Hanoi Turns 1000

by aengelson | October 11th, 2010

Most folks who follow this blog know I’m a big fan of Hanoi. I’ve lived here a little over a year, and every day I generally discover something to love about this manic, frustrating, beautiful, dirty, authentic, and fascinating city.

Ho Chi Minh's masoleum got a makeover for Hanoi's 1000th birthday.

You may have noticed lack of blogging or photos about Hanoi’s celebration of its 1000-year anniversary on 10/10/2010. I tried to muster up the enthusiasm to go take some photos or attended events. But I couldn’t do it. The much-anticipated gala, in my opinion, was a huge bust. A fiasco. I’m happy it’s over. Can we all get back on with our lives, now? Sin cam on.

Maybe it was the fireworks accident that killed four people several days before the event–or the way the Vietnamese news sites conveniently hid stories about the accident on their websites. Or maybe it was the flooding that killed 85 in Central Vietnam this week. Or maybe it was reading that $63 million has been blown on this 1000-year party, and all there is to show for it are a few temporary flower displays, a billion Christmas lights, and some cheap painted-plywood stage sets that will all be taken to the landfill today.

Maybe it’s the completely boring series of events scheduled. I’m sorry, I’m just not into entertainment in the form of revolutionary film festivals, blaring patriotic music, and traffic jams. Did I mention traffic jams? I was happy miss the one yesterday the one that kept the president of Vietnam sitting in his motorcade for five hours. Hope he had a minibar.

Or maybe it’s the fact that, on the one evening I planned to celebrate–Friday night, I couldn’t find a taxi after our date-night dinner and upon walking in the dark, I plunged into a three-foot hole in the sidewalk. I suppose a visit to the SOS emergency room to receive five stitches in your shin does something to dampen the celebratory mood.

I’ve agreed with the skeptical Western news coverage on the birthday celebrations. The New York Times had a good piece about Hanoi at 1000 years–not exactly a place brimming with enthusiasm. The money quote comes from Nguyen Qui Duc, arts impresario and owner of Tadioto:

“Tacky things, bad taste, expensive decorations,” he said. “But what is it we are celebrating? Taoism, Confucianism, communism, capitalism — Hanoi has everything, but it adds up to nothing.”

Another recent article in the Economist noted the huge missed tourism opportunity for the 1000-year celebrations. With events like “Launching ceremony of the bookcase named: Thang Long thousand years of culture at the National Library,” the celebrations were a complete snooze. Unless you’re the kind of person interested in military parades, ribbon-cutting ceremonies and children singing about the eternal power of the Communist Party of Vietnam. The Economist article goes on to note that significantly, Vietnam has a 5 percent return rate among tourists, compared to 50 percent for Thailand.

So to all the tourists who expected great things in Hanoi for its 1,000 birthday: ya’ll come back now, y’hear?

9 Responses to “Hanoi Turns 1000”

  1. Can I tell you that this is one of my favorite of your posts? Since you started blogging about your time in Hanoi, I have been enthused, excited for you and entirely impressed at how well you have embraced the culture, the trials and the whole adventure of it all. But the honest, American eyes with which you see this Vietnamese landmark, suggest (to me anyway) that the honeymoon is perhaps over. And from where I sit, it gets really, really interesting from here forward. Thanks for sharing.

  2. @erika: Thanks, I suppose the honeymoon is over and the more important and interesting work of the “marriage” with all its negotiations and compromises (and joys) begins….

  3. Pete Benmar says:

    Re: the plunge through the sidewalk. Ow–I can relate. When we were in Bali I was walking in the dark and did the exact same thing, ripping my shin open on the way down and then dunking the leg in sewage. For weeks after I was sure I had hookworm.

    Hope the leg is okay.

  4. aengelson says:

    @pete: yeah, I remember those big holes in the sidewalk in Ubud, etc, too! I just don’t want to think about what was down there in the hole. I’m on a weeklong course of antibiotics and I rinse the whole wound daily with a saline/betadine solution, so should be OK, and I was wearing shoes. It’ll heal fine I think and I’ll have a nice scar as a conversation starter…”well let me tell you, back in Nam…”

  5. Funny- I just read the NYT piece before seeing your blog. Definitely low on enthusiasm. Bummer about your leg. Yikes. Hope things get back to “normal” soon. ig

  6. Sam here, guy that you acquired the Minsk from. Been keeping up with your blog and always enjoy your posts. Hanoi 1000th was spot on! Hope the bike is treating you well, and beware any/and all paved surfaces!

  7. @sam: Hey, great to hear from you! Thanks for the kind words about the blog. I have to sadly confess the Minsk is gathering dust at the moment, I haven’t taken it out for a ride in probably over 6 months. But I’ve been meaning to get it back in shape and take a trip into the northern highlands soon. Hope all’s well, take it easy.

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About This Site

Andy Engelson is a writer and editor who lives in Hanoi, Vietnam. He's currently working on a historical novel set in the Northwest United States during World War II. He's also a freelance writer, essayist and member of the Hanoi Writer's Collective. In a former life, he edited Washington Trails magazine for six years and before that was freelance journalist. He likes to hike, travel, and play with his family.

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I have no faith in human perfectibility. I think that human exertion will have no appreciable effect upon humanity. Man is now only more active–not more happy–nor more wise, than he was 6,000 years ago. — Edgar Allan Poe, “Letter to James Russell Lowell”

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