Monday, March 31, 2008

Ba Dinh Square and Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum

Ho Chi Min's Office. Within the grounds of the Presidential Palace is a simple house with an annex used as a garage for the cars used by Ho Chi Minh. It is a spartanly equipped office.

The Citadel. The Citadel was constructed by Emperor Gia Long of the Nguyen dynasty and completed in 1812. it was built over a larger Citadel of the Le dynasty. It now houses military facilities. It lies at the eastern border of the Ba Dinh Square the nation's ceremonial epicentre. Ho Chi Minh read out the Declaration of Independence on September 2 1945 and here Independence is commemorated each national Day with military parade and much fanfare and pomp and pageantry.
Ho Chi Min Mausoleum. The Mausoleum faces the Ba Dinh Square. It is the most important cultural and historical monument of Vietnam. After Ho Chi Minh died in 1969 his body was embalmed by Russian experts and in 1975 his body was displayed for public viewing inside the Mausoleum.
The Presidential Palce. The Palace was built in 1901 and was the place of abode of the Governor General of French Indochina. After independence in 1954 President Ho Chi Minh built a modest dwelling house nearby and another small building complex to house his office and garage. The Presidentail Palace was reserved for ceremonial functions such as for welcoming of foreign dignitaries and state banquets.
Ho Chi Minh's House. Ho Chi Minh built this modest house behind the Presidential Palace modelled on an ethnic minority stilt-house with open sides and split bamboo screens. The stilt-house faces a garden and a fishing pond.

The Old Quarter of Hanoi

The Old Quarter. The Old Quarter is more than 2000 yeras old. In the 13th century it comprised 36 streets (The name "36 Streets" still sticks to this day) and each of the street housed a distinctive type of business or Hang in both Vietnamese and Cantonese. Even today to a certain extent some of the streets are still dedicated to the original craft or their modern form although for recent inventions like the PCs and mobile phones such shops are found all of the Old Quarter. The most colourful is Hang Guat Street decorated with bright red banners and lacquerware for funerals and religious festivals. The shop houses are all very narrow as the tax was based on the width of the shop front. Hence the traditional shop houses are known as "tube-houses". Many of the streets in the Old Quarter are very narrow but it is not much a problem even nowadays for the vehicles to navigate as they comprise mainly of motor cycles, bicycles and pedicabs known locally as cyclos.
Guan Chuong Gate. Found along Hang Chieu Street (street of mats and ropes) in the Old Quarter is the remnant of the old City Gate. The city wall was built in 1010 AD and the area inside the wall housed the emperor and his court. Of the four gates only the Guan Chuong Gate remained.
Sitting on low stools for their meals. A common sight in the Old Quarter are people sitting on low stools holding their bowl of food along the street pavements. Such sights brought back memories of my childhood in the 1950s and early 1960s. I enjoyed yam cake and Chinese crullers and "ham chin bank" (salty Chinese deep-fried cake) washed with watery rice porridge and red bean gruels sold by food vendors operating in the five-foot way along Bukit Bintang Road in Kuala Lumpur close to then BB Amusement Park. One or two old shop houses are still there although I do not know the fate of the vendors or their descendants.

The French Quarter of Hanoi

The Opera House. Now officially known as the Municipal Theatre. The French based it on the neo-Baroque Paris Opera with Ionic columns and grey slate tiles imported from France. It was opened in 1911 and was the focus of French colonial culture and arts. Soon after independence audiences were treated to performances in praise of the socialism and the achievements of the proletariat. The building has recently been restored to its former glory reminiscent of the days of the French Indochina empire.
The Grand Metropole Palace. Nowadays known as Hotel Sofitel Metropole. Opened in 1901 it became one of South east Asia's great hotel in the class of The Strand in Rangoon, the Oriental in Bangkok, The Raffles in Singapore and the E & O in Penang. Illustrious guests included British writer Graham Greene who came in 1952 and wrote The Quiet American there. In 1972 actress Jane Fonda stayed in Metropole while making her infamous broadcast over Radio Hanoi condemning President Nixon and charged that Nixon would never succeed in making Vietnam a neo-American colony. For that she was cruelly nick-named Hanoi Jane.
Residence of the Governor of Tonkin. This imposing Art Deco structure was constructed in 1918 and was the residence of the Governor of Tonkin which together with Annam in central Vietnam and Cochin China in south Vietnam formed the three governate of Vietnam. The supremo the Governor General of French Indochina encompassing Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia resided at the Presidential Palace in another part of Hanoi. It is now the State Guest House. It also houses the State Bank in its lofty halls and was previously occupied by Bank of Indochina or Banque d' Indochine

Hanoi, Old World Confucian Charm With A Touch Of Paris

The Tortoise Tower on tiny Island in Hoan Kiem Lake (Lake of Restored Sword in Vietnamese and Cantonese). The tower and the lake refer to a legend of a Vietnamese general Le Loi who led an uprising against the Chinese in the 15th century. He became King Le Thai To and after 10 years of the epic battle he returned to thank the spirit of the lake. His sword flew out of the scabbard into the mouth of a golden tortoise an omen that the gods of the lake had reclaimed the sword.
Den Ngoic Son (Temple of the Jade Mould). On another island stands a small temple founded in the 14th century and is dedicated to another hero General Tran Hung Dao who defeated the invading Mongols in 1288. This deity sits on the principal altar. The temple is also dedicated to the other dieties, Van Xuong the God of Literature, physician La To and martial arts expert Quan Vu. The temple buildings date from the 1800s.
The statue of Emperor Ly Thai To. This statue stands in a square facing Hoan Kiem Lake. Ly Thai To was the first ruler of the Ly dynasty (1009 to 1225 AD) of Vietnam who chose the site of Hanoi for his capital.
Water Puppet Theatre. Located at the north east bank of Hoan Kiem Lake. Water puppetry is a traditional art form with a distinctive cultural identy with Vietnam.

