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Vancouver BC Downtown

Short on time but long-held memories

all seasons in one day 16 °C
View Vancouver BC Downtown on DenOS.08's travel map.

Two reasons I chose to enter North America via Vancouver, Canada. First, Air Canada flies direct from Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne. Second, it is less painful entering the United States through Canada as my destination is New York. On my return, I stopped over in Vancouver for a few days and discovered that it was a worthy third reason.

The short few days there I found to be regrettably too short and my exploration was restricted to downtown Vancouver. Breaking out of the city boundary will be for another and most certainly longer visit.

As an Australian, there is a sense of familiarity with Canada and its history — ignoring the obvious where there is vast areas of ice and snow compared to the red earth deserts of Australia. In particular Vancouver, with its wide, grid designed streets similar to Melbourne, a sensible blend of old and new buildings, and plenty of art, culture and urban experiences to leave a lasting impression.

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As an art lover my first stop — and not my only one — is the Vancouver Art Gallery situated in the renovated provincial courthouse. It is one of the largest art galleries in Canada featuring local and international art as well as major touring exhibitions. I was lucky enough to catch the Takashi Murakami The Octopus Eats Its Own Leg exhibition.

The original facade of the provincial courthouse facing W. Georgia Street. Gallery entrance is in Hornby Street on the right.

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The main rear entrance to the gallery overlooks Robson Square Ice Rink. Above the entrance is the rooftop courtyard that feeds into the gallery restaurant — a great place to take a break, have a wine or coffee and indulge in other pleasures. If a more commercial environment is your thing then close by is the vast Pacific Centre shopping mall.

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To broaden your understanding of the history and culture of the city is the Museum of Vancouver. Set among seasonable pink cherry blossom in Vanier Park, it is a leisurely stroll across the Burrard Street Bridge that spans False Creek — derived from the indigenous name, Snaug (sandbar). The Museum shares the park with the Academy of Music and the Vancouver Maritime Museum.

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Above left: view from Burrard Street Bridge looking towards Granville Island. Above right: April is Cherry Blossom Festival time. Below: entrance to the Museum of Vancouver in all its blossom glory.


The Museum covers the history of the city from the First Nation People, the city before the city and the Neon Age.

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A walk through the park offers a sombre panorama of the city skyline as the Museum’s echos of the past still hum in your fresh understanding. Around you pink blossoms bloom, spring is greening the trees and the remnants of winter’s clouds brush the distant mountain tops.


Past the Maritime Museum is the ferry dock and once again the past seems to have never left. Dedicated maritime craftspeople ply their skills fashioning oars by hand and timber boats by collaboration — and a bit of pondering.

Then it’s time to walk the jetty, past the jingling rigging of cutter, ketch and sloop to board the cute little False Creek Ferry to Granville Island.

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There’s two ferry services that zigzag between docks each side of two-mile long False Creek from the Maritime Museum to Science World at the very end.

My first stop is Granville Island. It was lunch time, I was hungry and straight off the ferry there was Bridges Bistro in radiant yellow and beckoning me in. Time to rest, take in the magnificent view and gather my thoughts of what I have learnt so far about Vancouver’s history. Culture and art. At least two glasses of wine worth!

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Refreshed and eager to move on, my walk around Granville Island continued to come across little and big gems. Like the Public Market for all things food and goods, the Artsclub Theatre Company Backstage Lounge sheltered under the Granville Bridge and the towering well-dressed cement silos.

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Artists studios, galleries and print shops, craft shops, leather goods, fashion designers, jewellery designers, a distillery, hand-made furniture, ceramics & pottery, cafés and restaurants and much more are spread over the Island with intermittent entertainment from street performers. No wonder Granville Island is a favourite for both tourists and Vancouverites.


Time had come to leave the Island and the many enjoying the sunshine, view and fresh air to catch my little ferry and continue my Vancouver discovery tour.

At the eastern end of False Creek sits the orb-inspiring Science World. Unfortunately time was against me and the crystal ice-cream dollop-topped building will be on the agenda for another visit to Vancouver.

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A short walk from Science World is Pacific Central — the main Vancouver station. Previously known as False Creek Station it is understandably listed as a heritage station. It is not huge by world standards, but regal and imposing facing the manicured Thornton Park.

