Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Say Hoa Lo to my little friend

Sometimes you can learn too much about a country and lose those initial, innocent, ignorant impulses you might have had back when you weren't burdened by knowledge and experience.

I was in South Korea for over a month before I remembered 'oh yeah, this is that place they're supposed to eat dogs,' and it wasn't until my sixth day in Vietnam when I visited Hoa Lo Prison - which the incarcerated United States Air Force POWs sardonically nicknamed the 'Hanoi Hilton' - that I recalled 'oh yeah, there was that whole war thing...'

It's not like I hadn't seen 20,000 terrible films about it, all admittedly from the American perspective (though rarely with a positive outlook about the whole thing). So I was keen for the chance to redress the balance and see events portrayed from the other side of the conflict.

Though I wasn't quite prepared for the level of selective editing involved. This museum's white-washed trip down memory lane is the most darkly amusing cover-up I've seen since I visited the Korean DMZ and learned about the North's childish excuses when they were caught digging infiltration tunnels to the South. I may not be a historian, but my dad's a farmer and I know the smell of bullshit.

Hoa Lo Prison,

The bull pats begin before you even enter the front gate.
My French is a little rusty, but isn't 'central house' a bit of a euphemism?

The old prison buildings have been restored to, um, 'original' condition and turned into exhibition halls where 'the American puppet government's bloody repression' and other atrocities are detailed. What were they doing there anyway?

Apparently they were playing basketball and having a swell old time

Quoting from the plaque:

'During the war, the national economy was difficult but Vietnamese government had created the best living conditions to US pilots for they had a stable life during the temporary detention period.'

For some reason they don't dwell too much on the inhumane torture angle. Human rights, shmewman rights. Geneva Convention, Shmemema Convention. I guess I missed the Regrettable Honesty Exhibition?

Here's former presidential candidate and Obama rival John McCain receiving a house call.
The doc probably even brought up room service for the ingrate

McCain's flight suit and parachute, all lovingly laundered.
Even today, the senator gets misty-eyed when he thinks back to those golden years

It's impressive that even President Ho Chi Minh's patriotic, anti-American incitement to the troops seems less confrontational than McCain's outburst 30 years later

They're not shy about displaying various methods of torture and confinement at least, though only during the French period. I was especially excited to visit the cachot (dungeon), hoping for more fibreglass effigies subjected to horrific punishments

Sadly, it's not up to the same level as Bangkok's Corrections Museum, Seoul's Seodaemun Prison or even those wax museums I loved as a kid, but I enjoyed trying to decipher the body language. Are they raising their arms to protect themselves from the hosing, or in celebration of insubordination being quashed by the noble guards?

This guy just seems a little bored

My day brightened up when I when I saw the guillotine. What's wrong with me?
It wouldn't be a French prison without one of these

Every seemingly mundane object in this room was used for torture, including this wine bottle. The card didn't go into details.

Yeah, that occurred to me too. Oh god, not like that! Now who's the sick one?

Incidentally, I didn't see any dog restaurants in Korea, but you can get dog meat everywhere in Vietnam, and see their carcasses being spit roasted in the middle of the road. Be thankful I didn't post any grisly images of that. What kind of morbid bastard do you take me for?


  1. What-Ho, Dave. I came here because I saw the thing about your ambition on Richard Herring's blog. We live very similar lives what with the travel and the freelance writing and the Red Dwarf obsession. So with the persistence of a herring, I thought I'd introduce myself. Hello!

    Lovely blog you have here. The only improvement I'd make would be to put a shrek in it.

    Have a look at my web shites: and

    1. Oh, you're that guy! I've been meaning to check out the Cluub Z book and I'll also check the free stuff out more when I escape from Myanmar and get back on an internet connection that the Eastbourne zimmerframe relay team couldn't easily outrun.