Day 137 – Independent Women

The Women’s Museum is described in the Lonely Planet as one of Hanoi’s best but most overlooked places of interest, and with the rain still falling a few hours inside inside provides some respite from the weather.

A fascinating museum that shows you the traditional role of women in Vietnamese society, from birth where the naming ceremony requires the baby not to cry during a certain point (if not another name must be chosen), the various different cultures approach to marriage (including one that encourages cousins to marry – I wonder if Burnley is twinned with Hanoi?) and the role that women have historically played in society. This stereotypical display of cooking, weaving, raising the families etc is contrasted starkly by a floor dedicated to celebrating the role of women in the fight for freedom and independence of Vietnam.

Vietnamese women have a long history of being warriors, and there are stories a plenty of young ladies that were awarded the “Hero of the Popular Armed Forces” accolade for their role in battles and leading resistance movements. On the 24th September 1994 the title of “Heroic Mothers of Vietnam” was created and in December 2008 it was bestowed upon 50,000 women (some posthumously) to recognise the sacrifices made during the battle for reunification.  Those that lost children, husbands or their own lives were recognised and compensated with accommodation or pensions.

Perhaps the most thought provoking of all the displays was a documentary that tells the story of the street sellers of Hanoi. A common and iconic view in the city, these ladies dress in traditional clothes and carry baskets hung from a wooden plank balanced on their shoulders. They are everywhere, carrying significant weights, and trying to sell you anything and everything you do and don’t need.

The film explains is that these women are from rural villages but head to the city to earn crucial money for their families back home. Get up at around 3am to go to the markets and buy produce to sell for the day, they then walk the streets until around 5pm (or later if its a slow day) before heading back to a shared dormitory with a number of other women in the same position. This hard existence is repeated for weeks at a time before they have enough money to be able return home to see their families, and you cannot stop this influencing your thoughts as you continue to see the ladies walking the streets later in the day.

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