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Hanoi 1000 Years

Happy Birthday Hanoi (for what it’s worth)

In 1976, America celebrated it’s 200th birthday.  I was just six at the time, but I remember a few things from the occasion. I remember wearing red, white and blue in our school picture, at the request of the school (we also said the pledge of allegiance in “those days”).  I remember being down by the bay and lots of flags and the Star of India sailing for the first time in 50 years.

Every Thanksgiving, our little community of El Cajon rang in the holiday season with the Mother Goose Parade.  We’d listen to the local high school bands, wave at the B-list celebrities who agreed to be in the parade and eagerly await the last float…the one with Santa Claus on it.

In Siena Italy, I was in town between the two Il Palio races. One evening I was sitting on the steps writing in my journal when the piazza started to fill up and a festival ensued.  I stood with a group of people who started singing when their flag was dropped out the window, announcing that their horse would race in the August Il Palio.  It was at that moment that I fell in love with festivals.

In Japan, I participated and attended my fair share of festivals and celebrations from sports festivals at school to fire festivals to celebrate a good harvest.  I have been dressed in yukata to walk WITH my Japanese friends in the parade.  I have sat under the sakura WITH co-workers friend and the like to marvel at delicate pink blossoms and drink a decent amount of sake.  I have sat beneath the dark sky WITH my Japanese teachers and friends to watch a two hour fireworks show, part of a regular summer celebration.  And I have poured beer WITH my friends to celebrate comings and goings, birthdays, wedding and sometimes no reason at all.  I was included in those occasions and I loved them all.

So when I knew that I would be in Hanoi during it’s 1000 year anniversary celebrations, I was naturally excited.  I’ve already expressed my disappointment leading into the celebration, the lack or organization, the lack of inclusion of the foreign community, both locally and internationally.  And in this past week of celebrations, I have grown even more so.  Some would say that the expats are being too negative and looking for bad things to say.  But I’ll tell ya…when a city turns 1000 years old, and you don’t tell anybody how you are planning to celebrate or what festivities they can attend, when you don’t even tell them what days they may not be able to get to their place of work due to road closures or close so many streets that the already insane traffic becomes monstrous, well then…I don’t have a hell of a lot of sympathy. It’s poor event planning and it’s laughable.

Mette and I did venture out yesterday to see what might be happening around Hoan Kiem Lake.  We saw lots of people making laps around the lake. We saw lots of people wearing “I ♥ Hanoi” t-shirts and red ties around their head.  One vendor put a sticker on our faces, unsolicited, and then demanded that we pay him 10,000VND.  He wasn’t too pleased when we peeled the sticker off our faces and stuck them back on his sheet.  We didn’t appreciate the raised voice, nor him pointing at us like we had stolen the stickers.

Lots of people in from out of town sat around the park areas and watched any number of the jumbo TV screens, programmed to tell the story of Hanoi.  I did take some pictures of some funny and rambunctious boys, but that was only after their parents called for me to take their picture when I was actually trying to get a picture of the crowds gathering lakeside. Mette was asked to take a picture with a girl, who motioned for her boyfriend to make sure to get all of Mette in the picture (Mette is a very tall and gorgeous Danish gal). We left the area just in time, before the real crowds descended.  We went past the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum on our way home to see the set up for the big 10.10.10 parade site.

And so this morning, I watched on TV the ceremony, the parade of military and cultural troops and birds on roller skates, dragons and flags and flowers moved and shaken for the sake of pageantry, big colorful floats depicting moments in Hanoi’s history, and I’m not sure how many of the same exact picture of Ho Chi Minh.  One of the most enjoyable moments on the TV program was the last 15 minutes where they showed numerous old photos of Hanoi.  That was really interesting and culturally appealing.

And so now that the celebration is nearly over and it is assumed we will all go back to our normal lives tomorrow, I have to wonder what everyone in Hanoi, in Vietnam thinks of the overall celebrations?  What will people here remember?  What will they take away from this?  I can tell you that while initially I was super grateful to be here on this momentous occasion, I really have nothing to boast about.  I didn’t celebrate WITH you, Hanoi.  And again, that’s such a shame, because I really wanted to.


NOTE:  My previous blog post “36 Days to Go” was mentioned in an article in The Economist.  Not a super positive article about Vietnam, but I’m pretty happy to have On The Bright Side mentioned in such an establish and respected publication.  Imagine that!  My little blog made it into The Economist!  (The link will no longer work, as my blog has been moved to WordPress now.)


