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Hanoi residents bluster about millennial party

Thousands of Hanoians flock to take part in the 1,000th birthday of Vietnam's capital.

Hanoi millennium celebration
Red flags and lanterns are seen hung over a street in the ancient quarter of Hanoi on Sept. 29, 2010. Hanoi is all dressed up and ready for a 10-day party marking its 1,000th birthday. (Dinh Nam/AFP/Getty Images)

HANOI, Vietnam — A few hours after a container of fireworks blew up outside My Dinh Stadium on Oct. 6, people milled about outside the stadium as if nothing had ever happened.

The fireworks, which were meant to be used as part of the grand finale to Hanoi’s millennial celebration on Oct. 10, exploded in a field next to the stadium during a kite festival. According to media reports four people died, including three foreigners. Three were injured. Officials blamed the window-shattering explosion on “carelessness.”

News of the explosion was pulled from websites within the hour, but the large cloud of smoke was more difficult to hide. So were the Twitter feeds, Facebook updates and YouTube footage.

But for the tens of thousands of Hanoians who streamed past young military recruits and into the stadium later that evening to watch practice lion dances, nothing would stand in their way. 

The many government-sponsored events marking the capital's 1,000th birthday this week have cost $63 million, which has many locals calling foul — not to mention griping about the crowds and the chaos. It is with a loose sense of history that Hanoians mark the day.

Many young people complained about the traffic jams the 10-day celebration has caused before they enthuse over other events, like exhibitions of ceramics.

“It’s too crowded, the traffic’s bad. There’s no space to skate,” said Nguyen Tuan Linh, 24, a designer and skateboarder, over beers at a suburban beer hall far from the celebrations, a few days before the explosion. “It’s a waste of money. The people who go to the 1,000 years weren’t born here. They don’t understand real Hanoi.”

“You don’t need to celebrate.,” he added. “Hanoi is every day. It’s in my blood, my family, my friends. Everything.”

Though speaking after a few bia hois — a beer made fresh each day and more commonly found in the north — he was voicing a sentiment common in the capital, which prides itself on its history and culture over southern commercial hub Saigon. Hanoians are Hanoian and the rest are not.

“They — the authorities — make Hanoi different. If you never come here before and come for this day everything you see is not Hanoi.”

Vietnam’s capital was moved to Hanoi in 1010 by King Ly Thai To from Hoa Lu, in what is now Ninh Binh province some 90 kilometers south of Hanoi.

Vietnam values its history and names its streets after its heroes, some from thousands of years ago, with a few Party people thrown in. At the same time students don’t always learn, or remember, much of Vietnam’s thousands of years of history.

“I learned about Vietnamese history but only the war part, not the culture of Hanoi,” said 19-year-old Tran Kieu Trang, an economics student and waitress. She said that many of the historical, government-sponsored exhibitions were of little interest, though she does plan to attend the food festival.

The $63 million has gone toward covering the streets, trees and lakes around the capital with lights. Government-issued flags hang from nearly every house and shop. Extra whistle-blowing police and military have been directing traffic and swinging their batons to keep revelers from getting too close to events and dignitaries.

Large television screens by the lake showed the opening ceremony this week, which was closed to the public but could be heard across the water. A fireworks display on Oct. 10 was planned for 29 locations, though there are reports that they've all been cancelled