On reflection, not stuffing the Queen Mother was a missed opportunity. Had we done so, she would have joined the preserved ranks of the great and the dubiously good, along with Russia's Vladimir Lenin, China's Mao Zedong and (most relevantly for this blog post) Vietnam's Ho Chi Minh. These three communist icons lie in state as embalmed corpses, pulling their weight in societal taxes even in death.
The way to preserve a body is apparently to ask the Russians. Hidden in their vaults of secrets are lotions and techniques that are only revealed to non-Russians when their blood is about to be replaced with formaldehyde. Ho Chi Minh's current state is the product of such hidden methods and rumours abound that he spends up to three months a year in the motherland of corpse know-how for intensive spa treatments.
After Chairman Mao's death in 1976, China sought to utalise the same preservation process, but were thwarted by having fallen out with the Russians. They therefore tried an unfortunate mix of DIY and asking the Vietnamese. Reluctant to reveal their continued dependence on the Soviet Union for assistance, Vietnam dispatched an ordinary embalmer to China, with results that were not able to stand the test of time. The net result was a wax-work stunt double and a more thorough home-kit embalming process that was not trusted for public display for a year.
The leader of the independence movement, Ho Chi Minh is revered in Vietnam as 'Uncle Ho'. He died on 2 September 1969, but the announcement was delayed for 48 hours so that it wouldn't coincide with the anniversary of Vietnam's declaration of independence. Given Ho Chi Minh's devotion to Vietnam's independence, this coincidence of dates it rather tidy; a theme that extends to the mausoleum location in Ba Dinh Square in Hanoi, where Ho Chi Minh delivered Vietnam's declaration of independence in 1945.
Despite his prominent role in his country's history, Ho Chi Minh remains a somewhat shadowy figure. Even his date of birth is questionable, although it is known that he spent his younger years in the USA and UK before studying communism in France, Russia and China. Ho Chi Minh was born Nguyen Tat Thanh, but used a number of aliases over his lifetime, making his history still harder to track. He also rarely gave interviews and material about his life is said to be firmly controlled by the Vietnamese government to ensure it falls in with the official line. Ho Chi Minh died before the end of the war, and did not live to see the country unified.
Ho Chi Minh's mansoleum is reputed to be in the shape of a white lotus flower, in rememberence of his home town in Sen (Lotus) Village. In truth, the Russians also had a hand in the mansoleum's design, which resulted in a grey rectangular box that strongly resembles a Borg cube. However, since I myself model the galaxy using a series of grids, I nodded politely at our guide's explanation and put the cubic result down to the effects of poor resolution.
Respect is enforced inside the mansoleum by guards wearing pristine white uniforms. No talking, laughing, hats or photographs are allowed, and bags and cameras must be checked at the cloakroom before entering the building. This applied to everyone except my mother who --in keeping with her previous stealth-bomber avoidance of security cameras-- managed to walk through utterly unhindered, despite carrying a phone, a camera and a bag.
I relinquished my rucksack but was recommended to keep hold of my wallet for safety. Restricted to using my sweatshirt for storage, I kept my hands tucked into its loose pockets so I could hold onto the wallet and keep it in place. However, hands-in-pockets was not a pose one uses when greeting Uncle Ho. As I walked up the stairs to the main room, a guard informed me I had to place my hands tidily by my side. My father was also told to not link his hands behind in back while my mother... once again passed unnoticed through the crowds.
Ho Chi Minh himself lies in a glass casket in a sleeping posture. Two guards flank his eternal slumber, while the visitors walk along an elevated path that follows three sides of the room. This whole situation is actually against the preserved leader's wishes, since while alive he expressed a desire to be cremated and have his ashes scattered in the north, middle and south of Vietnam (equivalent of the four corners for a country that is shaped as a long strip).
He also attempted, "When I am gone, grand funerals should be avoided in order not to waste the people's time and money."
It was an unsurprising sentiment from the man who rejected living in the Presidential Palace of the French governer-general after Vietnam's declaration of independence, and instead moved into the electrician's hut in the grounds. However, he was to be completely ignored. Rather like the political regime he led, few get a vote on such matters, and the dead were part of this 99%. His funeral was attended by 100,000 of his closest friends and randoms, while his body was embalmed for enternity.