From the station I walked up Main Street to Hastings Street and came upon the darker side of Vancouver. Like all major cities there is the poorer side but I felt things a little different here. There are the unkept and empty buildings and lingering crowds, but there is also a sense of community and support centred around the Carnegie Community Centre, at times referred to as the living room of Downtown Eastside. Built in 1903 as the Carnegie Public Library its purpose still remains a place of social, cultural and recreational support for the low income society.

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Further up Hastings Street, where East becomes West, is Victory Square at the junction of Cambie Street and in sight of the Vancouver Lookout where you can ride a glass elevator to the top for a 360 degree view of Vancouver. But it’s late in the day and I’m heading back to my pad.


My next and final day in Vancouver is spent checking out the Waterfront with the sprawling Convention Centre looking like a liner about to set sail on a cruise with sails up and funnel-like hotel towering above. Of course if you don’t want to cruise you can always catch a sea plane.

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On the left, like landing from the sky with a bending crunch is the Burrard Landing sign while on the right is the more sedate and elegant Inges Idee collective sculpture The Drop.

As a final bow to the character, imagination and brilliance of Vancouver I leave you with my favourite piece of architecture, the downtown Vancouver Public Library.

I look forward to a longer stay in this fascinating city.

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Posted by DenOS.08 23:01 Archived in Canada Tagged art buildings streets harbour gallery market museum sculpture canada vancouver downtown library waterfront cherry_blossom granville_island Comments (1)

What a difference a Bay makes

Two peninsulas cradle Port Phillip Bay – two very different stories

sunny 27 °C

The first recorded shot of World War I, the 'Gibraltar of the South', dozens of shipwrecks and entrance to the richest port in the world. All part of European history? Far from it! The other side of the world in fact. Down under, down south and down at the entrance to Port Phillip Bay.

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The entrance is a mere three kilometres of deceptive, treacherous water with a navigable channel of only one kilometre…better known locally as “The Rip”. Peninsulas each side of the Rip lay sentinels to Melbourne’s ocean gateway and offer two of Victoria’s most popular and interesting coastal destinations – Queenscliff on the Bellarine Peninsula and Sorrento on the Mornington Peninisula.

With thundering surf on the ocean side and safe, calm water on the Bay side, they could be mirrored reflections of each other. But, the differences are deep and reach far back. As far back in fact, to the origin of the state of Victoria.

In 1803, Sullivan Bay, one kilometre east of Sorrento, was Victoria’s first, and unfortunately very short, European settlement. Under control of Lieutenant Colonel David Collins, the penal settlement was abandoned in less than a year due to the scarcity of fresh water, unsuitable soil, fear of Aborigines, lack of discipline and the escape of many convicts. The settlement was moved to Risdon Cove in Van Diemen’s Land, later to be known as Tasmania. One escaped convict was William Buckley who lived with aborigines for more than thirty years on the opposite peninsula.

Frederick William Woodhouse, The first settlers discover Buckley, 1861, State Library of Victoria

From Van Diemen’s Land, a young settler by the name of John Batman led an expedition back to the Port Phillip Bay area, and laid the founding stone of Melbourne in 1835. This meant Sorrento was again settled by Europeans. The grab for land claims and family holdings, of which many still remain, are the reason Sorrento is like it is today.

On the other side of the Bay, in 1853, Lieut. Governor La Trobe named the fishing village, Queenscliff . As the town prospered it was proclaimed as the Borough of Queenscliffe – the added’ e’ is now only used in reference to the Borough.


It soon became clear by the growing number of ships being wrecked, the Rip – named after the combination of tidal turbulence and dramatic variations of depth – was, and still is, one of the most hazardous channels in the world.

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Marine disaster bell, Queenscliff and the wrecked SS Cheviot breaking up at Point Nepean in1887.
Thirty-five lives were lost making it the worst shipwreck in Victoria's history.

To protect the vital shipping for this growing colony, each ship needed directing through these dangerous waters. In 1838, four men risked their lives by venturing out in an open whaleboat to steer ships through the Rip. This was the start of the pilot service that continues to this day. No longer in open whaleboats, but in fast, sleek, bright orange boats equipped with the latest technology. Despite the heroic efforts of the earlier pilots, more than 100 shipwrecks lay beneath the waves in this area of coastline.

