Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Hanoi Tube Houses and Communist Party Congress

Hanoi was the name given to the city by King Minh Mang in 1831. Ha means 'river' and Noi means 'within' — Ha Noi means 'within the river'. The northern-most city of our visit to Vietnam, Hanoi is a beautiful verdant city of tree lined boulevards and many scenic lakes and a shocking number of motor scooters, cars and pedestrians all vying for position on it's busy streets. We had been warned about how chilly the people of Hanoi would be, but we have found the complete opposite. They are warm, gregarious, generous and full of charm. Our guide Wan is a delight and offers us great insight into the Vietnamese culture, it's history and ever present 'elephant in the room' — China. 

As Canadians, we understand what it is to live beside a super power, and the resulting cultural, political and economic vortex of such a relationship. I feel a kinship with these people, to a degree. Wan remembers trying to listen to the BBC on the radio with his family in the late 70's, early 80's and having to post a sign on their front door that they were in possession of a contraband radio. He also remembers catching crickets on a grassy corner of downtown Hanoi, now a busy intersection that one would now fear crossing. Times change.

Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam, is currently hosting the nation's 11th Communist Party Congress, which is much in evidence around the city which is festooned with hundreds of thousands of red banners marking the occasion. It's quite a site. The cost must have been considerable. Established in 1010, The city has also just celebrated it's 1000th anniversary, and commemorated the event by commissioning a gorgeous mosaic that covers 4km of highway coming in from the airport — a group artistic effort by young artists from around the world, including Europe, North America and Vietnam. 

The architecture of Hanoi is a wonderful marriage of french colonial architecture and traditional Vietnamese tube houses which are tall and narrow, due to the heavy property taxes levied on land owners, based on the width of a building. The solution — build up! Rather like their food!