Monday, May 9, 2011

Week One Roundup

From Day Tour

Thursday, May 5th
We started the day by visiting Ho Chi Minh mausoleum. This is where his body is kept and on display. After going through the security we were able to see the body, which is over 30 years old, which is guarded at all times. Then we went on to visit the complex, which has remnants of his life including the house he lived in before he died, some of the cars he used and personal items. The area that we saw was mostly outside and had a lot of green area, which was quite beautiful.

Next we went to the museum of ethnology. This explores the 54 ethnic groups of Vietnam, by telling us how they live and providing artifacts. On the inside was where most of the information was and the traditional items were held. There was also an outside of the museum, which all of us really enjoyed. This area had different styles of houses that the ethnic groups live in. They were all very cool, but one of our favorite houses was 20 feet off the ground. Most of us climbed up to the house, which was a little scary. We found it interesting that most of the floors were made of bamboo.

Temple of Literature: This is the oldest school in Hanoi and has the names of the people who graduated from it on stones that sit on stone turtles. People go to this place when they want to receive good luck for an exam. People may also go here to worship, since it is a temple.

Hoa Lo Prison was the next place we visited. This is a historic landmark for the Vietnamese and was where they were imprisoned during fights for political freedom. But Americans know this place better as the Hanoi Hilton. The prison was used during the Vietnam-American War to hold POWs. One significant person that was held there was John McCain, which was really emphasized at the prison. The Vietnam-American war part of the museum touched home for more of the group and had a more significant impact on us. There were remnants of things the prisoner’s left along with a video of what all happened. One of the main messages that was talked about was how well the Vietnamese treated the American POWs, which contradicts what we have learned in the past. It was interesting to see both points of view, allowing us to get a better understanding of the War. Part of the prison has been demolished since it was last used, which was hugely controversial, since it is such a significant part of Vietnamese history.

American Embassy: Here we learned about what the Embassy does in general and how someone goes about working at an embassy. They also talked about the relations between the Embassy and Vietnam. One of the main issues we discussed was human rights and the differing options on it. We also talked about the development of the city.

Friday May 6
Today we visited Hanoi University, where the 4 Vietnamese students we are traveling with study. We had 2 lectures today, separated by lunch at the school cafeteria. The first one talked about the demographics of the area, the economy and how it is changing, poverty, and developmental challenges. The second lecture, a lot of people found quite interesting and was presented by an American teacher. We learned about how Hanoi’s landscape can be viewed as text. He informed us about the history of Hanoi and how the development has become to be. There are reasons as to why the city is shaped as it is. There is the old quarter and the new quarter, which are quite different. Defining architecture in Hanoi is so different, since there have been so many influences present, with the French being a major one. One of the major landmarks we talked about was the Long Bien Bridge, which was built by the French, but the Vietnamese are very proud of it and it is a big part of their history.
After the lecture, we were given free time to go out and explore the city along with get dinner. Everyone split up in to small groups and went out to have fun. The night market was also that night, which is when a street is closed and shops are set up on the street and many people go out shopping. This was one of the nights that some of the people in the group went and got massages, which were great. Other people went out to the Salsa club, which was a few doors down from the hotel, which was a lot of fun.

Saturday May 7, 2011
Today we were all up and out of the hotel by 7:30. We traveled to Ha Long Bay, which was about a 3-hour bus ride, on our very nice and spacious bus. When we got to the bay, we went onto a boat for our group. The boat was wooden and had 2 levels, which is consistent with most of the boats we saw. We had lunch on the boat, which was good. We had some issues trying to get everyone foods that they could eat though, due to eating restrictions, but everything worked out fine.
Everyone really enjoyed the boat and the view was indescribable. We will put up pictures soon. Lots of sunscreen was applied and it looks like no one got too burnt. We docked to take a tour of a cave, which was so cool. The rock formations were amazing and it was hard to believe that it was naturally formed. Then we went to the beach for a bit to hang out and have some fun. The water was quite nice after such a hot day and most people also hiked up to the top of the rock formation to see around the whole island. The sight was breath taking. One group even had a photo shoot at the top. As we boated back to shore the sun was setting, which was a great way to end the day trip.

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