02 September 2005

Independence Day

2 September, Vietnam’s Independence Day. I got out early planning to walk down to the District 1, and decide what to do once I got there. 40 minutes into my walk, I started to feel a little bit heat exhausted or possibly I was inhaling too much carbon monoxide. Knowing I must be near to my target area, I persevered.

Soon I ran into a lovely park full of ornamental lawns, topiary, and sculpture. I strolled through people engaged in Tai Chi. Others drank tea and talked. Kids ran around being kids.

I spotted an empty bench, sat down, and pulled out the map. I kind of thought I knew where I was. When I next glanced up, I saw a man in a military uniform on his way to the park office just in front of where I sat. I said hello, and indicated my map, accompanied by facial and arm gestures that I hoped looked like: where are we? He took my map and showed me. I was only 2 blocks off! No need for a taxi this time. If I continued to cut across the park, I would run smack dab into the Reunification Palace. That isn’t where I had planned to stop, but it was the in the vicinity of where I had set out for.

Passing in front of the Palace, I realized what better time was there to visit it, if not on the 60th anniversary of Vietnam’s independence from France? So I joined the crowd and went in.

This building is massive, and the grounds it sits on takes up an entire, large block. It was the Presidential Palace until April, 1975, when ruling factions got switched around. Apparently, it has pretty much been frozen in time, since that time. Built in the 1960’s, it’s darn ugly when viewed from outside, but seriously cool – literally and figuratively, once inside.

Once again, tropical architecture and ingenuity rule the Palace, with wide, open, polished stone corridors, and high ceilings on four floors. Presidential scale rooms, often with glass walls, sit off of, or between passageways. Every inch of the structure seems to have clear access to circulating air. It was over 90 degrees today; there is no a/c in the palace, and no need for it. The indoor temperature was extremely pleasant.

I especially liked the Presidents room with the red hotline telephone on the desk. A guard there asked where I was from. “Ah, California”, he said, “Arnold is your governor”. He may have known more about California than I do. We ended our conversation by him singing his rendition of, “If you’re going to San Francisco….”
Next to this room was the “map” room that I had assumed was the war room, what with all the maps and multi-coloured phones. Read the guide book later, and the war room is down in the basement, which is supposed to be very interesting, but I had avoided it because I don’t like underground places.

The roof is an awesome, party-perfect venue, with both open and covered areas. Leaning out over the railing, I tried my damnedest to get a picture of those 2 flags that can be seen from blocks away; one a hammer and cycle, the other with a star. But the flags simply would not unfurl. Then again, I really wasn’t at the right angle to get the shot. I need a super-duper telephoto digital camera for a good many of the shots I envision, but can’t pull off.

By the time I left, I had been on my tennis-shoed feet for quite awhile, and the dogs were hot! No problem, the flip-flop lady was always close by. Not actually one woman, but there is always someone pushing a cart laden with flip-flops. I walked several blocks. She didn’t appear. I sat at a cafĂ© to re-hydrate and take off my sneaks, but she didn’t appear. I had two of the waiters on the look-out for her, but it was useless. In the end, I had to stuff my feet back in the shoes I came in. I decided I had walked enough for one day, and flagged a taxi.

Tomorrow, I get new, tropical, shoe-debakers.