The Most Beautiful House In the World

Ho Chi Minh’s house-on-stilts, Ha Noi. Photo George Burchett.

In 2009, I concluded an essay titled The Ten Principles of Bandung, with the following lines:

[In December 2006] I visited Uncle Ho’s house in Hanoi. And it struck me. I thought this is the most beautiful house in the world. It is a modest wooden house on stilts, modelled on the traditional montagnard hut in which Ho Chi Minh stayed during the years of anti-French resistance (1946-1954). It is very simple, elegant, functional and energy efficient – the only “luxury” item was a small electric heater for Hanoi’s winter chills. The house took less than a month to build. Uncle Ho specifically instructed that no precious timber should be used. It faces a large pond in which several varieties of fish breed, and were occasionally cooked for Uncle Ho and his guests. It is surrounded by beautiful gardens, with palm trees, fruit trees, flowers, a great variety of native and imported plants. From here, dressed in simple peasant garb, Uncle Ho directed the resistance against the USA and its allies. So if you want a model of sustainability, elegance, simplicity, resilience, harmony, goodness, economy, energy efficiency, greenness and beauty, you have it in Uncle Ho’s house.

Our world will be fine if we apply the Ten Principles of Bandung* and heed the lessons from Uncle Ho’s modest house-on-stilts.

I wrote this in Sydney, Australia, and, at the time, I didn’t know I’d end up living in Hanoi, where I was born one year after the epic battle of Dien Bien Phu, which Ho Chi Minh’s Viet Minh army won on 7 May 1954.

Almost exactly 20 years after Dien Bien Phu, Viet Nam achieved another historic and heroic victory, the Liberation of Saigon and the Reunification of the country, on 30 April 1975.

Although Uncle Ho didn’t live to see the final Liberation and Reunification of Viet Nam – a cause to which he had dedicated his life – it is indisputable that it is his spirit that inspired millions of Vietnamese to fight and sacrifice their lives to liberate and unite their country.

Today Viet Nam has to face a new challenge, together with the rest of the planet, a pandemic that is wrecking havoc across our world.

And Viet Nam has again risen to the challenge and performed exceptionally well by any standards. This has not gone unnoticed by international media.

Another thing we Hanoians cannot help notice is how beautiful and peaceful Ha Noi has been under the period of “social distancing.” That peace and quiet fits Hanoi so well. I’ve discussed this with Vietnamese friends recently and they all agree: we want Corona to go away, but we wish the peace and quiet would stay.

Which takes me back to Uncle Ho’s house on stilts. Perhaps it would be a good idea to adopt it as a model for a post-corona world, a more modest, more sustainable, more elegant and environmentally friendly future. Why look up to French Kings, Roman Emperors and other examples and symbols of royal and imperial power and extravagance when developing the country? Why not Uncle Ho’s simple montagnard hut?

I believe now is a very good time to ponder these issues. Uncle Ho and Mother Nature are trying to tell us something. We should pay attention.

THE TEN PRINCIPLES OF BANDUNG:

1. Respect for fundamental human rights and for the purpose and principles of the Charter of the United Nations;

2. Respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries,

3. Recognise the equality of all races and the equality of all nations,

4. Non-intervention in the internal affairs of other countries,

5. Respect for the right of each nation to defend itself singly or collectively, in conformity with the Charter of the United Nations.

6. (a) Abstention from the use of arrangements of collective defence to serve any particular interests of the big powers.

(b) Abstention by any countries from exerting, pressures on other countries.

7. Refraining from acts or threats of aggression or the use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any countries.

8. Settlement of all international disputes by peaceful means, such as negotiation, conciliation, arbitration or judicial settlement as well as other peaceful means of the parties’ own choice, in conformity with the Charter of the United Nations.

9. Promotion for mutual interest and cooperation.

10. Respect for justice and international obligations.

 

George Burchett is an artist who lives in Hanoi.

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