Posted by: sharemore1 | October 12, 2010

Happy Birthday Hanoi

Hanoi was 1,000 years old last week, an anniversary the city celebrated for ten days.  There were parades, arts and food festivals, films, theater performances and soaring dragons.  And lots and lots of people.  It seemed as though all 6 ½ million residents were always converging on one narrow road.


Celebrating Hanoi at 1,000


When Emperor Ly Thai To moved the capital here in 1010, he called it Thang Long, City of the Soaring Dragon.  The city got its current, more prosaic name in 1831, when Emperor Tu Duc named it Hanoi, meaning City in a Bend of the (Red) River.

On the first Sunday of the celebration, Moshe and I joined friends to visit the archeological dig that is unearthing remnants of the Thang Long Forbidden City.  The artifacts found include traces of red-lacquered wooden boats, oars and rudders from a river dug in the ancient city.   Whole families came by motorbike to participate in the festivities.


Family on a Motorbike


In the evening, we headed off by ourselves to the center of Hanoi.  By the time we got off the bus, we had attracted an entourage of an older woman (as in, our age) and three high schools students who became our tour guides as we walked around Hoan Kiem Lake.  The students told us how a golden tortoise snatched the magical sword that Emperor Ly used to drive the Chinese out of Viet Nam and returned it to the gods at the bottom of this lake.

The area around the lake was brightly lighted with stages that featured dancers, musicians, singers and jugglers. It was hard to know where to look.  Vehicles had been banned from that part of town, but the crowds were so packed it was difficult to move.  The woman with us insisted that Moshe hold my hand so I wouldn’t get lost.


Moshe and Child


We soon found we were part of the entertainment, a curiosity in that Asian crowd.  Little boys poked us and ran off giggling.  A couple thrust their bewildered child into our arms so they could take her picture with us.  We got all that attention even before someone slapped Vietnamese flags on our cheeks and sold us red bands to tie around our foreheads.

On the last day of the festival (10/10/10) we couldn’t face being crushed by crowds watching the parade that marched past the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum in the center of the city.  There were more than 30,000 in the parade itself and who knows how many spectators.

Instead, we went with some of Moshe’s students to a site near the Big C, Hanoi’s only megastore, where we could watch the fireworks in the distance.  Even there we sat on the grass surrounded by thousands of spectators.

We didn’t see the giant soaring dragon with 1,000 small dragons and 1,000 balloons bearing 1,000 vertical banners set free to the sound of festival drums. We both agreed it was more fun to be in the company of the students, who joined us in a spirited game of Twenty Questions while we waited for the fireworks to start.


My Vietnamese Tutor


Again we became the center of attention, with people asking where we were from, how old we were and why we were in Vietnam.  A seven-year-old boy, there with his mother and sister, was frustrated because we couldn’t communicate.  He patiently tried to teach me Vietnamese, forming each word slowly and distinctly.

We learned that fireworks means “fire flower” in Vietnamese, which


Traffic after the Fireworks


nicely captures the image of dynamic bursts of color.  When the fireworks were over, the streets were jammed with motorbikes, cars, taxis and buses.  We decided the best way to get home was to walk the nearly three miles.

On the way we stopped at a restaurant by a lake where a pleasant breeze cooled us off.   Sipping lemon and mango shakes, we watched the large, colorful balloons that had been hovering over the lake all week, held there by long banners that swayed slowly in the breeze.  The balloons seemed tired too, as they struggled to stay aloft.   It was time for the festival to be over.


Balloons over the Lake



  1. What a party! Sounds like a good celebration. I am surprised to learn that you and Moshe attracted so much attention, now you know what it feels like to be a rock star!

    The balloons do look a bit limp. I like your picture of the lake, the symmetry of the balloons against the sky is balanced, and I like the shadows on the lake.

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