Hanoi--Our First Stop

Our flight from LAX to Hanoi, Vietnam, went off without a hitch; a very long 15-hour flight to Hong Kong; a 3-hour layover and then a 2-hour flight to Hanoi.

I had been to Vietnam 17-18 years ago and how things have changed. The brand new airport is First Class and the roads and bridges leading into the Central City are new and improved. On my first visit, most of the population moved around on pedal bikes. Those have now been replaced by scooters (thousands everywhere) and small cars and medium size SUV's (Ford has an assembly plant here and you see lots of the Ford Focus cars on the road).

We're staying at the Sofitel Metropole, an old colonial style hotel as good as the best hotel in any major city in the world.

Wonderful piece in the National Art Museum

After a short rest, we were off to explore the Hanoi; the Natural History Museum, a long rickshaw ride through the streets where the locals were celebrating Lunar (Chinese) New Year, and finally a tour through Maison Centrale, better known as the Hanoi Hilton where shot-down US pilots were held from 1964 to 1973.

Not everyone in Hanoi uses rickshaws and scooters

For me, the rickshaw ride was the most interesting. You get down on street level and see the locals in their own environment. Motorbikes whizzing everywhere; sellers of balloons and flags on every corner. Street vendors selling all types of food and drinks.

Madeline with the artist Dao Anh Khanh in suburb
It was all very colorful and smiles everywhere. Lots of people were wearing their best clothes......looking very smart indeed.

After a good night's sleep, we hit the streets on our second day. Most of our day was devoted to art and artists. We started the day with a visit to the studio of Mie Hein, a very accomplished artist who is trying to marry the ancient Vietnamese technique of lacquer painting to contemporary paintings. I thought it was very creative and her figures were dreamlike in the manner of Chagall. Following the visit to her studio, she was our guide through the National Art Museum. This museum spans an enormous amount of time; from art objects and carvings from before Christ up to the present. One thing stood out to me. 

It was difficult to identify a particular Vietnamese style. The country has been occupied, conquered, or partnered with so many dominant countries/peoples/cultures that it is hard to tell what was indigenous Vietnamese and what was grafted from some other culture. Their art over the last 200 years has lots of Chinese, French and Russian characteristics......China and France occupied the country for long periods of time, and Russia was their great benefactor and role model at a critical time. Not surprising that these cultural influences would find their way into the country’s art, but it will be very interesting to see how the art develops into the future, as the country has now secured its independence.

Monument marking the spot (in the lake behind) 
where John McCain was shot down over Hanoi
Talking about independence, our next stop was at the home/gallery/hotel of Dao Anh Khanh in Long Bien across the Red River from Hanoi. His style was avant-garde (I thought it was bizarre; Bruce liked it, but that is more a comment about us than Khanh's paintings). His refrain was that love, sex and art are all the same. He is planning a Woodstock/Burning Man "happening" in a couple of years. Prior to becoming a professional artist, he worked for the Police searching out subversive art. Let me say that we left there with my head spinning.........and, as an example of Vietnam's modernity, as we were leaving, a young couple from Liverpool arrived in an Uber car and they had booked a tree-house in Khanh's establishment by way of Air BNB.

The remains of a B-52 Bomber that crashed
into a small lake in Hanoi during the war.
Notice the name of the cafe behind the wreck.
Finally finished with the local art scene, we picked up Hung Me, a former Vietnamese (I.e. Viet Cong) Air Force pilot who is credited with shooting down the first American plane during the Vietnamese War. He took us to see the Monument constructed at West Lake to commemorate the capture of John McCain, who was shot down on a bombing run over Hanoi (after being rescued/captured from West Lake, he spent 5 years under horrible conditions including torture in the Hanoi Hilton). We also visited another small lake in Hanoi that contains the remains of part of a B-52 that was likewise shot down during the War.

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