The People's Republic of VietnamTour 1: Hanoi
I visited Hanoi on the Thin Red Line tour. You should read that in the first instance. I will say this, though, I found Hanoi the least hospitable part of Vietnam. Particulary, the government seemed obsessive compulsive, besides bureaucratic. One I took few pictures here relates to the fact that every corner seemed to contain soldiers, armed with machine guns, observing my movements.
Vietnamese culture and civilization begins in the Red River Valley. Though an area capable of intensive agriculture, the Red can, by no means, support the kind of population currently living in the People's Republic. One of the best books on Vietnamese history, calls Vietnam "the Lesser Dragon." The North, more than the South, felt the healing and hurting hand of "The Greater Dragon," China, which relentlessly tried to incorporate the Red River Valley into its empire. Effectively, northern Vietnam offers no defensible frontiers against China other than the river itself. Under the strongest Chinese emperors, this pressure led to actual rule, each time eventually repulsed by the Vietnamese. Ironically, though, the great Chinese dynasties, the Han, the Tang, the Sung, also provided the cultural inspiration for most of Vietnam's advancement. China in the north and population pressure, then, led to a constant movement to the south and, eventually, the southeast, areas of less resistance. Inevitably, the most adventurous, the toughest, and the outcasts left the relatively known, but regimented controlled, life of the valleys to face the Chams, the hill tribes, and, eventually, the Khmers and Thais. They left behind the conformists, the least imaginative, and most Chinese influenced. As a result, northern Vietnam today maintains a tight control over its own population, guided, of course, by Ho Chi Minh Communism, but directly descended from the neo-Confucianism of the last emperors and colored by the omnipresent need to face a stronger enemy, whether Chinese, French, or American. Uncle Ho (Ho Chi Minh) logically fits into this as a patriot and ideologue. During the Second World War, he fought on the American side, and actually obtained US military assistance. Ho, however, freely changed sides and even philosophies in his single-minded goal to restore Vietnamese independence and unity. In this context, one can think of him as a Western patriot or, indeed, the Mandarin for a new Vietnamese dynasty.
Hanoi reminded me of a city under siege even seventeen years after the war, and, yet, this somehow fits the north. The French influence on Hanoi seems confined to nice parks, decaying French architecture, and an induced fondness for French cultural product, but not French romance.
The military museum shows a MIG resting on the remains of a B-52. In reality, though, most of the museum concerns unending wars with China, and not the United States.
Related Vietnamese Tours:
Back to Tour 3: Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) and Cholon
On to Tour 2: Danang and Hue
Other Links: Read The Thin Red Line. Back to Virtual Tours
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