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February 6th 2014
Published: February 8th 2014
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We woke around 0500 hours this morning and went out to Hoan Kiem lake for an early morning jog. We had assumed that it would have been desolate at this time of morning in the pitch dark, but we found that there were hundreds of people of all varying ages walking, jogging, stretching, doing Tai Chi and there was even an aerobics class of hundreds of women, music blaring across the lake. One thing that can’t help but be noticed in Asia is that everyone is slender and fit, and that no one has a gym membership or is dieting. One need not look further than to see that their food is the main reason for this.

Vietnamese food primarily consists of Pho (soup with noodles) for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Pho comes a few ways, generally with chicken, beef, seafood or vegetable. I watched as street vendors made the soup, using scissors to cut the meat into tiny little chips, just enough to add flavor, but without adding the excess fat. I had recently read a book called the Starch Solution by a doctor we had seen lecture. He maintained that starch (ie. Noodles, rice, potatoes) should not be feared as we have been taught, but rather be the central part of every meal to maintain health. It is obvious this is true the more I travel and see the eating habits of other countries in comparison to our own. We suffer staggering rates of heart disease, diabetes and obesity, yet believe we are educated on diet and nutrition.

After enjoying an amazing breakfast buffet across the street that was included with the room price, I went to the salon and had my hair done while Dennis wandered the streets for the remainder of the morning. After lunch we walked into the French Quarter of the city and visited the famous Hoa Loa prison, more commonly known by the nickname “The Hanoi Hilton.”

Hoa Loa was built in the late 1800’s by the French colonists to imprison any revolutionary Vietnamese. The majority of the prison spoke of the terrible torture and suffering the locals had endured under the French occupation, and the heroes who had fought, and subsequently were executed here for treason.

Towards the end of the walking tour there were a few rooms dedicated to the recent history of the prison spanning the American invasion. Hoa Loa was used to imprison all the captured pilots, to include Senator John McCain. The anti-American (dare I say propaganda) was thick, and the majority of the displays showed how "humanely" the prisoners were treated. Pictures of Americans celebrating Christmas, playing basketball, painting and receiving travel bags and souvenirs upon their release were shown. Letters from prisoners to their captors thanking them for their hospitality were displayed. I knew (or believed) much of this was contrived by the North Vietnamese in their campaign to convince the world the humanity of Communism.

I thought of the story I had heard of Jane Fonda betraying the prisoners and her exposure of the secreted notes passed from POW’s to her resulted in severe beatings and deaths of several inmates. After touring the prison I began to question the accuracy of this story I had never doubted previously. I found numerous websites, including Snopes, completely debunk this story and tell of how it was basically a complete and absolute lie. Fonda did pose for a picture on an anti-aircraft gun, but that was the extent of her “treasonous” activities. When she toured the prison she in fact brought letters and packages from the families of the prisoners, and brought letters home with her from the prisoners. Fonda was even said to have met with and called many of the wives of them men she met, reassuring them of their treatment and well-being.

I can’t help but be incredibly angry that this lie still circulates, and that many Americans believe it to be truth. It seems as though we have engaged in a systematic propaganda campaign ourselves. In recent years the stories of Jessica Lynch and Pat Tillman have been found to have been largely fabricated by the US gov’t to drum up American support for largely unpopular wars. I wonder how many more stories are untrue that have been yet to have been exposed.

From Hoa Loa we walked to the Ho Chi Minh complex which houses “Uncle Ho’s” mausoleum with his remains on display, the presidential palace, and One Pillar pagoda.

We went to the Ngoc Son temple which is on an island in the middle of Hoan Kiem lake. The lake is famous for a myth regarding a king who drove out the Chinese in the 15th century with a sword he had received from heaven.
As he was paddling in the lake one day a golden tortoise rose from the waters and snatched the sword back, disappearing into the depths. Now an ancestor of this mythic tortoise is on display in the pagoda on the island, and throngs of people come every day to pay homage to this stuffed turtle.

Later in the evening we attended a traditional Water Puppet show ($5) by the lake. These shows exist only in Vietnam, and Hanoi is supposed to be the best place to view them. They originate at least 1000 years ago, and were developed by rice farmers using water flooded rice paddies as their stage. There is live traditional music playing while a multitude of different puppets emerge from the water and perform skits that last a few minutes each. Obviously the meaning was lost on us as we enjoyed watching a young boy in front of us hysterically laughing throughout most of the play, but it was incredibly beautiful and fascinating to watch.

I finished the night off with a $2 pedicure, the first of many more spa treatments I plan to go. I ordinarily never indulge in these treatments, and consider them largely a frivolous waste of money, but to see these prices how can one resist?

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