An artists impression of the Sea Pilot's worst disaster when the pilot schooner Rip capsized in 1873 killing the pilot and three crewmen.

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A modern pilot boat heading out to the Heads and their berth at Queenscliff Harbour.

While the marine importance of Queenscliff was to set its character, a more important role would establish its style.

"Gold!" The word cried out around the burgeoning state. Gold seemed to be everywhere creating vast riches. At the height of the Gold Rush, Melbourne was the richest port in the world which meant a greater need for defence. A list was established of potential external enemies with plunder on their minds and an easy escape through the lightly defended Heads of Port Phillip.

An Australian Gold Diggings, Edwin Stockqueler, 1855, National Gallery of Australia

It was recommended in 1877, that fortification on both sides of the entrance to Port Phillip was of utmost importance. Queenscliff had, at that stage, a small contingent of army personnel to protect the growing pilot and customs activities as well as the vital lighthouse. The main fort was built on Shortland Bluff overlooking Queenscliff, which, to this day, is Australia’s largest preserved fort. Another fortification was established at Swan Island, situated just inside the bay, and others at Portsea and Point Nepean on the other side of the Rip.

Fort Queenscliff.
The Black Lighthouse in the background is built of black stone and one of only three black lighthouses in the world.

By 1886 the initial defence of Port Phillip was complete and regarded as the most heavily fortified port of the British Empire in the Southern Hemisphere – The Gibraltar of the South.

The establishment of Fort Queenscliff brought new growth and wealth to this seaside village. The military personnel had to be catered for and the added protection enticed new businesses that led to Queenscliff becoming a holiday resort.

At Portsea and Sorrento, the story was similar. The added protection of the Landed Gentry, made Sorrento the favoured, fashionable escape for the ‘rich and famous’.

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Affluence lines the foreshore from Portsea to Sorrento.

The wealth from gold and business successes allowed more time for excursions and relaxation. This created new enterprises. Paddle steamers joined the trading schooners that linked Melbourne to Queenscliff and Sorrento, the forerunners of the little steamers of Port Phillip Bay.

Ozone passing Pile Light, Port Phillip (Unknown c.1910).

Passengers on steamer ferry, circa 1920, Museum Victoria

Grand hotels were erected to cater for the visiting ‘well-heeled’ pleasure seekers. Music and gaiety, mixed with the invigorating sea air, established the southern-most part of Port Phillip Bay as the Queen of Watering Places. The hotels are still there, and most certainly, the reputation has survived.

Continental Hotel, Sorrento

Vue Grand Hotel, Queenscliff

Queenscliff Hotel, Queenscliff

A trip ‘down the Bay’ from Melbourne was a great delight. The wealthy purchased land and encouraged their professional friends to follow suit. Sorrento, in particular, made the most of this wealthy occupation, and continues to do so. Queenscliff also attracted the wealthy, but remained a fishing village offering safe anchorage for visiting yachts.

Boat shed and Queenscliff Pier

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Queenscliff Harbour

In 1914, these peaceful, romantic destinations were to enter the annals of war.

At midnight GMT on the night of August 4, declaration of war was made in Europe. As news of war reached Australia twelve hours later, a German steamer, the Pfalz, was rushing to reach the Heads and open sea. Not being fully coaled up, the Pfalz was approaching Sorrento when the order was given to halt the German steamer. The captain of the Pfalz ignored signals from Fort Nepean to stop until a shot was fired across the vessel’s bow – the first recorded shot of WWI.

SS Pfalz

History has a habit of repeating itself, and so it was to happen again, though less dramatic, at the beginning of the World War II.

On September 4, 1939, a small Bass Strait freighter, the Woniora, attempted to enter Port Phillip Bay without responding with a code word of a friendly ship. A warning shot was fired – the first official Australian shot of WWII. The Woniora quickly identified itself and was allowed to proceed through the Heads.

