by The Telegraph, June 9, 2017
Arriving at 9am, I was surprised to find a line up to 400 metres long. I joined the thousands queuing to pay their respects. Meanwhile, tour buses of Westerners began arriving from the big hotels in Hanoi to be ushered into the mausoleum by immaculately presented guards in white uniforms, gloves and braided caps.
Nguyen, his younger sister, Linh, and their elderly father, Hoang, adopted me along the way. Nguyen explained his father was in poor health and that before he died he wished to see the resting place of Ho Chi Minh, the Communist leader who fought for the unification of Vietnam and died before it was realised.
Looking around, I saw other elderly and frail people leaning on the arms of a son or daughter, some were being pushed in village-made wheelchairs. Nguyen explained that for veterans it meant a lot to visit Ho Chi Minh before infirmity overtook them. For many it was their first time visiting the capital city. A security guard patrolling the queue came over to usher me to the front of the file. Foreigners are not expected to stand in the sun for hours as the rural poor had to.
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But by then I had caught the mood, this was more than a tourist jaunt; it needed to be done authentically by queuing in sun or rain, with relatives or strangers, sharing food and stories. Queuing was a small price to pay for this privilege; an experience not to rush, but to be sensed and remembered while memory lasted.
The queue of people whose lives had been spent toiling in paddy fields and factories, under the rule of foreign powers, had come to pay respect to the man who had led them to change all that. What were two hours queuing in the heat compared to that? I explained to the guard that I would wait my turn with my friends, he smiled widely and gave a curt nod, he understood.
As we shuffled forwards, Nguyen translated questions from other veterans offering me mangoes and drinks. For two hours I was one of them, having declined to queue jump as the tour groups had.
At the entrance we were instructed to walk briskly around the humidity controlled glass cabinet he lay in, not to talk or make any noise, no hands in pockets, no photography, phones turned off. Reverently under subdued lighting, we walked around Uncle Ho for one silent minute. Emerging into the bright sunlight I saw Hoang and other older citizens with tears on their cheeks.
My friends had saved for years, travelled two days and queued two hours to pay their respects and be in his presence for that one silent minute. My offer of lunch was politely declined; they had to catch the night train back.
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