Bill and Sue-On Hillman: A 50-Year Musical Odyssey


Beam, our CEO who had taken us under her wing for the entire time we were in Indochina,  introduced us to Mr. Tan our local guide for the tour to the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, Presidential Palace, House on Stilts and the One Pillar Pagoda. We took taxis to the main gate of the complex. After a lengthy walk to the Mausoleum we joined a long queue covered by a shade canopy over most of the way. Started in 1973, the construction of the granite mausoleum was modeled on that of Lenin's in Russia and was first open to the public in 1975. 

We were passed by a large crowd of little children in yellow T-shirts and hats and who were given priority to view the mummified body of Ho -- patriotic indoctrination starts at a very young age here -- as it does in most countries. Bill, in his yellow shirt, tried to mingle in with the yellow-shirted kids, but it didn't take the mausoleum guards long to spot him as an interloper - he was unceremoniously escorted back to our group. Scattered among the throngs of tourists were many school children, families, military, etc. who had made the pilgrimage.

Our queue moved along steadily since the viewers were not allowed to stop as they walked around the display case which housed the body. The line was monitored by honour guards in white uniforms who didn't allow photos to be taken. All our cameras had been collected by our local guide before we entered the queue. The body of this first president of Vietnam was well lit and in good condition considering that Ho had died in 1969. The body is taken to Moscow from November to January each year where it undergoes maintenance similar to that done to Lenin's body. Actually this was against Ho's wishes. . . he wanted to be cremated with his ashes scattered over his beloved Vietnam, rather than be put on display as had been done for Lenin, Stalin and Mao. The mausoleum obviously means a great deal for many of the Vietnamese as it ensures that their beloved leader ‘lives on forever’.

After we exited the main building Mr. Tan gave us some of the details of Ho's life: how he was educated by the discussions between his father and friends, studied abroad, studied how the lower classes lived, used an endless number of pseudonyms, was blacklisted in many countries for being involved in protests against governments, etc. He finally returned to North Vietnam, worked within the government and climbed his way up to president of the country. This was the position he held during the Vietnam War -- or the American War as it is known throughout Vietnam.

Mr. Tan said there are only 2000 Communist Party members. The rest of the people are "local people." They vote for their local party members but have no other influence. More and more though, they are capitalists in a Communist-run country. Every family has a "family book" that records all generations. An infraction would earn a black mark in this book, and it can affect future generations if they apply for government positions, education, etc.

After the Mausoleum, we toured the grounds where there were several buildings from the French colonial era that had been taken over by the communist government. The buildings were golden coloured and very French in style. We walked past the Presidential Palace which was the former home of the Governor General of Indochina. This large colonial structure is open only to diplomats or visiting foreign dignitaries. Ho didn't want to work in this building. He wanted a simple building, to set an example for the people. So, a small cottage on stilts was built nearby and this was where he worked and lived. On our way to the cottage and the surrounding botanical gardens we followed the long tree-lined Mango Alley where Ho had walked for his morning excercise. It was in these gardens that he also practised Martial Arts and Tai Chi with his guards. We passed servants quarters and the Ho's earlier residence -- the electrician's house -- that he occupied in the '50s while the stilt house was being built. 

An interesting building along the way was a former colonial staff quarters converted to a garage to house some of Ho's cars that had been donated from foreign countries: a 1954 Russian Zis, a 1955 Russian Pobeda and a 1964 Peugeot 404.

"Uncle Ho's Fish Pond" is one of the major attractions in the complex. This large scenic pond was stocked with carp by Ho. There are many places of interest circling this lake which we looked forward to exploring.

Arrival and Joining the Queue

Ho Chi Minh Body

Bill Joins the Yellow-Shirt Gang

The Mausoleum draws crowds of locals, school kids, families, military,
tourists and Vietnamese from all  over the country.

Entrance to the Presidential Palace and the walk along Mango Road

The Presidential Palace

Ho's Residence and Office in the 1950s

Some of the cars given to Ho from foreign countries

Sue-On admiring the emerging Cypress Roots and Ho's Fish Pond

Uncle Ho's Fish Pond which is teeming with Carp





Copyright 2015
Bill and Sue-On Hillman