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Sunday, July 01, 2012

N Vietnam 2012 - Day 3, Part 2 - Hanoi Hilton

"Everything is vague to a degree you do not realize till you have tried to make it precise." - Bertrand Russell

***

N Vietnam 2012
Day 3 - 26th May - Hanoi Hilton
(Part 2)

Next, I headed to the Hanoi Hilton (Hoa Loa prison). To get there, I took a motorbike from near Ngoc Son Temple, and got to feel just how much like eggshells what passed for helmets in Hanoi were. He quoted me a princely sum of 50,000 VND, which I managed to push down to 35K. However, when we arrived I had no exact change and passed him 40K. He refused to return me 5K in change and rode off. The bloody Vietnamese swindlers don't even honour the still-inflated prices you've agreed on with them.

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Rules for visiting the prison: "No frolicking is allowed during the visit. Toilet in fixed places
Opening hours: 8 a.m. to 17 p.m. everyday"

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Front of prison: "Maison Centrale" (French euphemison for prison)

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"Please turn off the motorbike"

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Besides the usual propaganda about how the revolutionaries were united, apparently it doesn't take much to be a hero in Vietnam. You just have to be "revolutionary patriotic soldiers who heroically lay down in Hoa Lo prison"

There was a special exhibition on Vietnamese women and their contributions, grandly titled "Vietnamese revolutionary heroines in the foreign enemies' detention facilities".

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The Vietnamese spent "thousands of years fighting against foreign invaders" (read: The Chinese).
According to Ho Chi Minh the main factor contributing to revolutionary success was women.
There is also a Lost in Translation moment, with Vietnamese Women's contributions being described with "eight golden words: 'Bravery, staunchness, faithfulness and resourcefulness'" (in Vietnamese is makes sense)

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A woman opposed to saluting the "National" flag (of South Vietnam). Try not saluting the "National" flag today and see what happens to you (South Vietnam at least seemed to kill fewer Vietnamese than the North so that should make it less illegitimate).

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"American-puppet government's bloody repression in Con Dao Prison on 2nd March 1973". Of course there were no photos of counter-revolutionaries killed by the North Vietnamese as a righteous example

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"I have nothing to say. I just want to tell you that you should go to France to kick off the statue of Jeanne d'Are before coming back to Viet Nam to put us on trial"
Nice hair, nice words

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Poem: "The Vietnamese Girl"

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"Will your regime be able to exist for more 20 years to keep me in prison?" (on her 20 year sentence). I like her "victorious smile"

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Pigeons made for Ho Chi Minh, who died before getting them

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Map of what's left of the prison (not much)

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The sad remnants of the prison, with a skyscraper at the back

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The Chan Tien pagoda that used to be on this site

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Steles from Phu Khanh village

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Old photo of the full extent of the prison

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Plan of the prison

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French Colonial Document about the Prison
For some reason the French documents weren't translated

A guide for an American group said the French treated prisoners like animals. I wonder how he would have described how the Vietnamese treated their prisoners.

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The therapeutic uses of morning glory

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"Combatants took part in the 'Ha Thanh poisoning case' on June 27, 1908 were detained in Hoa Lo prison by French colonialists"
Of course there was no information on the Ha Thanh poisoning case. Maybe even the Revolutionaries who had written the material for the prison felt guilty about resorting to such tactics. Basically the Ha Thanh poisoning case was an attempt to poison all the French soldiers in the citadel and overthrow the legitimate government of Vietnam.

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On the "Cachot area (Dungeon)"

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Solitary confinement (Cachot area)

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Empty cell for Solitary confinement (Cachot area)

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Relief commemorating the revolutionary struggle

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They dug out the sewer that some prisoners escaped through. Very good.

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Another sewer fragment. Notice the mention of the Japanese in passing - this brought to notice how the Japanese occupation was not examined in the exhibits, such was the hatred of the French and the Americans. Possibly this was because it would spoil the underlying racist, anti-Westerner "white skin bad, yellow skin good" narrative.

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Another relief

Next there was an exhibition on the support allegedly received by the North Vietnamese during the Vietnam War.

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Supposedly a photo of the self-immolation of "Rodgers Lapoter" in protest of the commitment of US troops to Vietnam (what the exhibition called the "US invasion of Viet Nam"), In reality, the man was named Roger Allen LaPorte and he was "against war, all wars. I did this as a religious action". So presumably he would also be against the North Vietnamese fighting to unify Vietnam, or against the French.