Peace returned and Queenscliff went into a state of dormancy as the popularity of the motor car opened up new holiday destinations further and further from Melbourne. This resulted in preserving the 19th century atmosphere of the unique fishing and maritime hamlet – its greatest asset.
Rather than slumbering, Sorrento took a short nap during this car invasion. Being populated mostly by wealthy land owners, the car took on a new role. The relatively short drive from Melbourne meant Sorrento was to become the ‘weekender’ haven.

The pleasure still remains in capturing the unique relationship between these two guardians of Melbourne’s ocean gateway. Both an easy ninety-minute drive from Melbourne, or alternatively, train to Frankston then bus to Sorrento or Train to Geelong and bus to Queenscliff. A car ferry operates every hour during daylight hours between Queenscliff and Sorrento. The forty-five minute drip is comfortable, scenic and quite often accompanied by playful dolphins.

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The Searoad car ferry on the water and at Sorrento

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Queenscliff Station was once on a branch line from Geelong.
It is now run by volunteers operating a tourist train to Drysdale and the popular Blues Train.

Both Queenscliff and Sorrento have a range of accommodation to suit any budget. Some of the old hotels are restored to their original grandeur and offer excellent weekend deals.

Dining is one activity that blends the locals with visitors. This is more evident in Sorrento. Here, meeting your neighbour for coffee or having an alfresco lunch on the sunny sidewalk with weekend guests is the norm.

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Queenscliff dining is more indoors. The wide streets are more for traffic than eating. A reflection of the fact that this is still a working village. But dining here is no less an experience. In fact, the elegant grand hotel dining rooms offer an ambience that absorbs you into the regions historical significance.

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Hesse Street, Queenscliff and The Queenscliff Inn

People on both sides of the Bay are at peace with their minds and their stomachs.



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Queenscliff Maritime Museum


According to the 2011 Census, the Mornington Peninsula had grown to 144,608 residents made up of 39,201 families and 83,526 private dwellings. The Bellarine Peninsula (including the Surf Coast) falls well short with 60,584 residents, 16,524 families and 38,065 private dwellings.

Posted by DenOS.08 21:12 Archived in Australia Tagged churches boats trains melbourne victoria restaurant cruises museum dining transportation seaside sorrento peninsula car_ferry queenscliff alfresco port_phillip_bay pilot_boats Comments (2)

Ho Chi Minh in passing

My enriching journey to view the embalmed Vietnamese leader


I feel I need to preface this article with an explanation why I went to view the embalmed body of Ho Chi Minh.
- I’m not Vietnamese - I’m Australian - I’m of an age I could have fought against his army, but didn’t - I know of others that did
- I know of others that did and died - Back then, depending on your view, he was the enemy.
I visited him not as a tourist. I visited the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum in Hanoi to specifically view his embalmed body for story research and to close a chapter.

Setting the scene


Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum in the Ba Dinh District of Hanoi looms large and out of place in this land of French and lotus-inspired architecture. Based on Lenin’s Mausoleum in Moscow, one could be forgiven for thinking they were standing in front of any Soviet authoritarian style building in a number of countries. The hardly noticeable curved roofline adds very little Vietnamese style or character and seems at odds with its purpose. Built over two years (1973-1975) to house the embalmed body of the revered leader Ho Chi Minh, the mausoleum is an anomaly. It was Ho Chi Minh's wish not to be embalmed, but for a simple cremation and his ashes spread over a rice field.

The mausoleum faces Ba Dinh Square where, on 2 September 1945, Ho declared independence for the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. Behind the granite mausoleum and the neighbouring and much contrasting French designed Presidential Palace, is the sprawling and leafy Botanic Gardens. Considered the green lungs of Hanoi, the gardens were established over thirty-three hectares by the French in 1890. They have since been reduced to ten hectares.

It is here were my tale begins.

It wasn’t my initial intention to explore the Botanic Gardens of Hanoi. But for anyone considering viewing the body of Ho Chi Minh lying deep within the mausoleum, the gardens will come first…well, almost. Let me explain.

I left my hotel in the Old Quarter at 8.00 am with the knowledge public entry into the mausoleum started at 8.30. The cyclo trip cost 20,000 dong ($1), and took less than half an hour.

