Thursday, 15 September 2011

Puppets and corpses...just a normal day in Hanoi

We spent our final couple of days in Hanoi, a city with some interesting sights, but the number of scooters and broken pavements made it a pedestrian’s nightmare. After getting a feel for the central area and its street names (we were on ‘Hang Mang’ which some taxi drivers repeated as ‘hang man’ and caused a few juvenile giggles), we braved the heat to visit Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum. This really was one of the strangest parts of the trip so far. Once we’d purchased our entrance tickets, we paraded, along with hundreds of other people, along a covered walkway leading towards the site. Dotted along the walkway were flat screen TVs showing past celebrations and projecting songs sung in honour of the famous leader. Once we had made it to the mausoleum itself, and been checked for appropriate dress, we shuffled inside, and had just a minute or so to glance upon the body before being swept away by the crowds.

The preservation was incredible – he looked exactly like a wax work model resting and surrounded by armed guards on every side. It seemed quite ironic that someone who wanted to be cremated and scattered is now visited daily by so many people gazing upon his ever-perfect corpse. After exiting the main building we continued the tour of the grounds – seeing the old presidential home, pagoda and even a garage of Ho Chi Minh’s old cars. It was all very tastefully done, and clearly inspired many of the Vietnamese visitors to the complex, but it was certainly a new experience for us!

The rain started to pour in earnest as we walked to the nearby Temple of Literature, a lovely place which we may have explored for longer if the relentless downpour had ceased, but as last we admitted defeat and decided that the afternoon would be better spent indoors.

Hanoi has some lovely places to visit, but by this point we were temporarily ‘templed out’, and were most looking forward to seeing a water puppet show. A tradition developed as a distraction from the heavy floods, the shows are exactly as they sound – a pool of water with a temple backdrop through which puppets come out in the water, controlled by complex rods and strings, and perform legends and old tales. The puppets were incredible – fire-breathing dragons, boats filled with human puppets, a whole selection of animals, all accompanied by singing and music from a small orchestra of traditional instruments sitting at the side lines.

The show really was captivating, and the synchronisation and fluid movements of the puppets amazing. We’d heard great things about the performance, and it definitely lived up to our expectations and more. However, after just a couple of short weeks in Vietnam, it was time to move on once more.

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