Monday, January 25, 2010
Ho Chi Minh and the Scholarly Turtles
I looked far and wide for the bronze bust of Senator Joseph McCarthy, but it was nowhere to be found. I scanned all of the guide books, walked for hours along major thoroughfares, meandered down every side street I could find, and checked each city park that I came along, but in the end, I settled for a few photos of Lenin's monument and a journey through the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and Museum. The museum was incredible, as it was filled with artifacts documenting the socialist revolution and Ho Chi Minh's rise to Vietnamese leadership. Surprisingly, the overall theme of the exhibits was very modern, with a few sections higlighting everything from a life-sized model of Ho Chi Minh's humble beginnings to recreations of battle encampments from the "American War". I could not help but think of the perspective that my parents must have held towards Vietnam from the 1950s through the 1970s as I walked down the vivid and sometimes graphic exhibits within the museum. I found it refreshing that located just outside of the building, was a Pagoda with many people mumbling prayers and making incense-cleansed offerings. In fact, there are a number of temples and even a Catholic cathedral that are located within walking distance of the memorial, displaying the fact that Hanoi is a modern city much like any other in Southeast Asia.
One of these sites is known as the Temple of Literature, which was built to honor a vast number of famous scholars. Each scholar has a large stone turtle dedicated to his memory, which is flagged by a stone tablet that highlights their many achievements in a variety of fields. The tablets (and the temple itself) also pay homage to the many teachings of Confucious, one of which basically states that all strong societies must have men of knowledge.
We were stampeded by a mass of young students as we walked through the temple. Apparently, it is good luck to rub the heads of all of the stone turtles for those who want it or need it. They seemed like they needed it...must have been exam week.