Traveling anywhere in Hanoi its impossible to ignore the signs: Hanoi 1,000 Years. October 2010 marks the 1,000-year anniversary for the Vietnamese capital, and this city is going to make sure everybody knows it. From October 1 to October 10, the city is celebrating with street-side entertainment, performances, speeches–and the people are abuzz with excitement.
This city is beautiful without all the extra gussy for the celebration. Trees grow up out of street cracks to bring much needed green to this haze-chocked city. French influence is felt through surviving colonial buildings that, tree-lined boulevards, and the fresh bread sold at every street corner. But there is something extra beautiful when a city comes together to celebrate what makes it special.
Yesterday I ventured to explore the area around Hoan Kiem Lake, and celebrations were in full swing. The most similar parallel I can draw is a 10-day long 4th of July celebration, complete with street demonstrations, parades, and small-scale entertainment at every corner. Vietnamese love taking pictures of each other, and seeing couples in wedding outfits in parks around the country with a photographer is a common scene. Today, everybody from gobs of teens, families, and couples decked to the nines were posing by the iconic symbols that surrounded Hoan Kiem.
Starting at the historical Ngoc Son Temple, I just aimed to meander around the water. But when I first stepped onto the path riming the lake, a teen came up to me with a sheet of red, heart-shaped stickers that looked like the Vietnamese flag. She placed one on my cheek, then one on my hand. She then asked me for 20,000 VND ($1). Slightly annoyed, I thought, “When in Rome,” and paid, thinking at least I looked ready to celebrate with the rest of Hanoi.
Not two seconds later, a wedding photographer who’d been taking shots of a soon-to-be groom paused to ask to take a picture of me. I then asked if I could get a shot of him, and the groom came over to take a shot of the two us! As all of this scene is happening, crowds of gaggling teens surround, taking their own pictures for the occasion. Apparently, with the sticker on my face, I was offering another photo opportunity for these party-ready Hanoians.
However, what was truly great about yesterday is that I believe I was seeing the best of Hanoi and of Hanoians. Everybody was out in full patriotic swing to celebrate and love the city together. A woman was pushing her husband in a wheelchair on the sidewalk and was looking to get down into the street to watch the performance. As soon as the first wheel edged off the walk, six from the crowd immediately sprang up to aid this couple.
I took to the time to recognize what a special and unique position I was in myself. In the capital of the country mine own was at war with not forty years ago, I was walking around, carefree, happily greeted by all I came across. As a developing country with an easily bribed government, Vietnam has many things it’s working out. However, a lot is going right in Vietnam, and the country has a right to celebrate.
Find more pictures from my photo gallery: Hanoi.