Hue, today a small city in central Vietnam, served as the capital of the Nguyen dynasty from 1802 until the end of WWII in 1945 when the last emperor, Bao Dai, abdicated and the communist Viet Minh led by Ho Chi Minh established a government in Hanoi. As you may recall, Ho and the communists had some trouble making independence a reality. It was not until 30 years later that the North Vietnamese had managed to toss out the French and the Americans, defeat their rivals in the south of Vietnam, and establish a unified state. In any case, the Southern Gate (Ngọ Môn) pictured here was the principal ceremonial entrance to the Imperial Enclosure of the old Imperial City. Although restoration work is ongoing, the grounds and buildings inside are for the most part rather rundown, ironically giving the entire place a quietly muted grandeur. I was reminded of my first visit to the Temple of Heaven in Beijing in 1987, before all of the buildings had been restored and brightly painted, making the place look more like a movie set than the location used by Chinese emperors for imperial ceremonies. The Southern Gate has already been restored and its look and feel suggest that the Vietnamese may (thankfully) be a bit less “enthusiastic” than the Chinese in their approach to restoration.
The building in the background is the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long, part of the imperial structures that served as the capital of Dai Viet from the 11th to the 18th century. The building, very much in a Chinese style, is in the center of Hanoi. The boys in their bright tee shirts with a yellow star against a red background – the Vietnamese national flag – were part of a coed group of 20ish kids, I presume a university class on an outing. All of the boys were wearing the red tees. I rather liked the contrast: young people wearing the symbol of modern, socialist Vietnam against a traditional background representing the country’s imperial past.