As I approached the distant grey bunker-like mausoleum, the heat and humidity was rapidly increasing, as were the number of people joining an even greater number of people with the same intent.

After some confusion as to the entry procedure, I was directed to a small kiosk where I was ordered to leave my camera and camera case. All bags, cameras and mobile phones are prohibited inside the viewing chamber. I was given a numbered key ring in exchange for my camera and told, with a unclarifying wave of the hand, I could claim my camera on the other side of the mausoleum after the viewing.

Getting to and from the kiosk meant breaking through a long queue that faded well off into the distance. Having already discovered how extremely generous and friendly the Vietnamese are if you show politeness, I was graciously allowed through on both occasions.

Feeling naked without my camera and slightly worried if I'll ever see it again, I had a problem…where was the end of the queue? This is where the Botanic Gardens became unintentional itinerary number one. I backtracked along the line of people deep into the gardens, twisting around every tree, garden plot, pond and patch. In my haste, the heat and humidity was transforming my shirt into sweat induced irregular patterns and I was becoming an item of interest. Here was a tall sweat-stained foreigner walking rapidly in the wrong direction and quite possibly the only foreigner at this early hour.

With still no end of queue in sight, things suddenly became even more baffling. The queue forked off in two directions. Which fork do I take? Ask one of the brown-shirted policemen keeping the crowd in order, I thought. I got a silent, uninterested nod and an arm pointing in one direction. Hoping he wasn’t showing me the way out, I faithfully followed his direction till coming to a park gate and a main road beyond. Had my fear of being ejected come true? No, the queue continued down the street and still no end in sight. I approached another policeman who seemed as confused as I was, or was it the language barrier? I contemplated blending into the line there and then, but with suspicious brown-uniformed eyes on me, I set off further down the road.

It was now over half and hour since starting my journey to find the end of the line and I was beginning to doubt if, indeed, I ever would. Then I came across another gate that led back into the gardens. The queue I was following suddenly stopped to allow a shorter line to enter a gate back into the gardens. I tagged onto the end only to have the marshals hold us up to allow my previous line to enter before me. Had I missed something? Had I made the wrong choice? After an anxious wait, my newly adopted queue started off. I was now implanted into a line, that I hoped, was heading towards my intended destination. Aware of the distance I had travelled to get to this point, I had to accept a long, slow journey ahead.

Settling into the rhythm of slow shuffling feet, I did a rough calculation. It was now after nine o’clock and the mausoleum closes at eleven.* I had just walked at a brisk pace for well over thirty minutes to get where I was and the snail pace we were now progressing made me wonder…would I finally get to Ho Chi Minh's solid and foreboding Pearly Gates only to have them close in my face?

I was soon to realised that whatever the outcome, for the next couple of hours, the experience of being in the company of a group of Vietnamese of varying ages would be something to cherish.

The meandering, endless line of people was controlled by a small army of police and marshals and apart from the odd young male attempting to queue-jump, whom the marshals berated and sent to the end of queue, there was self-imposed respectful order. It was difficult to imagine such a thing happening in Melbourne and the crush to get into the MCG to see a football game.

But, the police and marshals can be harshly unforgiving at times. A teenage boy left the queue to retrieve a hat blown from a toddler’s head, on returning the hat and to his place in the queue, the marshals ordered him to the end of the line. To the marshals, he was a queue-jumper despite protests from his family and those around. I learnt there and then that while totally unfair to this well-meaning youngster, in this country, you do not argue with those in authority.

Because if this discipline, those in front, behind and beside me would be my constant companions for some time. Most were families of two or three generations, from babies to perhaps eighty or ninety years old. It’s difficult to determine the age of the older Asians, as their skin tends to retain youthful resilience.

The younger ones in my immediate company smiled and tittered behind raised hands at this bedraggled, sweaty westerner. I smiled back, said, “Hello” and watched as they went into a giggling huddle. Immediately in front of me a mother had a baby in her arms with its head resting on the mother’s shoulder and facing directly at me. Even at this early stage of life, the sight of a greying, bearded, fair-skinned Westerner is a sight to behold, and behold she/he did. Not once did it blink or its bewildered stare deviate from me.

