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January 24, 2004

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The capital city, Hanoi, keeps its leaves in winter. The greenery, tourism, and smiles hide a history of conflict. The Vietnamese have warred and beaten major world powers: the Mongolian hordes of Kublai Khan, French, Americans, and multiple times the Cambodians and Chinese. During the "American War" (so-named from a Vietnamese perspective), US bombs damaged much of the city. No trace of that exists today yet modernity hasn't taken over. High rises don't mar old town's horizon and trees shade every street. Hanoi's center has been called an architectural museum, recalling days of French colonialism and provincial designs. The most remarkable thing we see there, besides the old gates and remnants of the ancient city (vestiges that existed before the French arrived) are narrow houses. The government taxes property based upon the surface area of a house front, so many houses take a long and narrow form. While sitting in one, don't stretch your arms out or you might scratch the neighbor's back.
Cyclos, looking like a wheelchairs with license plates, are a popular way of locomotion in Vietnamese cities.
Any visitor can view Ho Chi Minh's preserved body in this mausoleum. Ho Chi Minh means "Bringer of Light." His real name was Nguyen Tat Thanh. He founded the Vietnamese Communist Party and led the revolution and North Vietnam until his death in 1969. He mastered 5 languages, wrote Vietnam's Declaration of Independence (from France). Most interesting personal fact: he never married and had no known offspring.
In Hanoi's museum stands a piece of artwork dedicated to failed American capitalism. It features a model of the Ford Edsel, one of America's most famous business bloopers.
Chimney houses.