Hanoi, Vietnam: Count to a Thousand

It’s happening. I’m not sure what it is, but it’s happening. Hanoi is turning 1,000 years old. In 10 days. But the festivities began this morning. Officially at 8am but by the time I left my house at 7.30 the streets were already an orderly mess. Roads blocked, traffic diverted, people hoarded, “No Entry” signs planted. Nearly every expat I’ve spoken to in the last month has said that they’ll hide away inside until these 10 days are over. That’s probably wise. Luckily, wise isn’t one of my definitive traits. This morning I headed into the maelstrom. And it was fun.

I never cease to be amazed by the friendliness of the strangers that surround me everyday. A lot of people will tell you that Hanoi is a cold and lonely place, full of hard stares and mean faces. In my experience, nothing is further from the truth. Try to speak English to almost any young Vietnamese kid and I bet you they know the words “hello” and “beautiful” or “handsome”. They learn two words: one a greeting and the next a compliment. I’ve always enjoyed that. It’s ridiculous and kind of amazing and I think it says a lot about the place. Anyway, there was a lot of that today. Everyone was in a good mood. I’ve made fun of these celebrations along with everyone else for I don’t even know how long, but in the end, a lot of locals seem very excited about it.

But it isn’t all roses and hellos. The opening ceremony this morning around Hoan Kiem Lake was barred to all but the VIP set. Black cars with tinted windows and national flags passed through barricades while all others were shooed away. Despite the crowds at the bottom of the lake, the eastern side was all but deserted. Saved and scrubbed clean for the diplomats and visiting delegations. They’ll see a different kind of anniversary. And then tourism promotion has been next to non-existent and on the whole the entire fiasco seems like a giant excuse to make everyday life a living hell for all those people that have real jobs anywhere near the city center. Lights have been vomited across the city. Hoan Kiem Lake has been taken over by searchlights and makeshift stages. We’ll have blackouts for weeks after this is over.

The images above are from an hour this morning walking around the southern side of the Old Quarter, near my house. I didn’t have a VIP badge to get to the official ceremony, and the old “white guy with a camera” trick wasn’t working. But still, I think these pictures give a little insight into the first of the proceedings. Hanoi does like itself a nice crowd now.


13 thoughts on “Hanoi, Vietnam: Count to a Thousand

  1. I love the article a lot. That’s exactly how I feel about Hanoi today. The ceremony’s already begun. Wish you had a great time here, Joe. Feel the hospitality of our ancient Hanoi 🙂

  2. A fantastic series, full of colour and emotion. I just love the shot of the old general (or whatever he is) and all those stars!

  3. Your portrait of the old NVA Senior Captain reminded me of the works of another photographer, who’s made a name for himself by going around the world taking pictures of old veterans at events such as this one in Hanoi. The guy’s name has escaped me, and google is not helping.

  4. Love the photos. Your pictures are so vivd and detailed. The first two really appeal to the senses. Great photography and article.

  5. Hiya! I simply wish to give a huge thumbs up for the good info youve got here on this
    post. I shall be coming back to your blog for more soon.

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