36 days to go

10/10/2010 UPDATE

This blog post was mentioned on October 8th in an article in The Economist.  Not a super positive article about Vietnam, but I’m pretty happy to have On The Bright Side mentioned in such an establish and respected publication.  Imagine that!  My little blog made it into The Economist! For my most recent post on the 1000 Year Anniversary of Hanoi, please click HERE.

9/24/2010 UPDATE

I wanted to see if anything has gotten better 20 days after my last post and many more days fewer than 36 to go until Hanoi’s 1000th Anniversary comes to town.  So I did some snooping in the new and found some more supportive articles that the 1000 Year Anniversary of Hanoi will bring more disappointment than celebration:

Vietnam Net Bridge feels that the government forgot tourism.

My favorite quote from this article is, “It seems they were not well prepared for the event and so they could not gain high results. Another problem is that there had been no clear-cut long term planning. They just waited until the last minute to try their best.” Funny thing is, this is the famous Vietnamese pianist talking about an international piano competition.  He happens to be performing for the opening ceremony on October 1st.

The words – golden opportunity for profit – is not what any tourist wants to hear!

I suspect that this type of exhibition will be everywhere.  1000 of this and 1000 of that on display. But could you imagine THIS???

And here finally is something which somewhat resembles a calendar of events.  Still looking for more details!

I want to make something clear….I feel very privileged to be here during this most momentous occasion. I LOVE festivals and celebrations.  That is evident if you’ve ever read some of my blog entries from Japan.  I really want Hanoi and Vietnam to shine during this remarkable milestone.  But having worked here for two years, I’m not even the slightest bit surprised by the lack of organization and the last minute planning…and the exclusion of the foreign community.  It’s turning out to be a very local and exclusive event…and that’s a real shame. 1000 only comes around once.  And I’d like to participate and really enjoy the celebrations!!!



The main photo above shows the countdown screen at Hoan Kiem Lake which helps all Hanoians eagerly anticipate Hanoi’s 1000th Anniversary.  The city is 1000 years old on October 10th. I’ve written before about the disorganization of the event and the lack of ability to capitalize internationally on such an occasion.  A few new decorations have gone up around the lake such as the banners and tribute to Ho Chi Minh for Independence Day, as you can see in the photos.

Unfortunately, Hanoi has not gotten its act together enough to really draw attention globally.  Working in tourism, it’s a big disappointment, as you have to rely a bit on the country and city to market the destination to foreign travelers.  And what better occasion than the 1000th – 1000!!! – Anniversary of the birth of your capital city!?!?!? There has been absolutely no international news or marketing for this event. Here are some local news articles I’ve found:

“The biggest concern now is traffic jams.” http://en.www.info.vn/society/122-facts/11092-many-heads-of-state-arriving-for-hanois-1000th-anniversary

Best Wishes Sent http://www.hanoitimes.com.vn/newsdetail.asp?CatId=79&NewsId=17675

Wow, this sounds fun… http://www.thanhniennews.com/2010/Pages/20100820213343.aspx

Where? Schedule? Tickets? http://www.thanhniennews.com/2010/Pages/20100904165116.aspx

I hear that just as they did for Independence Day (an every other holiday), the flowers will go up around Hoan Kiem Lake, and there will be fireworks…but what of festivals? There are brief mentions of activities, dignitaries visiting from other countries, parades, gala dinners, cultural shows and such but I have yet to see a website with a calendar of events, nor do I know when all these festivities will take place, if I need to buy tickets, where to buy the tickets, etc.  A little hard to participate when I have no idea who, what, where and when it’s happening!

My assistant told me a few weeks ago that the only news she could find through VNAT (Vietnam National Administration of Tourism) was an opportunity to advertise on the billboards which will go up around town.  In fact, if you take a look at their website (http://www.vietnamtourism.com/e_pages/news/index.asp) you can barely find a focus on the upcoming birthday. A few other organizations have contacted us to advertise in special tourist publications, maps and cookbooks for the month. I don’t want to advertise, I want to DO something, ATTEND something, WATCH a show, a parade, a concert…something… and CELEBRATE.  I simply cannot find the information on how to do that…and neither can any of my local staff.

In a time when SE Asia is fighting to attract tourists after an economic meltdown, H1N1 crisis, rampant reports of Dengue Fever, and political instability in Bangkok, Vietnam could have been the hero of the region by investing their resources to bring a positive focus to their country.  I’m sure that in 1000 years of history, there is a heck of a lot of culture, people, events, food and amazingness to celebrate and showcase to the rest of the world. I’ll be curious to see what actually happens come October, but at just 36 days to go, I have a feeling this is a huge, HUGE, opportunity missed.  And that’s really a shame.


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