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Hanoi streets from Amanda's hotel room balcony100 viewsOur friend Amanda, a Kansas Ph.D. student who lives up the street from us in Beijing, was also seizing the opportunity of Spring Festival vacation to see southeast Asia. She'd seen a lot more than we had, though, by the time chance brought us to Hanoi at the same time: she'd been around Thailand and Cambodia before crossing the border into Vietnam.mudmine
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Guard at Temple of Literature52 viewsThe Temple of Literature in Hanoi served much the same purpose as the Imperial Academy, the Guozi jian, in Beijing (you can see photos from our visit to the Guozi jian in the "Museum Spree" album). It educated the children of the elite in the classics, served as the headquarters for the civil service exams, and erected stone stelae to preserve the names and hometowns of all those who had passed the highest-level exam.mudmine
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Temple of Literature55 viewsIt was a rainy, overcast day when we toured the Temple of Literature. Some guides we'd read said that the rainy season starts at the end of February, so we were apparently right at its edge.mudmine
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Temple of Literature56 viewsThe Vietnamese exam system worked much the same way as the Chinese one, or so I understand it. That is, candidates were grilled on their knowledge of the Confucian classics (which ones in particular were emphasized, I'm not entirely sure-- this changed over the course of Chinese history, so I imagine it changed in Vietnam as well), and their performance on the exams determined whether they were able to get a prestigious official post.mudmine
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Flags at the Temple of Literature43 viewsWe saw these flags, with their bright concentric squares, in many places in Vietnam, often at temples or old historic sites. The garrulous guy who drove us to Cuc Phuong National Park told us that these were the flags of old Vietnam, before the distinctive flag of the Communist government, the red one with a big yellow star smack in the middle. Some Internet sites suggest that, at least in village temples, the flags are displayed when the temple is celebrating its annual festival.mudmine
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Stelae at the Temple of Literature57 viewsLike the ones at the Confucian Temple in Beijing (next door to the Imperial Academy), these stelae (each one borne on the back of a giant turtle) hold the names and hometowns of the successful candidates in the imperial exams, in order of their scores.mudmine
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Hilary and Amanda at the Temple of Literature43 viewsmudmine
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Lion (or dog?) guardian at Temple of Literature46 viewsmudmine
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Statues at the Temple of Literature42 viewsA central statue of Confucius is flanked by four figures, some of whom (like Zengzi) were disciples of the man himself, and others who (like Mencius) were thinkers considered to be in the Confucian mold. I can't remember which figure was with, so let's go with "two important Confucians." The reason for the photo, though, I think, is to show off the phoenix (which looks like a crane with a mane of flames) in front.mudmine
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Guard inspects some calligraphy43 viewsA nice "shou" (longevity) character, shortly to be sold at the gift shop, no doubt.mudmine
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Stone guard at Temple of Literature39 viewsmudmine
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Hilary and Babi at the Temple of Literature47 viewsHilary's imitating the stance of the civil officials that are usually carved in stone and standing outside the tombs of emperors and other important people. They hold the little scepters that are the signs of office to their chests, just as Hilary holds the Lonely Planet, the talisman of all foreign tourists in Vietnam. mudmine
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Tiled roof and stone walkway at the Temple of Literature42 viewsmudmine
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Hanoi Museum of Ethnology43 viewsThis museum, though far from Hanoi's other tourist sites, is very impressive and worth a visit. It includes an outdoor part in which various nationalities have built examples of their homes and gathering places, and an indoor part with exhibits bursting with interesting artifacts and material culture (and even featuring lots of videos taken at coming-of-age ceremonies, weddings, and the like).mudmine
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Communal house of the Bahnar people47 viewsBuilt in 2003 by villagers from Kon Rbang village in the Central Highlands. An awe-inspiring building shaped, as Babi observed, like a giant axe blade.mudmine
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Inside the Bahnar communal house56 viewsThe floors were thin, flexible strips of bamboo laid across wood planks, with significant give in them. Also, there were stone rings for fire, but no chimneys or vents-- I guess with a building this tall and porous you don't have to worry about how to let the smoke out.mudmine
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Hilary and Babi on the steps up to the communal house56 viewsmudmine
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Tomb of the Giarai people48 viewsThe tomb is surrounded with carvings supposedly depicting all the activities of a person's daily life. From the look of it, these people mostly mope, collect sticks, and have sex, a lot of sex (see below).mudmine
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Hilary and dejected tomb figure49 viewsThese mopey guys were posted on every corner of the tomb house.mudmine
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Tomb figures not so dejected47 viewsThe guy looks awfully furtive, if you ask me. "Uh-oh, is that your husband's car in the driveway?"mudmine
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Sculpture inside the museum49 viewsHappy little dude.mudmine
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Burdended bicycle on display in the museum49 viewsThis is a bicycle that someone actually used to ride, loaded down with fish traps to sell, just like this. If you look closely you can see that there is a space for a rider in the middle.mudmine
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Christine and Hilary buying bus tickets52 viewsActually, Christine is doing the buying. This was the first place that felt kind of like the China travel experience, with everyone trying rather aggressively to convince Christine that she ought to go with their company. That's why all these guys are gathered around.mudmine
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Ticket-taker on the bus57 viewsmudmine
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Narrow buildings of Hanoi44 viewsmudmine
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Misty karst hills and canals of Tam Coc49 viewsTam Coc is disparagingly referred to as the "Halong Bay of the rice paddies," but we found that we actually liked it *more* than Halong Bay. It's less touristy, and the way you see it is from a shallow, flat boat, slowly rowed past spectacular soaring cliffs and through low caves. There's nothing but the rhythmic splashing of the oars in the water to distract you from the beautiful scenery.mudmine
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Tam Coc boaters, waiting for tourist passengers48 viewsmudmine
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Babi, Hilary and Christine aboard the boat57 viewsWhen we bought tickets, the tour guide who had driven us out to the site from Ninh Binh, the town where we stayed, convinced the ticket salesman that Christine was Vietnamese and was our tour guide, so she could get a discount. This made Christine very uncomfortable, but because the tour guide was a local who had working relationships with the people who were selling tickets and rowing the boats, she felt it would be awkward to reveal that he was actually deceiving them. So she tried to make sure her language was correct and convincing. Still, by the end of a couple of hours in the boat, the oarsmen had guessed from our behavior that we were friends, not guide and clients. But it was no big deal, as it turns out.mudmine
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Woman waiting for our boat at a bridge50 viewsThis lady climbed on our boat as we passed by and contributed her considerable energy to the conversation (with the oarsmen) and the rowing before she jumped ship halfway and joined a boat of French tourists. Why? We don't know. Maybe it was just to see the hills--according to Christine, much of the conversation between the woman and the other rowers was about how beautiful the landscape was in dark and misty weather.mudmine
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Bicycle alongside a road through rice paddies39 viewsmudmine
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Rice paddies in Tam Coc40 viewsmudmine
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Tam Coc karst hills48 viewsmudmine
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Inside one of the caves of Tam Coc54 viewsmudmine
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Farmer in his field at Tam Coc60 viewsmudmine
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Exit of another Tam Coc cave58 viewsmudmine
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Misty hills reflected in the river61 viewsmudmine
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