Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The party is over

After 10 days of celebrations the 1000 year party for Hanoi has ended. I am not one to shy away from a party at the best of times but for me the past week has been one of avoidance. I did this for two reasons; 1. the traffic and 2. the uninspiring list of events taking place.

The traffic, as I mentioned before, was a nightmare. Streets were often closed, with the ones open a mass of bikes crawling centimetres at a time, spewing fumes and generating heat. As the heat grew the sweat came. This went on for an hour until I got to work, arriving dirty and clammy, hot and bothered. Yes, this is a bit of a whinge but my predicament comes in part to the organisation of this event. And by organisation I mean lack of. Thousands upon thousands of bikes would pack the roads, kilometres at a time. There were very few police and the ones that were out on the streets didn't seem able to manage the traffic. I didn't envy their job. As I got increasingly frustrated the Vietnamese stayed the same. They were not deterred and persisted without concern. On one particular occasion, after an hour creeping along the road I found a major source of the latest traffic jam. A car, dressed as a tank, was making it's way up a one way street (the wrong way). This car, that had a wood frame attached so as to resemble that of a tank, was making it's way to a practice rehearsal in preparation for the main celebrations on October 10. The car/tank happened to take up most of the road. Bikes, that stretched back kilometres were slowly, in ones and twos, slipping around the side of it. When I passed the car/tank had another 50 or so metres to go to get to the end of the one way street. With one policeman directly a thousand bikes coming the other way I figured the tank would be late for practice. No one seemed alarmed by this and continued on. By this point I had to smile. Welcome to Hanoi traffic.

The events for the party celebrations really didn't interest me. They were not tailored to the international market which I feel was a missed opportunity. After living in the culture for a year there were still many events that I didn't understand and others seemed boring and outdated for the modernising Hanoi. I understand that this is a party for the people of Hanoi but how about selling the city for what it is today using the ideal media opportunity that was on hand?

Instead they spent 63 million dollars covering the city in lights (which did look quite nice in places), dressing up a few areas, putting on a big military style parade and blaring music from loudspeakers that cracked as if playing back in the 40's. They put up TV's across town, as well as impromptu stages for some song and dance. Flags wrapped the city. Fireworks were originally planned throughout the city but most were cancelled late, with the money instead going to victims of the recent flooding in Central Vietnam; an important thing to do.

If the party was not intended for a western audience then of course that's ok. The important thing is that the locals enjoyed their chance to have a goodtime and celebrate their city.
I have heard mixed reactions. Many of my Vietnamese friends either stayed at home or left the city not wanting to get involved in the celebrations; mainly due to the traffic. Others thought it was a waste of money. Some were very happy, enjoying the lights and the chance to share the moment with friends. We decided to leave to Sapa to see a friend.

A few days into the celebration I drove past the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum where locals would take pictures under a script by Ly Thai To, the emperor who founded Hanoi in 1,010. This one particular time I saw a very old man dressed in what must have been his finest black suit, accompanied by a black top hat. He was old and frail but standing on his own. Next to him was a little girl, around 5 years old, who I took as his grand daughter (probably great grand daughter). They were posing for photos. He looked terribly proud standing in Ba Dinh Square (where Ho Chi Minh declared independence in 1945) with probably the newest member his family. It was a nice image. It made me think this city has seen a lot, just over the last 100 years, so hopefully the cynicism towards the events was not the overwhelming feeling. Hopefully there is a good lasting memory for the people of Hanoi, otherwise that 63 million could have been put to much better use.

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