Monday, 2 January 2017

NGUYEN THI MINH KHAI

Vietnamese Revolutionary and prominent member of the Indochinese Communist Party.



Whilst engaged in a automatically generated DRIFT in HCMC's district one, my companion and I found ourselves searching for a piece of history. Walking is not a popular Vietnamese activity, and my companion was eager to complete the task as soon as possible, suggesting that we merely record the name of the street, seeing as that corresponded to thee name of a historical figure.

Suddenly the memory of last year's street name project came flooding back, closely followed by a wave of guilt- guilt at having fallen so far behind with the project I had actually moved 1000 km south of the city of its origin. That is a substantial dérive.

After a brief moment of reverie and self-admonition, I was brought back to the matter at hand, which was to engage in an automatically generated drift through HCMC. The dérive was generated by an app called DRIFT, and is subject to a parallel blog post. Essentially, the app provides a series of simple instrcutios which encourage users to explore their city, with each instruction generally concluding with the recording of a piece of photographic evidence. In our case, the instruction to "walk east until you find a trace of history" had been going on for much longer than might ordinarily be expected in a city as rich in heritage as Saigon, leading to my companion's suggestion of a cop-out.

I asked what was historically significant about Nguyễn Thị Minh Khai. My companion's memory was sketchy, but was sure that she had been involved in revolutionary activities in the last century, rather than a more ancient figure. My co-drifter's town of origin is Huế, and related that Huế also has a Nguyễn Thị Minh Khai street, intersected by Lê Hồng Phong Street. Hồng Phong had been her husband, and my companion recollected that they had both been executed by either "the French or Americans".

With each street in Saigon (and nearly every street in Vietnam) bearing the name of a Vietnamese historical figure, we instead continued to walk, until we came across a colonial rooftop rupturing the polyvinyl shell in which that trace of history had been hidden, and that was documented in Minh Khai's stead.

Later, we checked the English language entry for Minh Khai on wikipedia (from whence was procured the image above), and discovered that she had in fact been executed by the French in 1941, two years after her husband. The couple had travelled to Moscow in 1934 as the ICP's delegates to the 7th Comintern. What was most intriguing, however, was the article's claim that she had been a lover of (or perhaps even married to) Uncle Ho. As the article notes, and as my companion reminded me, the official party line in vietnam is that Uncle Ho had no romantic attachments throughout his entire life. It should be noted that the only reference to this fact is contained in William J Duiker's biography of Ho Chi Minh (Ho Chi Minh- A Life), and the Vietnamese people I have discussed this with so far have been incredulous about this particular story.

This is part of an ongoing series of articles concerned with the origins of Vietnamese street names, and the myths and legends attached to them. You can find the story of how this project came to pass at Huế Street Names.

Alternatively, you can look up all articles labelled street names
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