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"Two American mothers throwing away the medals and decorations of their sons... during the demonstration against the US invasion of Viet Nam"

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"Support by nations around the world for the Vietnamese people's struggle for national independence"; French demonstrators supporting "the resounding victories of the South Viet Nam armed forces and people". At first this confused me, then I realised this referred to the Viet Cong.

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French people funding terrorism against American soldiers

Most of the examples of material (versus moral) support came from Communist Countries. Hurr hurr.

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A great example of international support: East German children raising money for their Communist Comrades to buy mines to blow up American soldiers (maybe their parents would have been shot if they didn't co-operate)

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"Crime of the French colonialist to revolutionary patriotic soldiers"

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Guillotine

There was a collection of items used to torture women. Sadly, no details were given.

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"Electrical engine used to torture political female prisoners of the French colonialist in Ha Noi Detective station"

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"Bottle used to torture political female prisoners"
The bottle was still intact, so presumably the torture wasn't that bad.

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Walking-stick used for you-know-what, and electrical wire used for the same

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Memorial at the back

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In the courtyard before the memorial, there was a very weird book.

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The sight of a mother breast-feeding her child is the utmost illustration of the mother's love. That divine sight warms and comforts you... The warmth of her breasts and the breast milk are the first gifts of life the mother brings to her child... All mothers crave for an embrace of her child, feeding it with her precious and pure milk in the midst of a love-filled lullaby"
Hagiography on Vietnamese women breastfeeding

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"The Drop of Life"

There was also a book, "sex slaves" by Louise Brown. On the blurb at the back it talked about the myth that Western men are the prime drivers of sex trafficking in Asia. In reality, the majority of it is driven by Asians.

Next was the most exciting part of the prison which I'd been looking forward to the most: on the treatment of American POWs. Whereas previously the prison had played up the suffering of prisoners, now it performed a volte-face and talked about their treatment.

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"Vietnamese government had created the best living conditions to US pilots for they had a stable life during the temporary detention period"

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What the bombing of North Vietnam had to do with the Prison, I do not know. Conspicuously, the destruction wrought by the "revolutionaries" under the French and the American-supported government had not been mentioned in previous exhibits.

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What the bombing of the Hanoi Railway Station had to do with the Prison, I do not know.

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What anti-aircraft installations had to do with the Prison, I do not know.

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Pulling John McCain from Truc Bach Lake

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Plea for help carried by American pilots

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John McCain's stuff

Then there were hilarious posters on the Potemkin camp:

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"There's plenty of fruits in this tropical land, it is as if one is being in California, somewhere on the West Coast. The food is fairly good, but one can't be happy in absence of the beloved ones, and the roommates may share the same feelings

One could tell that these were not written by Americans, since the grammatical mistakes were not those one would expect of them.

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"Such is the life of captured U.S. pilots in the camps. All of them benefit the same advantage : the lenient and humane policy of the Government and people of the D.R.V.N. Yes, all of them..."

I wonder what McCain's reaction was at this part of the prison, given his version of events:

"They beat me around a little bit. I was in such bad shape that when they hit me it would knock me unconscious. They kept saying, "You will not receive any medical treatment until you talk... the guards, who were all in the room—about 10 of them—really laid into me. They bounced me from pillar to post, kicking and laughing and scratching. After a few hours of that, ropes were put on me and I sat that night bound with ropes. Then I was taken to a small room. For punishment they would almost always take you to another room where you didn't have a mosquito net or a bed or any clothes. For the next four days, I was beaten every two to three hours by different guards. My left arm was broken again and my ribs were cracked"

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The pilots don't look very happy, because they know the photos will be used for propaganda

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Christmas picture

Ending the exhibition was a hilarious documentary (I couldn't hear an audio track, so its audience was clear). It wasn't quite as funny as a forced confession video, but it came close:

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"There were no buttons to bomb to commit the crimes as in the bombers that they so used to push"

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"They have now changed their minds and points of view about the crimes they committed"

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"as well as realized the unjust war that they were battling against innocent Vietnamese people."

The documentary also mocked the pilots, saying that they were taught to do things all Vietnamese children knew how to do.

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Potemkin visits by international representatives and journalists. The documentary said they all appreciated the human treatment of the Vietnamese government.

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Pilots preparing to leave. The documentay showed them even packing souvenirs (e.g. paintings).

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"'Uninvited guests' coming here by fully loaded fighter aircrafts and bombers,"

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"it's time for you to go home! And you should consciously understand"

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"that you were still so lucky being prisoners of Vietnamese people!"

