt to catch the madness of Hanoi’s traffic by night, when longer exposure times let the traffic appear moving.

HN_20070730_210246.jpg: A yong couple enjoying the warm evening at Hoan Kiem Lake, looking at the pagoda on the small islet in the lake’s south. My little cute tripod actually catched a lot of attention with onlookers praising the pictures I could shoot with it. (Side note: I never got the feeling they wanted to catch anything from my daypack or the camera as such; being on guard doesn’t hurt, but so far everone just appeared curious and friendly.)

HN_20070730_211023.jpg: The northern island with Ngoc Sun Temple.

HN_20070730_212149.jpg: Another night street impression on the way home. Damnit…the lady on the right started removing the plush pets right when I arrived…I had originally thought the motive to include a hanging plush dolphin like on a fair’s lottery booth.

HN_20070731_193817.jpg: And here comes the master shot! Lightning over Hoam Kiem Lake, just today. Try to reproduce that one…and with a Canon Ixus 850IS 😉 After today’s rain showers lightnings didn’t quite stop when I was walking past there again, luckily again with my super tripod in the pocket. So I just squatted down and had the camera take one picture after the other, each with an exposure time of 1s. Sooner or later I would catch one of the many lightnings. And so I did, even mirrored in the lake 😀 The only thing I did to the picture was to slightly crop the top-left edges to have the lightning appear more central. All the rest is purely natural.

Ethnology Museum of Vietnam

Being a bit afraid it would be as disappointing as various Chinese museums on ethnic topics I headed by taxi out to the Ethnology Museum, which was highly praised in Lonely Planet. For good reasons, as it turned out. Vietnam boasts a large variety of ethnic minorities throughout the country, but a majority of them (eh…the majority of the minorities…) are here in the north, especially in the mountaneous regions. Each of them was introduced with language roots, area of settlement, habbits, traditional clothes, house styles and other stuff. OK…at some point it started to repeated, they aren’t that much different in the end. But at least the museum had prepared very good texts, also in perfect English (and guides available, too, if you want). The mistakes of some Chinese museums (like in Xi’An), which just display a huge number of relicts but don’t put them into a historical or regional context, have been largely avoided here. If I recall correctly, then the museum received help by a French renowned museum.

HN_20070731_113644.jpg: However, what stroke me most was an exhibition (and I am afraid it was a temporary one only) on the subsidiary days of Vietnam, i.e. the late 60s/early 70s when all goods for daily life were assigned according to rank and family size and accessible via coupons only. Here people queuing up to change their coupons into rice or whatsoever.

HN_20070731_113715.jpg: What made this exhibition so special was its personality: Each and every piece on display was not just “a bike” or “a stone”, it was the particular “Stone used to replace Mr. Mai Xuan Hai…in the queue at the rice store. The number 127 on the stone was also the number of his rice coupon.”

HN_20070731_113827.jpg: Also this bike was one’s personal bike, used for a long time. The man’s photo and quotations were put in text boxes above the bike. The small books and certificates in front of the bike are bike owner certificates. Only with these you got spare parts to repair your bike etc.

Many other exhibits in a similar style explained the hardships of these years as well as what the Vietnamese made out of it by creativity. It was partly very moving to read about all these very personal stories and fates.

HN_20070731_113941.jpg: These coupons ensuring your survival during these times.

HN_20070731_114353.jpg: Ah, let’s not forget that the museum’s main pupose was on introducing the ethnic minorities.

HN_20070731_125051.jpg: But the best exhibits were anyway in the outdoor area, where many traditional houses and tombs have been reconstructed. For this purpose the museum had invited minority people to rebuild according to their home customs. Here in the foreground a Giarai Tomb, if I got it right for just one person. Very big…the carved figures around show very expressive sexual postures or pregnant women, signifying fertility. A strange combination with the death of a loved one, but life goes on…here and in some kind of heaven. The concept of a ‘heaven’, named differently, exists with all the minorities.

HN_20070731_130050.jpg: The most impressive building was this communal house of the Bahnar minority, as high as a 5 storey building. By the way: Sponsored with money from the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs! All other houses have also been sponsored by various foreign organizations, but Germany definitely picked the most impressive one, built by more than 20 Bahnar people.

HN_20070731_125328.jpg: Inside this communal house: The floor is laid out with bamboo leaves, very good to walk on barefeet (shoes off!). Very much room in there indeed. And under the roof just nothing…I had wondered why the house needs that big a roof, but it was nowhere explained. Probably just needed to be impressive. And that it was. A serious of pictures showed the building process.

