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Full Circle

Day 76: Hanoi

Michael Palin - Full CircleWith Than I visit the bleak, triumphal square where the remains of Ho-Chi-Minh, the father of modern Vietnam and the architect of the victory over the Americans, lie in a forbidding, columned mausoleum of black granite and marble. It's a depressing place for many reasons. For a start he shouldn't be here. Ho-Chi-Minh expressly requested that he be cremated and his ashes scattered over the countryside.

'Ho-Chi-Minh Will Live For Ever In Our Life', proclaims a red and gold banner beside the tomb.

There is not much life around this portentous monument today apart from two boys on bikes practising wheelie turns and a middle-aged woman learning how to ride a motor-scooter.

Our next stop feels much closer to the spirit of Uncle Ho. Beside a lake in the middle of town is a theatre where the internationally-known Thang Long (few Vietnamese words have more than one syllable) Water Puppet Troupe performs. The show is based on the traditional agriculture of Vietnam and particularly the vital importance of the flooding of the paddy-fields to ensure a successful rice harvest. The 'stage' is a twenty- by twelve-foot water tank and the puppets, which range from peasant figures to birds, animals, ceremonial barges and legendary dragons, are all operated on the end of long submerged metal rods by puppeteers you never see.

The Water Puppet Theatre reminds me once again of the heady pace of political change in Asia. Twenty-three years ago the Americans were raining bombs down on this city. Now a show which celebrates the resilience of the peasants who defeated them is sponsored by AT&T, one of the largest companies in the USA.
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  • Series: Full Circle
  • Day: 76
  • Country/sea: Vietnam
  • Place: Hanoi
  • Book page no: 112

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