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Espionage!

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"Fighting face to face with the enemy to protect our morality, our life and break out of jail to go back to our people"
In other words, betraying the regime.

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Not a very good prison: map showing how people escaped


The Politics of Overcharging Foreigners

While resting in the prison, I pondered the politics of overcharging foreigners. This was not a new subject to me, but given the enormity of recent events, I had cause to ponder it more deeply.

The usual response to complaints about overcharging foreigners is that in a poor country, it is acceptable to charge foreigners more since they are rich. The unspoken assumption is that there is some sort of noblesse oblige. Yet, even taking this assumption for granted, we should test the claim for consistency: it should hold even in rich countries. A rich Saudi Sheikh, then, should be overcharged for a falafel in a Lebanese café in London (practicalities such as printed menus or price lists aside) since he is much richer than the café owner. Similarly, a prosperous Chinese magnate should pay more for a currywurst in Berlin. And it is alright to charge Americans $239 for 8 tiger prawns. Of course, I think most people who defend the overcharging of foreigners in Third World countries would not agree with such examples. I have my own theory about why this is so but for the moment I will charitably assume that this is because in the First World, one is assumed to have attained a certain standard of living which does not excuse overcharging, even if it's of someone much richer than oneself.

We should then turn to intra-country examples. Putting aside insider information (i.e. in-country nationals generally know how not to get ripped off), should ethnic Chinese be charged more in Malaysia and Indonesia? Should Jews be charged more in whatever Third World country they live in? One could also extend the assumption of prosperity beyond foreign origin and race to profession - in a Third World country, should doctors (or a high Party Official) have to pay more for a service than roadsweepers?

I'm sure those who defend the overcharging of foreigners in Third World countries would be even less likely to agree with these examples (because of nationalism - it's alright to screw the foreigners, but they should take care of their own). The principle of non-discrimination, then, is upheld - with only foreigners in Third World countries being given an exemption. We can see, the, that it is not noblesse oblige per se which motivates this sentiment.

Rather, it is almost certainly racist/quasi-xenophobic condescension towards Third World Countries which manifests in the form of selective cultural relativism (in which it is alright to overcharge only foreigners), which instead of following a principle through from premise to conclusion, works backwards from conclusion to premise. In other words, they are just grasping at straws to defend a pre-existing belief. This condescension means people in Third World countries are treated like kids, or lesser forms of life with their own specific morality, and are not fit to share universal moral norms.

Some might ask, then, if I support lower fees for museums and cultural sights for nationals or residents (for example, at Marina Bay Sands's ArtScience Museum or Gardens by the Bay). I do think this is mostly justifiable, whether because such places tend to be taxpayer-supported or to encourage nationals or residents to visit such places (in a given time period, tourists are more likely to partake of a country's cultural offerings than a national or resident). One might then ask why I was (am) upset over foreigners being charged 10 times what locals pay at Borobudur. In which case the answer is clear: there needs to be a sense of proportion: 1000% inflation is not reasonable. I recall some instances where locals get into places for free, but this is only for those living in the county - not the whole country.


Being a 'Guest' in a Foreign Country

While resting in the prison, I pondered also a peripheral concept - the idea that when you visit a country, you are a guest there and should respect the country and its customs. You are thus not supposed to condemn female circumcision, since you are a foreigner in the country at the sufferance of the locals.

While this may be, this claim ignores a more important aspect of being a guest: the host-guest relationship goes both ways. Indeed, in the pre-modern notion of hospitality (which Vietnam certainly shared), the guest is treated extremely well (better than your own family, even). Besides getting the choiciest cuts of meat, profiting from free lodging, guests could even enjoy such customs as:

The practice of 'sharing' one's wife or wives with honored guests was present in many other cultures, in North and South America, Micronesia, Polynesia, Asia, India, Africa, and among indigenous Australians. In the Sandwich Islands, visitors were offered full hospitality by their hosts, which included the opportunity to bed their hosts' wives or even daughters

--- Insatiable Wives: Women Who Stray and the Men Who Love Them / David J. Ley

Of course, in modern tourism, the concept of hospitality has been mutated by the commercial relationship. Which leads to my next point: if anything, it is the host country which benefits from tourist dollars, which is why so many countries promote tourism.

Given the tradition of hospitality and the flow of money to host countries, it is clear that, if anything, it is the host countries which have more obligations to visitors than vice versa.
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