Sat, Sep 07, 2019 - Page 14 News List

Uncle Ho’s minders: The protectors of Vietnam’s embalmed leader
「胡伯伯」的保鑣們 越南國父胡志明的守護者

A Vietnamese soldier stands guard outside the Ho Chi Minh mausoleum in Hanoi on Aug. 28.
一名越南軍人在河內的胡志明紀念堂外站崗,攝於八月二十八日。

Photo: AFP
照片:法新社

The task of safeguarding the embalmed body of Vietnam’s revolutionary leader Ho Chi Minh is grueling: carefully-selected riflemen work around the clock, watching over the communist nation’s founding father who died on Sept. 2 50 years ago.

Protecting him is the ultimate patriotic service for men in stiff white uniforms at Ho’s towering tomb in Hanoi, a monolithic shrine to a man who still pervades public life despite his fading relevance among the youth. The job is a “dream come true” for guard Nguyen Xuan Thang, even if it’s not always easy.

All year round, he works up to four two-hour shifts every day — often outside the tomb in the blistering summer heat, monsoon rains, or frigid winter weather. Some days he works inside the cool, dark chambers where Ho’s waxy body — his wispy goatee beard still intact — is on display for daily pilgrimages by thousands of schoolchildren, tourists and war veterans who come to pay their respects.

Even after hours, Ho is never alone: soldiers flank his encased body 24 hours a day. Guards like Thang aren’t the only ones tasked with looking after Uncle Ho, as he is affectionately known in the country. A team of four Russian and seven Vietnamese scientists were hired this year to evaluate his embalmed body ahead of the 50th anniversary on Sept. 2.

Ho did not live long enough to see the end of the war in 1975, when North Vietnamese tanks rolled through the former southern capital Saigon, later renamed Ho Chi Minh City. But Ho did deliver clear burial plans in his will: a request to be cremated and have his ashes modestly displayed in north, central and south Vietnam in a sign of symbolic unity. “There should be no stone stele or bronze statue,” but rather a small ceramic urn on three tree-lined hills for visitors, he wrote in his will.

However, eager to capitalize on the popularity of the north’s communist leader, his aides chose instead to build a grand tomb, drawing inspiration from Lenin’s mausoleum, the pyramids in Egypt and the Washington Monument. The powerful symbol of Ho Chi Minh continues to be commandeered today by Vietnam’s communist leaders; his teachings are invoked in school curricula, political and military training, children’s books, patriotic songs and on propaganda billboards.

For Vietnam’s booming young population, Ho figures as a distant historic character, far removed from the thriving capitalism, ubiquitous social media and yearning for freedom that preoccupies most of the smartphone-obsessed youth today. For Ho’s dutiful minders, the communist leader remains a central focus. Thang and his team busily prepared for an official wreath-laying ceremony for Ho held Friday, and expected visitor numbers to surge last Monday for the anniversary of Ho’s death, which also happens to be National Day.

(AFP)

鎮守越南革命領袖胡志明的防腐遺體是件辛苦的任務:精挑細選的步槍兵全天侍衛在旁,照看著這個共產國家的國父,他在週一度過逝世五十周年。

對於身穿硬挺白色制服、駐守於此的兵士而言,保護胡志明是終極的愛國勤務。這座高聳陵墓位於河內,是一座巨石建成的聖殿,紀念這位在公共生活中處處可見的偉人,儘管其人與年輕世代的關聯性正在逐漸消逝。對衛兵阮春勝(音譯)來說,這份工作可說是「夢想成真」,雖然沒那麼輕鬆。

一整年中,阮春勝每天執勤的次數多達四班,每班兩個小時──在酷暑中、季風雨中、嚴寒的冬日天氣中站在陵墓外守衛都是家常便飯。有幾天他會到涼意襲人又陰暗的室內值勤,裡面擺放著胡志明蠟像般的遺體──他那撮山羊鬍仍然保存完好無缺──向絡繹不絕的朝聖者展示。每天都有數以千計的學童、遊客、退役老兵來到此地致敬。

就算在開放時間結束後,胡志明也從來不會獨自一人:一天二十四小時都有士兵站在裝於棺中的遺體兩側。像阮春勝這樣的衛兵也不是唯一被指派來照看「胡伯伯」──越南人深情地這樣稱呼他──的人。今年,在九月二日胡志明逝世五十周年之前,越南聘請了一組由四名俄國科學家與七名越南科學家組成的團隊,檢視胡志明防腐遺體的保存狀況。

胡志明活得不夠久,沒能看到一九七五年越戰結束,北越坦克長驅直入西貢,而這座前南越首都重新被命名為胡志明市。不過,胡志明在遺囑中明確地傳達他的身後事安排:他要求遺體火化,骨灰低調地分開於越南的北、中、南三處展示,作為象徵全國統一的標記。他在遺囑中寫道:「不要設立石碑或銅像」,只要在樹木林立的三座丘陵各放一個小陶瓷骨灰罈,供人懷念。

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