Friday, March 28, 2008

"Good Morning Vietnam" movie with theme song "What a Wonderful World"

The War Remnants Museum. Welcome here if you want your mind to be tormented and your stomach churned. View the grisly exhibits depicting the horrors and carnage of war. They bring back my memories watching the TV in the late 1960s and early 1970s showing images of war planes spraying napalm bombs and defoliant known commonly as "agent orange". I vividly recall the lyrics of John Lennon songs which include "Imagine", "Give Peace a Chance" and "Happy Xmas (War is Over)".
"Imagine there is no countries. It isn't hard to do. Nothing to kill or die for. And no religion too! Imagine all the people. Living life in peace".........
The lyrics are soulfully and hauntingly true but the world is still not living in peace today.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The Sights, Sounds and Smell of New and Old Saigon

Municipal Theatre. The century-old theatre at Lam Son Square witnessed great operas and plays during the French colonial era. The South Vietnamese National Assembly was temporarily housed in the theatre.
Water Puppet. Vietnam's famed water puppet had its beginnings in the 11th Century. The puppet shows depict life in the countryside in the days long past.
Xa Loi Pagoda. Starting from June 1963 and lasting until just before the fall of Saigon on April 30 1975 a number of monks from Xa Loi Pagoda carried out self-immolation in public by setting fire to their petrol-doused bodies while meditating in a sitting lotus position. Initially they protested against the anti-Buddhist policies of the staunchly Catholic President Ngo Dinh Diem who was assassinated in November 1963. Later the monks protested against the civil war between the North Vietnamese supported Vietcong and the American supported military regime which succeeded President Ngo. In the morning of June 11 1963 a group of monks marched out of Xa Loi Pagoda to the intersection of Cach Mang Thang Tam and Nguyen Dinh Chieu. There Thich Quang Duc a 66-year old monk from Hue was set alight while passers-by prostrated themselves before him.

Pork Galore. Such push-cart stalls selling pork are found in abundance especially in the morning in Cholon, the Chinatown. Don't flies, no maggots and your nostrils would not be assaulted!
Hotel Majestic. Old landmark facing the confluence of the Saigon River and the stinky garbage-strewn Ben Nghe Channel.
Hotel Equatorial. The New, a Malaysian hotel chain which started operations in Saigon's Chinatown, Cholon some 10 years back.
The Reunification Palace. This was the former Presidential Palace. A North Vietnamese tank stormed the main gate on April 30 1975 thus ending the civil war. The fall of Saigon was dramatic as besides the chaos arising from the fleeing South Vietnamese army US helicopters made several landings on the heli-pad at the US Embassy to pick up fear-stricken US nationals and Vietnamese employees of the US government. They were ferried to American naval vessels lying along the coast of then South Vietnam. It was an extreme moment of anguish, pain and fear.

Photos taken at the Cu Chi Tunnels

Shocked and Awed: American tank stopped in its track by Vietcong sappers.
The Vietcongs: Nowadays we can consort with the VCs with impunity. No fear of reprisals!
The Spider-hole. Poor Saddam Hussein was stucked in one of these in Iraq. The puny-sized Vietnamese can snuggly seek refuge in them.
Booby-trap. Beware! Don't fall into one of these traps. The rusty nails will impale you!

Claustrophobic World at Cu Chi Tunnels

The Cu Chi tunnels are located in a wide area located at about an hour's drive north-west of Ho Chi-Minh City. Some 250 kilometres of tunnels criss-crossed the Cu Chi area. Tourists may visit the tunnels at two sites, namely, Ben Dinh and Ben Duoc.

Statues of Great Vietnamese Heroes

Statue of Tran Hung Dao.
It stands majestically facing the Saigon River at Mei Linh Square close to the end of busy thoroughfare Dong Khoi road which was known as Rue Catinat in the glorious French empire days.

Statue of Tran Nguyen Hai at the roundabout close to the busy Ben Thanh Market and the city bus terminus

The Grandeur of old Saigon as reflected by her iconic buildings

The Notre Dame Cathedral. The Cathedral lies in the heart of the old French Quarter. It is now located within the business and commercial centre of Saigon

Hotel de Ville depicting classical French architecture at her best

The Rex Hotel. The gathering place and watering hole of the old French Colonial elite

The Caravelle Hotel.
Time for happy hours and at times a rendezvous of the French Colonialist masters.

Traipsing the streets of Saigon in search of French Colonial & Contemporary Saigon

Park in front of Reunification Palace. Saigon is a city of greenery. There are many parks in the city. When the sun is up or down the people love to relax or laze aound in park benches or kerb-side or even enjoy the splendour of the grass. The French had left behind an exquisite legacy of tree-lined streets and wide boulevards.
Street-side tailor. One can find many street-side tailors operating along the side-walk in busy streets of Saigon. You don't need to return home or to your hotel room to have a change of clothes. Just get the stitch done there and then!
Street-side barber. Many street-side barbers do a roaring business under the shade of trees along the side-walks. Enjoy city noise, sniff petrol fumes and shower with dust while you relax with a hair cut and shave.

The Cong Vien Van Hoa Park next to the Reunification Palace (former Presidential Palace)

Every morning and evening thousands of Saigonians throng the parks of the city. You will soon go out of business selling slimming products in Saigon!