The giggling, chatter and the odd quick glance in my direction, had me feel something of an oddity, of which I surely was. My sweating, dishevelled appearance was not a good advertisement for Western values among the neatly dressed paying their respect to Uncle Ho. Was this an affront to Uncle Ho? Was I being disrespectful? Probably, but here I was and all I could do was hope the scorching heat would overcome the high humidity and dry out my shirt before too long.

When travelling you inevitably meet many locals, even creating long-lasting friendships, but, apart from waiting at train and bus stations, becoming integrated into a group going about their cultural routine is something different. My immediate neighbours consisted of the six or eight people directly in front and maybe six behind. After their initial curiosity, giggling and teetering at my inclusion, I was soon accepted.

Feeling more relaxed, I turned my attention to the baby in front who continued to focus on me as if mesmerised by some alien being. I shook its little hand hanging limply over the mother’s shoulder which provoked another round of laughter. The mother turned sharply to see her baby had latched onto my finger and wouldn’t let go. It took only an instant for the her to evaluate the dangers of such contact, and, with a broad smile, she accepted we were now firmly attached…possibly for the remaining metre-a-minute journey. I had become a focal point, or maybe just a source of amusement to quell the boredom of a slow journey ahead. Young males began practicing their English by asking me 'where I from' and responded to my 'Australia' reply with, surprisingly, “Aussie, Aussie”. This evoked more giggles from the young girls, as they too, relaxed in my presence.

In contrast, the elderly were more constrained toward me. It was the men in their sixties who eyed me with a degree of suspicion. Being of similar age, I felt they saw in me as past enemy. Remember, this is Hanoi, the seat of the North Vietnamese push for Reunification and the stronghold of the Vietnam Peoples Army in the 60s. Though I took no part in the conflict, in their eyes I could have once been in their gun sights as they could have been in mine.

Whether I was of no further interest or the motion of the mother's slow stride lulled the baby to sleep, I finally had my hand back. Freed up, I took out my notepad to jot down some observations and again attracted the attention of the young. They closed in around me to see what I was writing and in what language. It was obvious they were interested in learning another language, as people in most countries are, except, unfortunately, for my own. It saddened me that I could not converse with these young people to learn more of their lives and ambitions. All I could do was share a smile with them and feel accepted.

An hour into the journey and the heat had soared to around forty-degrees celsius and my shirt was drying nicely. Those around me were now fanning themselves as fan and bottled water sellers patrolled the line. I exchanged some Dong for a bottle of cold water but the fans were sold out. One gentleman of about fifty something must have felt sorry for me. He moved a little closer, and while continuing to fan himself, directed some of his breeze in my direction. This was done without looking at me or showing any sign that it was intentional. The mother in front was also fanning herself and sleeping baby and very discreetly directed some of her generated breeze toward me. I was touched by such generosity to a complete and foreign stranger.

As we slowly progressed, the orderly patience of these people amazed me. The young children, who would have been bored out of their brains within a few minutes back home, entertained themselves and rarely ventured from the line. I felt that the few teenage boys who did attempt to jump the queue, were seen as Western influence breaking down centuries of cultural tolerance and patience.

After endless paths and seemingly retraced steps, we finally came into view of the mausoleum. Turning into Ba Dinh Square, young girls in traditional white pants under long, white, side-split tunics replaced the brown-uniformed police. Each girl wore a badge showing their name and a photo in school uniform. These smiling, immaculately dressed young girls presented a cultural sensitivity to the occasion.


Further up the avenue we entered a canopied walkway. Beside keeping the line tightly organised, it also offered welcome relief from the heat. The mausoleum was now within reach. White uniformed guards replaced the girls to watch over the now sombre crowd. Children stopped playing and dancing and a silent respect of the occasion had taken over.

Reaching the towering granite building, I noticed a group of three guards in brilliant white ceremonial uniforms at a side entrance. Two were armed with rifles while the third kept an eye on his watch. Was my timing fortunate? Could I be about to witness the changing of the guard?

Photo from external source.

We’re stopped to allow the three guards to march in regular step formation onto the paved surround leading up to the entrance. Approaching the entrance they changed to a goose-step, a slow, straight-legged stride with arms swinging across the body. They turned, and, without breaking stride or rhythm, climbed the steps to the large double-doored entrance. Without hesitation, the guards being replaced descend the steps in the same slow, ceremonial march back to their quarters. The two fresh armed honour guards took up their positions each side of the entrance and the change-over completed.

