Ленин в Hà Nội

The tour’s in Hà Nội, visiting what feels like the hundredth Revolutionary museum full of mementos of Nguyễn Ai Quốc, Hồ Chí Minh’s pseudonym during the pre-1949 years, which means “Nguyễn the Patriot.”  It’s as if a revolutionary in the US named himself “Nationalist Smith.”  It’s close to the end of the trip, and I am so uninterested in most of the stuff here that I fail to take even one picture of the poster (and it’s a good poster) of an Uncle Hồ saying that I saw all over Hội An and Marble Mountain, although I write it down:

“Không có gì qúi hơn độc lập tự do.”
“Nothing is more precious than freedom and independence.”

The two women I ask about the poster speak hardly any English, but when they see that I am writing the sentence down for later reference, they are relentless in their pursuit of proper spelling; I must get it precisely right.  They insist.  Once again I marvel at the literacy of this society.  Mr. Song and his wife claim 100% literacy in most cities, and 96% in most other areas, with a few outlying places, like Montagnard villages, falling an unspecified amount lower.  But I wonder if the “mad” children can really figure into those statistics.  I suspect that all of them, regardless of ability, are simply ignored.

I tuck the saying into my pocket, thank the women, and go up to the second floor, where I find a spot with a little breeze.  I stare out across the street at a park.  Oh, yes, that’s Lenin.  Mr. Song mentioned him; he says that the citizens of Hà Nội say that Lenin is holding his coat in that funny way because he is afraid of pickpockets.

Lenin statue in Hà Nội

I think they’re probably right.  He strikes me as the type who, if he were with us today, would worry about such things, despite all evidence to the contrary.  I quit clutching my camera to my breast on the second day and stopped turning my back to haul out my moneybelt on the third.  The only time I ever heard anyone caution anyone about potential crime was on a free day back in Sàigòn when a sizable group of us walked from the cathedral, Nhà Thờ Đức Bà, to Thích Quãng Đức’s shrine.  Afterward, we collected a set of cyclo drivers to take us to a museum.

“You should hang on to your backpack,” one of the cyclo drivers said.  “I heard about somebody who had their pack stolen on a cyclo ride like this.”  There were nineteen people on the tour, and nothing happened to any of us.  The worst I can say is that I paid too much for soft drinks or water a couple of times, at Tây Ninh and in Hội An.  I tried to tell one kid selling postcards that I didn’t need any cards but I’d give him 10,000 đồng; he turned his back on me.

I think the Vietnamese are making a joke that is very, very much at Lenin’s expense.  “Mr. Lenin doesn’t even know what country he’s in.”

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