Waking up in Hanoi this morning required lots of bundling up before heading outside into the fifty degree weather. It is extra cold here in Hanoi because of the monsoon season in this part of the country. It is amazing how much colder fifty degrees feels in Vietnam compared to Decorah; some of us may have lost our Midwestern winter toughness. That being said, last night called for some shopping in order to acquire some warmer winter gear. Shops around Hanoi are filled with imitations of the brand ‘The North Face,” and there was some serious haggling happening in order to get the cheapest prices. Our shopping success was reflected this morning as everyone strolled into breakfast in their striking new North Face jackets and vests.
Our first destination today was the Ethnology museum. Here we learned about the current 54 different ethnic minorities throughout Vietnam. We saw a variety of exhibits for each group that displayed artifacts specific to them such as clothing, tools, and artwork. There was also a significant amount of architecture we were able to explore such as life-sized models of the traditional housing of the ethnic groups. One particularly interesting piece of the house belonging to the Thai Dan minority were the staircases. Initially, each home was constructed with an even number of stairs and bedrooms. When one family member passed away, the home would add an extra stair to make it an even number before carrying the deceased body out.
Our next stop was at the Hoa Lo Prison. It was first built by French Colonialists in order to hold Vietnamese political prisoners. Later this prison was used by North Vietnam for prisoners of war from the United States. Most of the POW held here were pilots, including the infamous John McCain. ‘Hanoi Hilton’ was the name given sarcastically by the American POW related to the harsh living conditions and inhumane interrogation practices that took place here. Many of us were intrigued by a propaganda video that displayed the humane living conditions for the Americans, where they simply learned more about the Vietnamese people during their pleasant prison stay. It is fascinating to see how the Vietnamese and American views and information regarding the same war often differ entirely.
Next we had the opportunity to visit the Temple of Literature, which holds Vietnam's first national university. Here, we saw another Buddhist pagoda and also learned more about Confucianism from our tour guide, Nam. Nam also took advantage of our bus rides to teach us a little more about the Vietnamese language. He held up signs with different letters and we all enjoyed trying our best pronunciations.
Our last great adventure today was having dinner with the families of current and former Luther students. Our group tonight had dinner with Tam Vo. Both him and his mother treated us to one of the most incredible meals we have ever had. They had made us a massive platter of egg rolls that were absolutely amazing. Not only did they make us egg rolls but they also made duck, chicken curry, salad, and countless other amazing dishes. Between bites of exquisite food we talked to Tam about his life and time at school. He is currently working at a marketing firm here in Hanoi. Along with his day job he is currently involved in helping organize a local music festival. After dinner we all went and had bubble tea and talked further.
Along with getting to meet Tam and his mother, we were also able to experience the local taxis. Our first ride was slow, steady, and everything you would hope for in a car ride. The ride back was much more interesting. Our driver on the return trip must have been practicing for NASCAR. It was stressful yet exhilarating.