HN_20070731_130303.jpg: The interieur of a Ede Longhouse. Impressively long…the private rooms start only at the end of this large communal room.

HN_20070731_131222.jpg: The kitchen place of the Viet house. Remember the Chinese character 黑 (hēi)? It means ‘black’ and the books say that it is a painting for what we see here: A fireplace (the fire are the four dots at the bottom), above that a stove for kettles and pots to heat, and then a window. And the window will be black over time from the smoke. Hence the meaning ‘black’.

The Viet house was actually moved to this place. It was originally build in 1903 (or around that date), changed some times, and recently bought and moved by the museum.

Ho Chi Min Museum

With another taxi I got back closer to the Old Quarter to get to the Ho Chi Min museum. The mausoleum with his body is open in the mornings only. And he probably needs to live with the fact that I won’t visit him. I couldn’t visit Mao Zedong or Chian Kaishek either, so let’s just be fair… 😉

HN_20070731_151109.jpg: The museum is an ugly square building in white concrete, just three storeys high, but on a huge base. Unlike in the Ethnology museum here they take security a bit more serious and really follow the signs and asked me to leave my bag at the reception. No problem with that…but my camera was in there. I am pretty sure that officially taking photos was either prohibited or bound to an additional fee (which I had paid at the Ethnology museum…probably as the only one…but everybody took pictures, noone wanted to see my receipt), but as a matter of fact I had no camera then.

The museum tells more about how Vietnam and the Vietnamese people look at and worship Uncle Ho than it actually tells about his life. It is full of photographs and text excerpts…”President Ho Chi Min speaking on this occasion…”, “President Ho Chi Min speaking on that other occasion…”, “Ho Chi Min said in [anywhen between 1950 and 1975]…”. You won’t get a coherent curriculum vitae from the exhibition, and for that I had actually hoped. On the third floor it gets even worse: The exhibits are mostly works of art (to put it positive) or confusing (to put it more realistic), with a brief text saying something like “This displays the hardships of the Vietnamese people during…” or “The bad influence of fascism is represented as…” followed by a weird collection of reproduced paintings of Dali, Miro, and Kasinski. Haeh???

I should consider listening to my Lonely Planet: “It’s probably worth taking an English guide, since some of the symbolism is hard to figure out.” Amen.

HN_20070731_151650.jpg: The One Pillar Pagoda, located on the site of al the Ho Chi Min museums and parks, but probably not directly related to him. This is actually a very small replic of the original structure and, thus, relatively unimpressive.

The rain, which started then, was a lot more impressive. I hurried to the exit in the hope of catching one of the taxis lurking there. I had wanted to return by motorcycle as the distance was now OK. But not in rain. I jumped into one, but when I started explaining the driver where to go a guard soldier stopped the taxi, slamming with his nightstick on the car’s hood. I certainly understood nothing of his shouting, but it was clearly directed at the driver, not at me. The driver got a bit nervous, tried to back out reverse, but the soldier kept up and was always standing right in front of the car, so we couldn’t go forward. His gestures could only mean for the driver to get out. I have no exact clue what the probem was…but as it was not solved after a couple of moments I decided I didn’t want to be part of it and when the soldier motioned me to get out I readily did, got into another passing taxi (which like the first one didn’t stop completely, but continued to move very slowly…I saw a “don’t stop” sign, was that the problem?), and that way got back to my hostel. Strange all that…

Back at the hostel the friendly lady stripped me of my second million…and got me a sleeper train ticket to Hue as well as an Open Bus ticket from there on to Ho Chi Min City (Saigon). Twice I have been a millionaire…twice I lost the million on the very same day. Maybe Vietnam is not as cheap as I thought…? ;)) But at least I should not spend much on transportation any longer for the next two weeks. Tomorrow my third million will be due…paying for the guest house. Actually, it is only 700,000₫ (31,50€) , so cheap are 3 nights there. But I was bankrupt again save a few thousand Dong, which were supposed to buy me a coffee and a dinner. In Vietnam, the ATMs limit my daily cash draw to 1.5 million dong. Sounds comfortable…once you have paid for all your major transportation.

Now I am sitting in the second cafe that advertised to have free Wifi, but in fact is a very small place, frequented by locals, and the Wifi doesn’t work…so I need to get over to the other place for actual transmission of this article. But the food wasn’t really great there…hm…maybe I get dinner first somewhere else and return later for a beer. That sounds like a plan! 😉

Today’s Lesson: Vietnam has a huge number of ethnic minorities with interesting house architectures.

Categories: Asia, Hanoi

Originally Created: 07/31/2007 11:41:38 AM
Last Edited: 07/31/2007