Tuesday, October 10, 2017
Hanoi is a teeming and energetic city consisting of seven and a half million people which immediately inundates every one of your senses and sends a shock to your system that suddenly jolts you awake. Luckily, we had booked a tour with Lam Le who came and picked us up from the airport, brought us safely to our Airbnb and then took us on an immediate tour of the capital city. First up was a stop at Pho 10 for delicious rice noodle soup and Hanoi beer, but after traveling for thirty hours and being stifled by the intense humidity, we were only able to enjoy a few bites!
Next up was the Temple of Literature which the emperor had built in 1070 CE and was erected in order to house scholars. This temple was dedicated to Confucius, the wise philosopher who was born in 551 BCE. Before Confucius was born, his mother went to the mountains to pray for a son. One night while in her garden, she had a dream in which she saw an animal coming toward her. Once it got close enough, she realized it was a unicorn. She placed her scarf on the unicorn's horn to make sure it wasn't an illusion, and noticed that there was a jade tablet in the mouth of this mythical creature. Inscribed upon the tablet it stated that a son of the Great Spirit was to be born and that he would one day be a good and wise king. Our tour guide, Lam, had told us that there are four revered animals in Vietnam; the unicorn, the turtle, the dragon and the phoenix, and many of these divine creatures were ornately displayed throughout the temple which has miraculously survived years of war and destruction.
The following item on the agenda was Hao Lo prison which the French built in approximately 1886 to house political prisoners striving for Vietnam's independence against colonial occupation. During this time, heinous acts of torture were committed inside of these stone walls, creating an eerie mood upon seeing the degree of detail applied to generating this punishing level of existence. At the time of the Vietnam War, this same fortress was again used to detain prisoners of war from the United States. It is certainly a glaring reminder of our divided history, but as Winston Churchill said, 'If we open a quarrel between past and present, we shall find that we have lost the future.' I think it's so important to remember these sad, yet poignant times in history so we aren't doomed to make the same mistakes again and rather, rebuild relationships by trying to gain an understanding of one another and the things that make us unique as well as the things that make us the same.