We're now allowed to climb the steps, and, in orderly single file, enter into a contrasting world. From the glare of sunlight and oppressive heat we are suddenly enclosed in sombre semi-darkness and chilled air. Despite the dull light, the presence of red is both political and a relief within the cold, grey structure.

This is one of the holiest sites in Vietnam and the following buddhist protocol must be adhered to and is strictly enforced by ever alert honour guards:
- wear clothes that cover you up, and that means no shorts, singlets or sleeveless shirts
- hats must be removed
- hands must be out of pockets
- don't even think about smuggling in a camera/phone
- don't talk or smile and continue to walk slowly and without hesitation
- you are required to bow
- always maintain a respectful attitude.
Any deviation from the above and the guards will not hesitate to single you out.

The appropriate deadly silence is disturbed only by the gentle movement of cool air that controls the internal atmosphere. Not even breathing of the continuous line of viewers can be noticed. It's as if the solemnity of the occasion has everyone holding their breathe.

Then, suddenly, you're in his presence.

Very few photos of the embalmed Ho Ch Minh can be found. This is from a news source and shows members of the communist party surround the body of North Vietnamese president Ho Chi Minh at the opening of the mausoleum.

There is no lingering to take in the detail. The movement of the queue must not pause or falter. The sudden impact of casting your eyes over this man, Ho Chi Minh, is all-consuming. Even now I struggle to remember all I witnessed. There are four sentries. One stationed on each corner of the bier that supports the glass sarcophagus wherein his embalmed body lies. The make-up and pin-point lighting on face and exposed hands crossed on his stomach, has the initial impact of a wax model. The familiar grey goatee beard is there as is the familiar khaki suit he's dressed in. The cosmetics applied have given life to the flesh, yet the missing soul cannot be replaced.

The long anticipated view of the man is only but a fleeting glimpse. But for those I'd spent the last two hours in the company of, it was a decades long deep and meaningful offering of respect.

  • It's estimated around 10,000 people visit Ho every day. If you intend to visit the mausoleum, check for current opening and closing days and times as they could vary. For two months of the year (October and November) the mausoleum is closed when the embalmed body is sent to Russia for preservation maintenance.

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After reclaiming my camera, a visit to the Ho Chi Minh Museum was next on my agenda. The building is next to the Mausoleum and in contrasting style to the Soviet edifice…white, as opposed to grey, a little more inviting and people enter and leave without police control. Once inside I'm greeted by a large wood carving of the revered man hovering over you in the clouds. But it's the interior that attacks the visual senses. It's more a walk through a dream world than casting an eye over the man's interesting artefacts and mementos. This museum brings the cultural imagination of the Vietnamese to a futuristic level. After all, a future was all Ho Chi Minh wanted for his people.

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Before leaving this district, I passed by the iconic One Pillar Temple (Chùa Một Cột). Constructed by Lý Thái Tông, who ruled between 1028 and 1054, and based on a dream. Lý Thái Tông was childless and dreamt of being handed a baby son by Avalokiteshvara (the Bodhisattva of Infinite Compassion) who was seated on a lotus flower. Not long after, his Queen gave birth to a baby boy. In honour of the Bodhisattva, the Emperor ordered the temple be built to represent a lotus flower rising from the water.
The pagoda was destroyed in 1954 by retreating French Union Forces after the first Indochina War. It was rebuilt a year later.

As I travelled back to my hotel reflecting on my visit with Uncle Ho, I saw what I my research wanted me to see. But unexpectedly, and to my mind, more importantly, was the time spent in the company of his admirers. My presence was in stark contrast to their culture, as was the growing contrast in the younger generation. Western fashion and values are seen infiltrating their way of life. But, the greatest surprise came from these same young Vietnamese. They were unaware Australia took part in what they call the American War. This was a good thing?

Posted by DenOS.08 19:07 Archived in Vietnam Tagged people gardens temple vietnam museum hanoi guards mausoleum ho_chi_minh Comments (0)

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