“The Stool Capital of the World”

Hint: It’s not Blaine, Missouri, for those “in the know.” The title is a double inside joke that only a few readers will get. So be it. Nevertheless, you’ll see from the photos, everywhere you look in Hanoi you see people perched on impossibly tiny stools hunched over food, drinks or even games. It’s also a thing in Phnom Penh but I don’t recall it being nearly as ubiquitous as here. If it’s a thing in China it’s not done in Xi’an or Beijing. I didn’t see it anywhere in Europe and it’s certainly not a thing in America. So, I hereby proclaim Hanoi the stool capital of the world with proper acknowledgement to the mockumentary: “Waiting for Guffman.”

It’s Saturday and we are on our way to Halong Bay to take an overnight cruise. It’s about a three hour drive from Hanoi. Yesterday, we toured the Vietnamese Women’s Museum and then to Hỏa Lò , better known by Americans as the Hanoi Hilton although this is one Hilton no one would want to spend the night, let alone the five years and a half years that Senator John McCain spent there.

I’ll spare the readers of this blog my full rhetorical fury about America’s decades long descent (it really did begin in 1954) into the quagmire known as “The Vietnam War” but I did live through the Vietnam war era and have been a keen observer of American foreign policy for many decades so I will say this much: For years after the end of American involvement in the war (1973) the prevailing wisdom was that America had learned its lesson about the folly of such adventurism. Then, in the 90’s the national discourse among the political elite and commentariat was the need to shake off the zeitgeist of Vietnam and resume our “proper” role as the “world’s policeman.” Hence: The first Gulf War, the intervention in the Balkan wars, Somalia, Gulf War 2, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Afghanistan and next up, Bananastan just as soon as we can find it on the map. Oh wait. We ARE Bananastan. Never mind!

We just never seem to learn from history, do we? In Bartlett’s Quotations next to Santayana’s famous advice is a picture of the American flag. As the chorus from the famous anti-war folk song from the 60’s balefully drones: “when will they ever learn, when will they ever learn?”

I’ll save the rest of my commentary (more properly, “rants”) for the photos posted below  in case you aren’t interested in my perspective but still want to see the photos.

Addendum: It’s actually Sunday night that this will get posted. We’re back in Hanoi after spending the night in Halong Bay. Updating what I wrote above changes the “flavor” so I prefer to add this addendum. The wifi reception on the boat was barely working so I missed a day of updating. Tomorrow after we fly to Phu Quoc, I’ll post the photos from our time at Halong Bay. That is, if my arms aren’t too tired to type, from all the flying! (“groan!”)

Just another one of my inside jokes,. If you liked “Best in Show” you’ll love the previous mockumentary from the same folks:  “Waiting for Guffman” about trying to make it to Broadway. But do NOT forget to watch the granddaddy of the genre (with many of the same actors): “This is Spinal Tap.” 

I could take countless similar photos of people sitting on the sidewalk/street on the stools but you get the idea.

Walking to the musuem we passed by the local RR showroom. Somehow I doubt Uncle Ho had this in mind but it does speak volumes about the rising prosperity of Vietnam today.

Inside the front entrance of the museum. The four floors are dedicated to women and their role in family life including their contributions to defending the nation against the various colonialists throughout its history.


The top floor of the museum talks about the history of famous Vietnamese women who risked their lives for their country.

These three posters captions are translated in the three photos that follow.

Just outside the musuem door. Sure, it’s tacky, but I couldn’t resist asking Nancy and Sophie to oblige me.

The front entrance of Hoa Lo prison. You would never know how awful it was, looking at this rather prosaic front door.

The death house with France’s famous contribution to the betterment of mankind

In the original cell you can see how the prisoners of the French were housed.

Memorial wall for the Vietnamese who were tortured by the French.

A recreation of a bombed out street courtesy of American B-52’s (Not to be confused with the awesome rock group: The B-52’s)

This is a photo of McCain visiting the prison in 2000. He was tortured on occasion during his years there but was able to move beyond his personal suffering. He is considered a “hero” for enduring his years as a prisoner. However, I have a hard time calling someone who dropped bombs on civilians a “hero.” We had absolutely no business attacking Vietnam. The real heros are those who refused to participate. The best I can say is: ‘He did his duty.”

Some of the aftermath of the American 1972 bombing campaign of Hanoi. It was mainly done to compel the North to return to the peace talks in Paris which had broken down. Apparently killing lots of innocent civilians helps foster peace. Who knew? For what it’s worth, plenty of America’s allies were very critical of this, some comparing it to WW 2 atrocities. Nowaday’s, we let our so-called allies bomb and kill civilians with our taxpayer funded weapons of war (see Yemen.)


This outside corridor, from one end to another, features photos and stories about the war.

Our dinner was in a cafe that was highly rated on Trip Advisor. As it’s been two days, I can’t remember what we ordered but it was delicious. I have yet to have a bad meal here.