Monday, June 3, 2013


Hanoi's humble Ho Chi Minh house
I'm in downtown Hanoi, and I enter what looks like a neighborhood park. Walking round a scenic, tree lined pond, I enter a small elevated house. It’s just a simple green home with few rooms, built on top of wooden stilts. This seems like a scene that I would see out in the Vietnamese countryside, not in the downtown's capital.

This humble little dwelling, was the house of Ho Chi Minh. 

Ho's conference room. Did he use the phones in the back to call Kruschev in the USSR, and Mao in China?
The official government brochure says this is: “The house-on-stilts where Ho Chi Minh lived and worked from May of 1958 to August of 1969.” But I doubt Ho lived here all that time, especially during the war years when Hanoi endured heavy American bombing from the air. Made only of wood, this stilt house could have easily been destroyed by the US Air Force, if they had so desired. I suspect that Ho slept and hid elsewhere during Hanoi’s frequent air raids.

Among the stilts underneath the house, tables and chairs remain from Ho’s official meetings. Three
old style rotary telephones here were used to report to him on the war’s progress. Did Ho use these old phones to speak with Mao Tse Tung in Beijing, or with Leonid Brezhnev in Moscow? Who could have predicted then, that only a few decades after these three old powerful communists were dead, that global communism would be dead too.

Upstairs is a simple office, and a small bedroom. The official brochure goes on to say that Ho’s home on stilts, “symbolizes his living way of simplicity, modesty, gentleness and dedication for the nation and the people.” A more accurate description would be to say that as the top communist in a mostly agrarian country, Ho wanted to always look like he was just another everyday guy.

With this stilt house so humble and basic, I wonder if Ho spent much time in the mansion nearby. Through the trees on these same grounds, is a grand yellow colonial building, that used to be the former Palace of Indochina's General Governor.  It’s also empty now, except for occasional official functions. Now known as the Presidential Palace, even the current President doesn’t live there.

Ho's home office
Nguyen Minh Triet, a recent Vietnam President until 2011, was the first post-war president to hail from southern Vietnam. Since Ho’s death Vietnam’s top government posts have been mainly held by northerners, although that's been slowly changing. Nguyen also became the first Vietnamese President since the war ended to visit the USA, meeting President George Bush at the White House in 2007. This changing of the guard, has brought a change and improvement in diplomatic relations with Hanoi's former enemy.

These days, Ho’s dreams of equality for the working class are gone, and he probably wouldn’t approve of Vietnam’s return to what he regarded as decadent capitalism. He didn’t live to see his dream of a reunited Vietnam, but Ho would be pleased that there are no longer foreign soldiers on Vietnamese soil. 

He may be forever hated by many French and Americans, but he will be forever loved here in Hanoi.

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