Odd Years Travel

Ho Chi Minh’s Body


Ho Chi Minh, the great goateed leader of the Việt Minh independence movement, died a long time ago—a really long time ago—but his body has endured.

Encased in glass and lying under soft amber light in a massive Soviet-style mausoleum, Ho Chi Minh’s body has been suspended in animation as though covered in paraffin wax for more than 4 decades. His remains are on display only a few hours each day and a couple of months every year. Since neither of us had seen an embalmed body before, we were lucky to be in Hanoi at the right time.


Open for public viewing from 9 to 12 in the morning, the mausoleum predictably had a long waiting line. A line in which we were told the cold hard rules of behavior: no photos, no cameras, no talking, no hands in pockets, no chewing gum, no eating, no drinking, no smoking, no laughing, no smiling, no bodily movements. We could walk into the mausoleum in two lines (march might be a more appropriate word to use here), pay our respects, and leave. A security guard asked uswhere we were from and what we were doing here. Fortunately, we don’t look very subversive, so we got in without a hassle.

Seeing Ho Chi Minh’s body was a strange experience. He sort of resembled a puppet attached to strings. I kept thinking that he might stand up and do a jig at any moment. It was incredibly unreal. Everyone else seemed to think so, too. As the lines of people filed out, the common look on faces was one of bewilderment. Palms wiped foreheads, hands scratched heads. A few people looked sick.

So, anyway, viewing the embalmed body of a Communist leader has now been checked off the list of things to see in my life. That’s good.